sábado, diciembre 15, 2007

Last stitches on the operatic and symphonic fabric

Two last operatic stitches. One, Donizetti's "L'elisir d'amore" as offered by Buenos Aires Lírica. Quite unnecessary, for the piece has been staged often in recent years, but pleasant in its own terms. Producer Claudio Gallardou, as is his particular mania, once again put "commedia dell'arte" characters where they don't fit, but otherwise the acting was mostly adequately imagined The best artist was Fernando Santiago as Dulcamara, sung with ample means and acted with genuine comic vein. Two Chileans made their debuts and were good enough but hardly worth importation: soprano Patricia Cifuentes and tenor Luis Olivares. Suffering from the producer's exaggeration, Leonardo Estévez wasn't in his best voice as Belcore. Stylish conducting from Dante Ranieri and agreeable stage (Gastón Joubert) and costume designs (María Clara Beitía).

I found merit in the concert performance of Verdi's "Nabucco" at the Auditorio de Belgrano. This opera was the composer's first success and is impressive in its dramatic discourse, as well as containing that evergreen chorus, "Va pensiero". It hasn't been done for quite a while. Mario Perusso conducted with firm hand and authentic phrasing responsive players, members of the Colón Orchestra, and the Regina Coeli Choir was nicely handled by Santiago Pusso. Four of the cast members were strong : Haydée Dabusti managed to solve most of the difficulties of Abigaille, a killer part; Enrique Gibert Mella was intense and accurate as King Nebuchadnezar; and both tenor Carlos Vittori and mezzo María Luján Mirabelli were in fine fettle. Octogenarian Nino Meneghetti came out of retirement to sing an insufficient Zaccaria.

Now to symphonic concerts. Nuova Harmonia at the Coliseo gave us two valuable sessions. In one we met the Deutsche Kammerakademie Neuss am Rhein under Lavard Skou Larsen doing historicist and heavily accented Haydn (Symphony No. 52 in C minor), a very interesting Johann Christian Bach Symphony (op.6 No.6, in a minor tonality, G, which is unusual in this sunny author), a beautiful performance of Mozart's Concertante Symphony K. 364 with Lena Neudauer (violin) and Skou Larsen (viola), and in a wrong change of programme, the weak humor of Schnittke's "Mozart a la Haydn" instead of Stravinsky's fine Neoclassical Concerto for strings. But the group is remarkably proficient.

A luminous occasion joined the augmented Camerata Bariloche under Peter Bellino and pianist Nelson Goerner. The programme started with the charming "Soirées Musicales" by Britten, an arrangement of piano pieces by Rossini, in a perfect performance. Then, Goerner tackled Beethoven's Concerto No. 3 and again showed he is the most magisterial of our pianists; sovereign command and beautiful style in a truly memorable reading, very well accompanied. A wonderful performance of Mendelssohn's "Scottish Symphony" (No.3) showed Bellino's mettle and the high concentration and enjoyment of the players.

The final weeks of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic were troubled: the last three concerts were cancelled, according to reliable sources because money had run out to pay fees of conductors and soloists. Prior to this, I heard some general rehearsals of other concerts. The best was conducted by Arturo Diemecke and had a fine programme: the inimitably sarcastic suite "Lieutenant Kije" by Prokofiev, the Korngold Violin Concerto with the fine debut of the conductor's brother, Paul Diemecke; and Mahler's Fourth Symphony, with a Mónica Philibert in good voice. The concert conducted by Mario Perusso offered a good version of Sibelius' First Symphony (unfortunately not the announced Sixth). A splendid young violinist made her debut: Jennifer Koh in Tchaikovsky's Concerto. In another session Luis Gorelik offered a solid version of Sibelius' Second Symphony. Finally, Nir Kabaretti discarded R. Strauss' "Macbeth" and Tchaikovsky's "Hamlet", replacing them with the overplayed Brahms First. I didn't stay for that but I heard a nice First Part: the lovely Overture from Nicolai's "The Merry Wives of Windsor" and five fragments from Mendelssohn's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (the original idea was to have an all-Shakespeare programme). Now the season has ended and many of the intelligently chosen woks chosen by Julio Palacio have been heard, but others fell by the wayside. The new Director of the Colón, Horacio Sanguinetti, has chosen clarinettist Eduardo Ihidoype as Director of the Philharmonic.

