Readers of the HERALD were informed of the Colón's current situation in three articles I wrote: "The Colón in deep trouble"(Dec. 2, 2007), "The Colón's sad situation" (Feb.21, 2008) and "The Colón through 2011: a fragile planning" (March 4, 2008). Now the "season" is under way, if you can call it thus considering there's no big-scale opera : concerts by the Colón Orchestra and the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, routine ballet performances, chamber opera (Haydn's "Il Mondo della Luna"). Coming up, a series of multitudinous concerts of opera fragments celebrating the Colón's centenary. It's better than nothing, of course, but the closed Colón and the lack of an alternate opera season at the Coliseo are two wounds that don't heal.
But of course current miseries don't erase the immense history of
Those were the times of the boat. There were no European Summer festivals, and
During those early years, although the theatre belonged to the City, it was given in concession to an impresario, who ran the everyday activities and had to make ends meet. There were other opera theatres at the time, such as the Politeama, the Opera and the Coliseo, so there was a great opera tradition built over many decades of intense activity (including the old Teatro Colón, discontinued in 1888 and torn down ; the Banco Nación was built in the same place). Our city was no stranger to the great names of those times and it had welcomed in the last decades of the nineteenth century such artists as Enrico Tamberlick or Adelina Patti. During the first decade of the twentieth Arturo Toscanini led several seasons (1901, 1903, 1904, 1906) with such singers as Enrico Caruso, Giuseppe De Luca, Rosina Storchio, and premieres such as "Madama Butterfly", "The Damnation of Faust" (Berlioz) or Cilea's "Adriana Lecouvreur". At the Colón in 1912 he conducted 15 operas of the 17 of the season . Caruso, after visiting the city in 1899,1900 and 1901, would sing at the Colón in 1915 and 1917. Other great artists of that first decade: Giuseppe Borgatti, María Barrientos, Hariclée Darclée, Giuseppe Anselmi, Titta Ruffo; many would sing at the Colón. We also had such distinguished visitors as the composers Giacomo Puccini (1905) and Camille Saint-Saëns (1904).
In the first decade of the Colón, 1908-17, there were also symphonic concerts, the visit of the Compañía de Opera Espanola in 1910, strong rivalry with the Coliseo (that theatre pemiered Strauss' "Salome" and Wagner's "Parsifal") and the Opera (premiere of Wagner's "The Twilight of the Gods"), chamber music, such soloists as pianist Ignaz Paderewski, the debuts of great singers such as Lucrezia Bori, Nazareno De Angelis, Tito Schipa, Riccardo Stracciari, Rosa Raisa, Amelita Galli-Curci, Carlo Galeffi, Ninon Vallin, Marcel Journet, Giovanni Martinelli and Felia Litvinne, the enormous success of Serge Diaghilev's Ballet Company in 1913 (with Nijinsky and Karsavina), operatic conductors of the quality of Tullio Serafin (in the first of his nine seasons at the Colón) or Gino Marinuzzi, the premiere of Richard Strauss' "Der Rosenkavalier"(although in Italian) in 1915.
1918-27: The Sociedad Italiana de Conciertos under Ferruccio Cattelani presented many important premieres, such as Debussy's "
1928-37: Two essential premieres in 1928: Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro"and Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring". 1929: first presentation of the most famous Argentine opera, Boero's "El Matrero". And Colón debut of our greatest conductor, Juan José Castro. The Russian company Opéra Privé , from Paris, offered five Russian operas, three of them premieres. Ottorino Respighi premiered his opera "
1938-47: Kleiber premiered Mozart's "The Abduction from the Seraglio" in 1938, with artists such as Koloman Von Pataky and Emanuel List. In other operas great singers made their local debuts: Elisabeth Rethberg, Rise Stevens and Herbert Janssen. A distinguished French conductor, Albert Wolff, started his long association with the Colón. And Serafin gave Buenos Aires its first taste of Monteverdi's "L'incoronazione di Poppea". Manuel de Falla came to live in Argentina and received the homage of a series of concerts in which he conducted some Spanish scores. 1939: seven recitals by violinist Mischa Elman. 1940: Toscanini made his comeback after several decades in memorable concerts (eight) with the NBC Orchestra. The marvelous violinist Jascha Heifetz gave eight recitals. And Villa-Lobos conducted many of his scores. 1941 and 1943: recitals by the famed violinist Yehudi Menuhin. 1941: Kleiber premieres Mozart's "The Magic Flute". Important new singers in those years: Zinka Milanov, Leonard Warren, Rose Bampton, Helen Traubel, Ferruccio Tagliavini, Set Svanholm, Astrid Varnay, Fedora Barbieri 1941 was also the year in which Balanchine presented some of his ballets. Other valuable players, Ginette Neveu and Henryk Szeryng (violin), William Kapell and Rudolf Firkusny (piano), were heard in our city for the first time in that period. The war naturally restricted some visits but didn't have as much effect as had been feared. Some Argentine singers started their notable careers: Angel Mattiello, Delia Rigal, Renato Cesari.