The National Symphony has had to work from week to week since the labor conflict ended, and very few works were interesting, for they were further limited by a ridiculous incompatibility rule that left us without many scores that require tuba or contrabassoon. Also, the venues were acoustically bad. Nevertheless, I went to hear them three times. , also in general rehearsals. And I got some pleasure. The debut of Román Revueltas Retes showed a thorough professional. Unfortunately he was deprived of conducting his relative's (Silvestre Revueltas) "Sensemayá". He was orthodox and clean in Beethoven's "Leonore No. 3 " and Schubert's Ninth Symphony. And one of our best pianists, Antonio Formaro, did a notable interpretation of Liszt's Concerto No. 1, with all the necessary virtuoso skills but privileging its musical substance. Talented American conductor David Handel (Principal Conductor of Cuyo University Orchestra) did an excellent interpretation of Bernstein's admirable "Chichester Psalms" with fine work from the Coro Polifónico Nacional (Darío Marchese) and good vocal soloists. And Roberto Rutkauskas did a rarity: the original and considerably different score of Beethoven's Violin Concerto, quite well played. Finally, Alejo Pérez gave us Elgar's Cello Concerto, with good work by Myriam Santucci, and Dvorák's Symphony No. 9, "New World", in a well-considered interpretation.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald

viernes, diciembre 14, 2007

A miscellany of musical events

This is summing-up time. I will start with some of the sessions of the habitual Cycle of Contemporary Music organized by the Theatre San Martín by Martín Bauer.
One thing stood out: the collaboration of the Colón Chamber Opera with the Festival brought to the audiences the premiere of Bruno Maderna's "Satyricon" (1972), on the Petronius bawdy classic. Maderna (1920-73) was an important member of the Italian avantgarde along with Berio and Nono, and BA appreciated him as a valuable conductor of twentieth-century music. In the chamber "opera buffa" we heard, pastiche prevails and aleatory practices allow the conductor some adjustments. Quotes from famous operas, songs "a la Weill", a sarcastic musical language, all tend to soften the rigors of the '70s avantgarde. Synthetic and to the point, the scenes are a portrait of a decadent and hedonistic society.

Producer Marcelo Lombardero gave us a sophisticated updating of the original Roman scenes, with the collaboration of Pablo Maritano (stage design and video) and Stella Maris Mueller (costumes), and the musical side was quite well handled by conductor Alejo Pérez. Although announced, Laura Rizzo didn't sing (some colleagues thought she did...), her part substituted by instruments (allowed by the composer). The 17 players were very good, and Pablo Pollitzer, Hernán Iturralde and Santiago Burgi etched well their characters, the ladies less so (Virginia Correa Dupuy, Graciela Oddone).

Satyricon. (Foto: Victoria Conci)

The concert by KNM (Kammerensemble Neuer Musik) was disheartening. The ten players plus a sound designer are certainly proficient, but the programme of very recent pieces by European composers was exceeedingly barren (Helmut Lachenmann, Aldo Clementi, Bernhard Lang, Stefan Bartling, Georges Aperghis, Marc André, Marc and Peter Sabat).

The idea behind "Correspondences" was good and it worked: three Argentine composers took as a model a masterpiece from a dead European composer and tried to create in a similar spirit. Anton Webern's "Concert", op.24, found its foil in Julio Viera's Quintet XXX; Edgar Varese's "Octandre", in Graciela Paraskevaídis "Paths" ("Sendas"); and Gyorgy Ligeti's Chamber Concerto in Marcos Franciosi's "...que colma tu aire y vuela". Excellent players from the Compañía Oblicua under Marcelo Delgado and the stimulating music made this a worthwhile occasion.

Finally, the playing of cellist Rohan de Saram and pianist Aki Takahashi were of such high quality that they gave added value to music that is mostly overrated, with the exception of the interesting Luciano Berio "Sequenza" for cello. Morton Feldman's morosity exasperates me and sends others into Nirvana; Marc Sabat, the violinist of the groip, composed a piece in Feldman's style that I disliked even more; and Iannis Xenakis' abrupt and harsh pieces certainly have more variety but are often ugly rather than intense.

The Midday Concerts at the Gran Rex offered some agreeable chamber fare. The French team of Thomas Dolié (baritone) and Henri Bonamy (piano) gave us some Duparc, Ravel's "Histoires naturelles" and Schumann's "Liederkreis" op.24. Although the singer had some trouble in certain notes, the voice is pleasant and he sings tastefully; the pianist was quite professional. The Trío Ayo showed the artistic longevity of violinist Félix Ayo, still a good player at about 75, well abetted by Ricardo Sciammarella (cello) and Eva Pereda (piano). It was quite enjoyable to hear them in Mozart (Divertimento K. 254) and Mendelssohn (Trio No. 1). The Tartini Quartet comes from Slovenia and played with careful consideration the Smetana Quartet "From my life", a bit short on intensity; and gave us a Neoclassic encore: Glazunov's "Interludio in modo antico".

Two "Soirées Musicales" at the Sofitel had some good points. Trios by Haydn ("Gypsy"), Beethoven ("Ghost") and Mendelssohn (No. 1) were played by an ad-hoc ensemble: the Catalan violinist Edgar Pujol, accurate but not very ingratiating in tone; and two satisfying Argentine players: cellist Marcelo Bru and pianist Orlando Millaá. The song recital I now comment had considerable ups and downs. The ups were in the beautiful voice of bass-baritone Lucas Debevec Mayer singing in the First Part an eclectic group of songs ranging from Schubert to Guastavino, and some operatic arias and duos, as well as Haydn's oratorio "The Creation", in the Second Part. On the other hand, soprano Silvina Martino and pianist Diego Licciardi couldn't cope with their assignments.

Two valuable debuts of foreign players: a young and talented violinist, Malwina Sosnowski, who plays a Guarnerius, tackled with admirable technique and fortitude a solo violin programme: Bach, Alphonse Roy, Kreisler, Grazyna Bacewicz and the impressive Ysaye Sonata No. 2, with as encore Salonen's "Laughing unlearnt". The venue was the Museum Fernández Blanco. A sturdy Ukrainian pianist, Eugeni Skovorodnikov, played with thunderous firmness a difficult Russian programme (apart from some Chopin Mazurkas): four works by Tchaikovsky, Miaskovsky's Sonata No. 2, six Shostakovich Preludes and two "Moments musicaux" by Rachmaninov. Interesting and illuminating, this was in the Chopiniana series at the Panamericano Hotel.

Finally, two AMIJAI concerts. Xavier Inchausti, an Argentine violinist, still a teenager, took on the mighty challenge of Paganini's 24 Caprices for solo violin and came out unscathed of the ordeal; a great talent. And Inca Rose Duo, made up of Annelise Skovmand (singing) and Pablo González Jazey (guitar) did a very special recital of refined vocal music by Guastavino (the cycle "Flores Argentinas", texts by León Benarós) and Ginastera, including the "Cantos del Tucumán" with guest players. Charming material done with high professionalism and taste. The guitar arrangements are by González Jazey.

Pablo González Jazey (Foto: Geraldine Bardin)

Para el Buenos Aires Herald

jueves, diciembre 13, 2007

Death and birth seen by Verdi and Berlioz

There has been quite a number of choral-symphonic concerts this year, but in the final weeks two stand out: Verdi's Requiem conducted by Stefan Lano , ending the Colón lyric season at the Coliseo; and sharing the same theatre, "L'enfance du Christ" ("The birth of Christ") by Berlioz, conducted by Carlos Vieu and produced by Patricia Pouchulu for her institution La Bella Música.