The end of the war meant reconstruction and gradual prosperity, and for Argentina, the era of the jet allowed artists to come here in less than a day, changing utterly the contractual conditions. In Europe before the war Summer festivals were few (Salzburg, Bayreuth, Verona) but they flourished as the years went by; Argentina was no longer necessary to keep artists occupied, but the country's richness and the well-acquired prestige of the Colón kept the flow of first-rate visitors alive. The Colón , now fully municipal, presented high-quality opera, ballet and concerts year after year.
1948-57: Up to 1953 the seasons were very good; the decline of the economy in 1954-55 took its toll. 1948 was a great year: Kirsten Flagstad sang Isolde and Brunnhild (in "The Twilight of the Gods"), Kleiber premiered Strauss' "Daphne", and the season had singers such as Hans Hotter, Anton Dermota, Ludwig Weber, Bampton, Svanholm. Apart from the comeback of Kleiber and Clemens Krauss, our city came to know great conductors : Wilhelm Furtwaengler and Victor De Sabata. Admirable pianists made their debuts here: Walter Gieseking (he would be back in 1949, 1950 and 1952), Nikita Magaloff, Ernst Von Dohnányi. 1949: eight concerts conducted by Herbert Von Karajan (his only visit) with the Colón Orchestra. Admirable debuts of pianists Arturo Benedetti-Michelangeli and Friedrich Gulda and violinist Isaac Stern. Premieres of important operas: Strauss' "Die Frau ohne Schatten", Gluck's "Iphigenia in Aulis", Roussel's "Padmavati". Debuts of great singers: Maria Callas (her only season here), Hilde Konetzni, Nicola Rossi-Lemeni, Hélene Bouvier, Mario Del Monaco. Karl Boehm took over the German season in 1950 and was at the helm also in the three following years. This was a great time for our theatre. We owe him fundamental premieres: Janácek's "Jenufa", Berg's "Wozzeck", Bartok's "Bluebeard's Castle", Mahler's "Das Lied von der Erde", Strauss' "Four Last Songs". Three other important condu ctors were known in 1950: Artur Rodzinski, Ferenc Fricsay (premiere of Orff's "Carmina Burana") and Malcolm Sargent (premiere of Vaughan Williams' Sixth Symphony). Carlos Chávez conducted several of his works. The Ballet of the Paris Opera, led by Serge Lifar, offered 15 performances, including "Phaedra" with Tamara Toumanova. Both in 1950 and 195l Tatiana Gsovsky presented with the Colón Ballet her choreographies of "Don Juan of Zarissa" (Egk), "Abraxas" (Egk), "Hamlet" (Blacher). In those years we heard such singers as Victoria de los Angeles, Renata Tebaldi, Carlo Bergonzi, Giuseppe Taddei, Maria Reining, Jerome Hines, Margarete Klose, Kurt Boehme, Christel Goltz, along with comebacks from Lemnitz and Dermota. . Martha Argerich played in 1951 Schumann's Concerto (she was eleven). Violinist Ruggiero Ricci (1951) and cellist Antonio Janigro (1953) were heard at the Colón. Two very different great dancers performed: Alicia Markova and Dore Hoyer (classic and modern). The admirable Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra under Karl Muenchinger made its Colón debut in 1953. That same year the theatre premiered Menotti's "The Consul". In 1954 and 1955 our city heard two great violinists: David Oistrakh and Christian Ferras. But the most important thing in 1954 was the presence of Paul Hindemith conducting his scores with the Colón Orchestra. Britten's "The Rape of Lucretia" was also offered for the first time here. Those were seasons where vast amounts of symphonic music were premiered. A teenager Bruno Gelber showed in 1955 and
1958-67: The conflict settled, 1958 was a great year indelibly marked by the presence of the fabled conductor Thomas Beecham in five operas, particularly a memorable "Otello" with Ramón Vinay, Stella and Taddei and a lovely "Magic Flute" with Dermota, Walter Berry and Rita Streich. Other singers made their debuts: Gré Brouwenstijn, Flaviano Labó, Fernando Corena, Inge Borkh, Blanche Thebom. This was a year for conductors: the octogenarian Pierre Monteux led the Colón Orchestra in such works as Ravel's "Daphnis and Chloe", Ansermet and Hermann Scherchen did memorable concerts with the National Symphony, Sargent was back. And we had the visit of the New York Philharmonic with Dimitri Mitropoulos and Leonard Bernstein. Juan José Castro premiered his opera "La zapatera prodigiosa". 1959: another American orchestra came: the National Symphony (Washington) under Howard Mitchell (it would be back in 1980 and 1984 with Mstislav Rostropovich). Other illustrious visitors: the Prague Chamber Orchestra, the Roger Wagner Chorale. Interesting premieres: Stravinsky's "The Rake's Progress", Schoenberg's "Erwartung", Dallapiccola's "Volo di notte" and Prokofiev's "The love for three oranges". These were years before the country club craze provoked the exile of many music lovers for the week-end, so in Saturdays we had the famous sessions of Conciertos Daniel and Conciertos Iriberri, which brought us so many great artists, such as the baritone Gérard Souzay. 1960: an 18-year-old Daniel Barenboim plays Brahms and Beethoven. Great singers make their debuts and will become favorites: Cornell MacNeil, Richard Tucker, Grace Hoffman, Martha Moedl, Anna Moffo, Eberhard Waechter. Conductors: Fernando Previtali and Peter Maag had successful debuts and also came back frequently. There was the memorable visit of the London Festival Ballet. 