Apart from the musical results, there were many symbolic aspects in these particular performances of the Requiem. It ended a difficult season where the Colón has had to rely on alternative venues due to the building's closure under the Master Plan of renovation. But these sessions were among the last shots of the Marcelo Lombardero period as Artistic Director, and Stefan Lano said goodbye to his years as Musical Director of the Colón. In almost every performance a member of the Orquesta Estable read a communiqué where the orchestra asked for Horacio Sanguinetti (who has since taken over as Director of the Colón) to reconsider his decision to annull the Lombardero-planned season for 2008, to prolong Lano's involvement with the Estable and to provide for fair pension arrangements for the players. Apart from minuscule groups, the audience was overwhelmingly in favor of the communiqué, but no avail: the cancellation stands and Lano goes.

There were other problems; in a season plagued with replacements, there were several in the Requiem. Bass Greer Grimsley, who was supposed to make his debut and was announced months ago for next year's "Parsifal" (scrapped since then), pleaded illness and was replaced by Hernán Iturralde. With the tenor there was a true comedy of errors: Jean-Luc Viala was theoretically substituted by Dante Alcalá, but he too fell ill (or so we were told), and the first performances were taken by Argentine Enrique Folger, whom I didn't hear (but reports weren't good); for the one I heard, the debut of the Cuban Raúl Melo was secured.

Lano was determined to go with flying colors, and I have seldom seen him so involved. One could cavil at the excessive fortissimi of the Dies Irae and on the other hand the singing wasn't quite as soft as required in certain passages, but by and large this was music-making of intensity and reasonable adjustment. Lano's tempi, as is his wont, tended to slowness, but it never became bothersome. The Colón Choir under Salvatore Caputo certainly provided thrilling moments, although some singers are over the hill; and the Orchestra was generally accurate, except celli, basses and some trumpets.

The solo singers are fundamental in this work. Uruguayan soprano María José Siri had an excess of vibrato and one of her high notes broke, but she is a sincere artist with the right type of expression. I enjoyed the debut of German mezzosoprano Annette Seiltgen; her register is true throughout, the musicality is never in doubt; her timbre isn't quite as creamy as could be wished in some passages (she too was supposed to sing in "Parsifal" next year). The revelation of the night was Melo; a beautiful, firm voice handled with much skill, he has recently sung at the Met and he should have a bright career. Iturralde has recorded the work but I feel his voice isn't of the right type; not a true "basso cantante" but a character baritone, this time he phrased rather blandly, without the powerful firmness he has often given us.

"L'enfance du Christ" is late Berlioz, from 1854 . It was offered here late in the day; the premiere was conducted by Serge Baudo in 1980 for the Wagneriana, and the score was revived in 1999 under the octogenarian Jean Fournet. It was a good idea of La Bella Música to offer it, and in December, so close to Christmas. I was sorry that a silly polemic over whether or not it was a premiere (due to very ambiguous announcements from the institution) took some luster from the real merit of this endeavor.On the other hand, although the piece is certainly worth knowing, it isn't quite a masterpiece of the order of "La Damnation de Faust" or "Roméo et Juliette". The text, by Berlioz himself, is very weak, often mawkish. And the music, often very beautiful, does have ininteresting passages. Berlioz, who was so good in fantastic stuff, here lacks contrast and sometimes imagination. I write as a true Berliozian, for I asked Baudo to premiere "Roméo..." in 1973.

Although I was surprised that La Bella Música's admirable habitual conductor, Antonio Russo, wasn't summoned, I of course have great respect for Maestro Vieu, probably the best of his generation. The ad-hoc orchestra was integrated by excellent musicians mostly from the B.A. Phil and the National Symphony, and the generally professional response to Vieu's sensitive phrasing allowed the music to make its effect. The instrumental chamber interlude was accurate and charming: Claudio Barile and Stella Maris Marrello were the flutists and Lucrecia Jancsa the harpist. The Choir Lagun Onak under Miguel Angel Pesce wasn't in top form; the voices seemed muffled , lacking true dynamic range, although some parts were admirable, particularly in the last a capella chorus.

The soloists were a fine lot. I especially liked Lucas Debevec Mayer and Daniela Tabernig (Joseph and Mary), but there was very good work from Carlos Ullán and Oreste Chlopecki; only Emilio Estévez (Herod) seemed tired, though acceptable.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald

martes, diciembre 11, 2007

La Plata and Avellaneda: valuable alternatives (II)

In this second part I will refer to the Roma Theatre in Avellaneda. Its small size and the very restricted budgets assigned to each operatic project mean that you go to the Roma knowing that some limitations are simply too great to be fully overcomed and that the audience must keep them in mind.

Only last year Ponchielli's "La Gioconda" was revived by Adelaida Negri's Casa de la Opera after a 40-year hiatus since the Colón 1966 performances. I was surprised that the Roma chose it so soon after, for it was even harder to do it well there, but I came out pleasantly surprised by the generally high level of the cast and by the mostly acceptable solutions found for the stage business.

Giorgio Paganini (habitual conductor for Negri) and Boris (Laurés), the producer, managed to assemble a really valuable cast that gave much vocal pleasure and showed yet again that if the artists are carefully chosen some tough titles can be done more than honorably. Probably Haydée Dabusti has done nothing better than this Gioconda, a role that calls for stamina, a deep sense of drama and conviction and powerful vocal means. Showing an impressive firmness in all registers and great involvement, she was always good , particularly in her big aria, "Suicidio!".

Antonio Grieco probably has our best local voice of "spinto" tenor, a category intermediate between "lyric" and "dramatic", the timbre for Manrico and for Ponchielli's Enzo. He lacks some professionalism and presence, but he does thrilling things. And thrilling María Luján Mirabelli certainly is when she finds a congenial role and is in vein; both factors concurred this time, and her Laura was one to remember. The qualities of Omar Carrión are rather those of honest professionalism and style rather than volume and charisma, so his Barnaba ( a villain if there ever was), lacked some impact. Lucila Ramos Mané was in good voice in the contralto part of La Cieca, and Walter Schwarz sang correctly as Alvise; he is still rather poor in dramatic projection. Paganini did a decent job with the Avellaneda Orchestra, certainly not first-rate.

The Venetian ambience was appropriately suggested by the stage designs of Atilio de Laforé and Hugo Ciciro, and there was the important help of having access to the splendid costume collection of the Teatro Argentino (La Plata). As you probably know, there's a famous ballet sequence, curiously just before the gory scene where Alvise show the presumably dead Laura to his horrified guests: the "Dance of the Hours". It was performed by five dancers following an acceptable choreography by Daniel Galve; of course it needs more space and show. Stage movements were generally well marked by Boris, even in the crowd scenes, except in the very poor resolution of the ship's fire, and commendably he respected time and place.

It was also Boris who produced Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor", conducted by Roberto Luvini. Three facts distinguished this event: a) The opera was offered absolutely complete, which meant that we heard such things as the Wolf's Crag scene between tenor and baritone (powerfully dramatic) and Raimondo's aria, among other things, and we heard florid writing generally substituted by later traditions. b) Boris introduced characters and actions from the Walter Scott original, "The Bride of Lammermoor" (or "Lammermuir"), which I find doubtful: it is an opera, not a novel, and the libretto rules. Here Enrico commits suicide, Edgardo gets a blind lady companion, Normanno is killed by the courtesans, etc. c) Raimondo is generally a minor role, but here, with the addition of his aria and the revelation of a major young bass, Fernando Radó, he got a bigger hand than the protagonists.