1961: debut of cellist Rostropovich, who would be a much appreciated visitor in years to come both as cellist and conductor. 1961-2 and 1967: pianist Hans Richter-Haaser offered admirable Beethoven. A very different but just as admirable a pianist was Alicia de Larrocha, a frequent visitor since 1961 and the best interpreter of the Spanish repertoire. 1962: the first of many trips to Buenos Aires by violinist Salvatore Accardo. The Bamberg Symphony under Joseph Keilberth came for the first time; it would visit us again with Witold Rowicki (a notable conductor heard before at the Colón), Horst Stein and (this year) Jonathan Nott, although at the Coliseo. New singers: Luis Alva, Sesto Bruscantini, Amy Shuard, Marga Hoeffgen. Premieres of Fauré's "Pénélope" with Régine Crespin and Britten's "A Midsummer Night's Dream". 1963: premieres of Manuel de Falla's "
1968-72: you may be surprised that this block stops in 1972. The reason is that at the end of that year an ominous thing occurred: the German season was abruptly interrupted and the Colón closed when Mayor Saturnino Montero Ruiz ordered the architectural group of Mario Roberto Alvarez to finish perentorily the construction of the amplification of the theatre started four years earlier, adding thousands of square meters to the Colón's area . Their work was and is controversial and the Government never gave it a final OK. But, as had happened during the early years of the 1960s, this period is remembered as a Golden Age of the Colón, under the successive directorships of Architect Juan Pedro Montero and of Enzo Valenti Ferro: there were exceptions, but by far the greatest part of those years was of very high quality in every sense, a true model of what the Colón should be. Adequate financing and the right artistic aims combined in often ideal ways. 1968: excellent presentations of the Hallé Orchestra under Barbirolli, the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Raymond Leppard and the Quartetto Italiano. Premieres conducted by Vaclav Smetácek: Shostakovich's "Caterina Ismailova" and Janácek's "Katya Kabanova". Finally a Handel opera at the Colón: "Giulio Cesare" with Beverly Sills, Norman Treigle, Peter Schreier, conductor Julius Rudel. Three magnificent recitals of soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf were presented by Amigos de
I stop here the detailed analysis of the Colón's seasons . In the remaining 35 years up to the present, there were two periods of considerable quality: a second directorship by Valenti Ferro, and Sergio Renán's first tenure, with great renovation of artists and productions and some memorable occasions. Otherwise, there were occasional felicities along with grave mistakes. The artistic aims went awry too many times. Some of them were disasters: the few months of xenophobia and anarchy in 1973-4 (director, Bruno Jacovella); the interruption of the season in 1987 (a few weeks after Pavarotti's debut in "
But there were some interesting premieres, and the seasons of great institutions like the Mozarteum, Harmonia, the Wagneriana and Festivales Musicales, bringing to us so many great artists, including a constant supply of valuable orchestras, certainly were memorable. Some will also recall with appreciation the renovation of repertoire (Senanes, Lombardero) or the good level of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic , especially in the years where Decker was an inspiring presence. We all have our favorite moments, and those readers that have had two or three decades of musical experience will have their own. Some will fondly remember orchestras such as the Cleveland or the Berlin Philharmonic, others will call forth some admirable recitals, still others will think of Van Dam as Simone Boccanegra, or the stimulus of getting to know Shostakovich's "Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk" conducted by Rostropovich. Yes, even with ups and downs, there were still many great Colón nights through the years.
Shall we have them again? There are two battles in the horizon: what will be the substitution of the Master Plan ? This depends on the outcome of a bid at the end of this month searching for a consulting outfit that will take over the management of what is now called a new "Works Plan". And what will be the outcome of the Autarchy Law sent to the Legislature? As it is formulated, it needs great changes to be acceptable. There will be a debate in June over its contents. Just a few final points to explain why I am worried, along with many other people. This project makes everything depend on a Director General with the sole control of the Government Chief; the fundamental department of purchases and supplies would remain outside the general city regulations; public financing would only cover salaries; the technicians' rights aren't assured; there will be ample opportunity for arbitrary behavior with no legislative intervention. There's a movement trying to stop this law and I hope it succeeds.
For Buenos Aires Herald
For Buenos Aires Herald