Soledad de la Rosa isn't helped by her rotund physique, but she certainly sings beautifully, with a crystalline voice. But there's the rub. She's a Lucia of the old Tetrazzini/Pons tradition, and now we are accustomed to Lucias of the Callas/Sutherland manner, where you ask more than command of florid singing; we want to hear the tears in the voice, and that never happens with De la Rosa. And she doesn't compensate with meaningful acting.

The tenor, Gerardo Marandino, had the opposite problem: his singing is intense and expressive, and he got some excellent moments, but there were fissures in his emission now and then within a generally high level. The young baritone Esteban Hildebrand is making giant strides: this Enrico was well sung and acted with intensity, and the voice is pretty good.

But Radó simply stunned; a country that has produced few basses of quality, we now have a wonderful "basso cantante" of noble timbre and line; winner of the "Neue Stimmen" contest, he is now going to Germany and should have a great career; time will deepen his lowest register. Add to it that he is very personable and you have the makings of an important international career; I hope we don't lose him altogether.

Of the others I liked Iván Maier (Arturo) but disliked Pablo Selci (Normanno) and Sandra Pianigianni (Alisa). The Chorus under Ricardo Barrera was weak and disconcerted. Luvini conducted well. And Boris was uneven, with things that were well solved and others that were simply absurd (the swashbuckling, or the perilous entrance of Edgardo from a loge just before the famous sextet). But balancing all, a "Lucia" worth anyone's time.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald

La Plata and Avellaneda: Valuable alternatives (I)

Due to reasonable distances, the operas, ballets and concerts offered by the Teatro Argentino (La Plata) and the operas at the Roma (Avellaneda) are really part of the available experiences for residents of Buenos Aires City. And the excursions are often well worth it.

The theatres can't be more dissimilar: the Argentino is huge and modern, with an important budget and several hundred employees; the Roma is a pocket old Italian house of decadent charm and ad-hoc small budgets for different projects. The Argentino's dependence is from Buenos Aires Province; the Roma's , from the local Avellaneda government.

The imposing Argentino tends to determine a destiny of organized, steady work, although it can be altered by bad administration (it was, two years ago). The Roma had its own crisis about four years ago, and it has had since more modest aims, but has managed to stay in business. Due to lack of space, I divide this report in two parts; I will start with the Argentino.

The current Artistic Director of the Argentino is the veteran maestro Reinaldo Censabella, a dyed-in-the-wool conservative who programmes only standards. Don't expect from him intellectual stimulation such as Suárez Marzal provided some years ago, but he knows how to cast . Things go smoothly under his hand.

Rossini's "The Barber of Seville" showed (as had happened earlier in the season with Donizetti's "Don Pasquale") that Censabella allows some degree of innovation in the stage productions. The producer, up to now tenor, was Rubén Martínez (Paula Almerares' husband); he opted for respecting the place, Seville, but not the time, and he moved the Beaumarchais/ Sterbini comedy to the 1910s, putting a period car on stage. The transposition from the eighteenth to the twentieth century meant that the libretto collided frequently with the action; he tried to enrich the specified stage action with visual gags, sometimes funny but also obtrusive. I liked the incredibly immobile statue (Marcel Canelo) that steps down from her pedestal at the end of the scene. He was helped by the beautiful Seville imagined by stage designer Daniel Feijóo, but much less by the sometimes kitschy and tasteless costumes by Cristina Pineda . I found exaggerated in number of interventions and acting the always yawning valet Ambrosio (Néstor Villoldo).

The musical side was alright, but nothing impressed. Esteban Gantzer (conductor) and Sergio Giai (choir director) did decent and accurate jobs. There were two casts, I heard the first. All were good in varying degrees. I least enjoyed soprano Elina Bayón, for I prefer the role sung in the mezzo (original) version, and this artist replaced the necessary charm with a vulgar ostentatious arrogance; the singing was correct, no more. Of the men Ariel Cazes was a traditional Basilio done with sonorous aplomb and well acted. Omar Carrión was a practiced and professional Figaro with a rather small voice; Carlos Ullán sang as Almaviva his difficult music with some style and firmness though as an actor of good presence he seemed unconfortable with the monkeyings marked by the producer. Another seasoned performer, Gustavo Gibert, sang a clean and rather understated Bartolo, lacking in the rotundity of utterance and girth associated with the tutor. A well-sung Bertha from Vanesa Mautner, somehow converted into a mulatto girl; a firm and clean Official from Víctor Castells, and a rather vibrato-ridden Fiorello from Fernando Alvar Núnez.

The Ballet presented two big works, Tchaikovsky's "Sleeping Beauty" (Petipa revised by Pablo Aharonian) and Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet" (Paul Vasterling). Under Cristina Delmagro the current ballet forces are very profficient; they of course have the benefits of a huge stage. The fine Aharonian revision of Tchaikovsky's best dance score was well served, and there was the revelation of a splendid Prince Désiré, the Russian Mikhail Kaniskin, all suppleness and elegance (debut). Genoveva Surur was the very agreeable Princess. Rather dull conducting from Guillermo Scarabino.

The Vasterling choreography for the Prokofiev masterpiece seemed to me too unvaried, with lots of push and shove to underline violence and little lyricism in the love scenes. Again nice work from the home star, Surur, and a very promising Romeo, Bautista Parada. Homogeneous cast all round. Professional but underpowered conducting from Bruno D'Astoli.

The Argentino boasts, apart from its main Ginastera hall (2.200 capacity), the smaller and cozy Piazzolla hall (about 600). The innovation lacking in the principal venue sometimes appears in the secondary one, and a good example was the rare occasion of appreciating a lovely Menotti work, "The Unicorn, the Gorgon and the Manticore". Highly original, it is a medieval fable told in dance and through several madrigals, with distinguished music. I'd have preferred an appropriately medieval staging, but choreographer Alejandro Cervera opted for strong modern dance, and Leonardo Haedo impressed as the Man in the Castle. Fine playing and singing under Néstor Andrenacci.

Finally, I want to put in a good word for the programming and seriousness of Dante Anzolini in the series of symphonic concerts with the Argentino Orchestra. The concert I saw was outstanding in its adventurousness and quite good in its results. I had the rare chance to hear not the suites, but the complete scores, of two great creations: Ravel's "Ma Mere l'Oye" and Stravinsky's "Firebird" . And there was a rather interesting premiere: "Three songs for soprano and orchestra" by the much-promoted Osvaldo Golijov, well-sung by Mónica Philibert.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald

martes, diciembre 04, 2007

An "Aida" on fire and three Puccinis

Verdi and Puccini are undoubtedly the bestsellers of the Italian operatic repertoire and have been so for many decades. In recent weeks Verdi's "Aida" has been seen in the open air and Puccini ended the seasons of Buenos Aires Lírica and Juventus Lyrica at the Avenida. This has been a year with very little intellectual stimulation in the choice of operas from practically all institutions: mostly we were given the same meals.

Verdi's "Aida" is a favorite of open-air opera companies and it has been a staple at the Verona Arena and the Roman Caracalla Baths. In the case of "Aida", the opera lover certainly remembers the debacle of ten years ago at the Polo Field, where everything failed, from ticket placement to essential technical aspects.

The presentation I'm commenting upon passed muster, but there's some significance in the fact that there was only one performance (15 in Brazil!). The organizers knew about the Polo affair and evaluated that the audiences would have a healthy distrust this time. The chosen place was the San Isidro Hippodrome, certainly enormous, and it was limited to one sector of it. It was by no means full but there were several thousand people. In one sense the occasion was ominous: it took me 50 minutes circulating in the Av. Márquez at a crawling pace to reach the parking place, and the opera started quite late.

The project is international and this "Monumental 'Aida' on fire" (thus billed) has been presented dozens of time in Europe and America. Credits: General Producer, Franz Abraham; staging director: Joseph Rochlitz; stage and costume designs and projections: Pier'Alli; choreography, Simone Chiesa; lights, Andreas Kisters; the wrongly called Lemberg Philharmonic (it should be Lvov, Ukraine), the Lumka Academic Choir (Ukraine) and the Ballet Group from the Usti nad Labem Theatre (Czech Republic). The hand programme was distributed at the end (quite a snafu!); it has good photographs but the written material is simple shameful and the cast was wrong (no announcement).

Singers: the two women were interesting and made their debuts. The Mexican soprano Eugenia Garza has the right type of voice for Aida and manages it with considerable skill, and Assia Davidov made an imperious and tragic Amneris with very adequate vocal means . All male singers were new here. Ernesto Grisales started poorly as Radames but gradually found his feet and ended up a decent exponent of the role. The lower voices were Ukrainian and I only liked the Ramfis, Oleg Korotkov. As the King, Ilia Popov was undervoiced, and as Amonasro, baritone Nikolai Nekrasov was rough to a fault. A correct Messenger (Nikolai Visnakov) and a poor Priestess (Ramona Eremia).

Haupt, the conductor, proved an efficient maestro who knew the score inside out, and he obtained orthodox and satisfying results from the Orchestra; the Chorus was more uneven. And the production? Well, the bursts of fire were arbitrary, unnecessary and noisy, a major mistake; but the projections were quite interesting, at times surreal and intense. A very symmetrical stage design and mediocre actoral work, Egyptian symbols from the Pyramids to Akhnaton and Ramses II in merry mixture, costumes of some quality but not always apposite (Amonasro's). The amplified sound was passable as such things go and was inevitably affected by the rather strong winds. There were clear titles with the libretto. Final impression: much too expensive for what it offers ($ 600 the best seats) but with some good points.

Puccini's "Trittico" assembles three wildly disparate one-act operas: "Il Tabarro", maybe his most "verista" style; "Suor Angelica", a lachrymose tale with just one good scene (the confrontation with the Princess), and that masterpiece of "buffo" writing, "Gianni Schicchi". All much done here. Buenos Aires Lírica decided to give us a diptych, eliminating "Suor Angelica"; I didn't mind. "Il Tabarro" had a very convincing stage design by Daniela Taiana, cunning lights by Horacio Efron and adequate costumes for the simple people of the plot; producer Rita Cosentino got right most of the action but botched the stunning ending Puccini wanted, when Michele opens his "tabarro" (ample coat ) and Giorgetta's lover Luigi sinks dead to the ground.

Most singers were correct, no more: Ricardo Ortale, José Azócar, Mariela Schemper, Elisabeth Canis and Walter Schwarz; Carlos D'Onofrio is a young tenor to watch. Carlos Vieu conducted with his accustomed intelligence and taste the Panizza orchestration (quite good, adapted to smaller pits).

"Gianni Schicchi" was mixed. The production team was identical. I disliked the staging for this is a medieval story and it was transported to a kitschy 1920s, making nonsense of a lot of the libretto, and the comedy was too gross. The costumes were tasteless. But there was a great singing actor in the title role, Luis Gaeta, and the revelation of an expansive and radiant tenor, Arnaldo Quiroga. Ana Laura Menéndez was agreeable as Lauretta though she lacked creaminess. Of the others the best were Marta Cullerés, Schwarz and D'Onofrio. Fine conducting from Vieu in the Panizza orchestration.

The completely unnecessary "Madama Butterfly" of Juventus boasted fine conducting from Antonio Russo but it had a poor Pinkerton (Norberto Fernández) and an unconvincing production (Horacio Pigozzi, Juan José Cambre, Mini Zuccheri). Mónica Ferracani was meritorious as Cio-Cio-San , Fernando Grassi opaque as Sharpless, Guadalupe Barrientos good (Suzuki), Hernán Sánchez Arteaga excellent (Goro) and Fernando Radó a sonorous Bonze.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald