jueves, mayo 15, 2008

Italian opera dominates

Recent operatic activity has been strongly dominated by opera in Italian and composed by Italians. This is a Puccini year (150th anniversary of his birth), so it’s only natural that what is arguably his best work , “La Boheme”, should be staged. In fact the curious thing is the chosen venue: the Ciudad Cultural Konex, a converted factory. The small Teatro Roma (Avellaneda) billed its presentation of Bellini’s “Norma” as the “first complete performance of the original version”. And the Casa de la Opera, Adelaida Negri’s company, revived one of the less known Verdi operas, “I Masnadieri”, at the Avenida.
Horacio Pigozzi updated “La Boheme” and accepted the condition for his production: it uses the same scenery as the musical “Rent”, loosely based on it but with an AIDS-centered story. It worked in the first and fourth acts –the garret- but it was ludicrous in the second, the Café Momus, where the ambience was all wrong and there was no street, and in the third, where the illusion of a snowy morning outside a tavern wasn’t even suggested. And of course, if you take the libretto seriously –as I do- that third act happens at one of Paris’ barriers which existed in the 1840s between the city and the suburbs but were later eliminated: one good reason against updating, apart from historical references. I also disliked the Churba overalls that uniformly clad the crowd in the Momus scene, when thay are supposed to be citizens having fun in Christmas. (see picture)

Now to the good things. Pigozzi gave point and humor to the fooling around of the four Bohemians and the singers both sang and acted well. Tenor Carlos Duarte has a beautiful and powerful voice, although there were some fissures in the phrasing. Luis Gaeta was a perfect Marcello; my only cavil is that he looks too aged for the part, some makeup was in order. Both Walter Schwarz (Colline) and Fernando Grassi (Schaunard) were satisfactory, and Fernando’s father, Oscar Grassi, did the character parts of Benoit and Alcindoro with all the wisdom of long experience. Mariela Schemper was expressive as Mimí although she lacks some expansion in the high notes , and María Bugallo, a beautiful Musetta, was a touch too strident. Mario Perusso, an old hand at Puccini, was predictably good conducting a small (29 players) orchestra in the quite acceptable orchestral reduction of . The orchestra was located at extreme left on the stage, for there’s no pit. The choirs were correct enough. I was astonished at the acoustics of the venue, much better than I imagined.

“Norma” is indissolubly associated with the marvelous interpretation of Maria Callas, who gave us both superlative bel canto and enormous dramatic intensity. The Roma (Avellaneda) version tried for another approach, essentially lyrical, but I feel it goes against the grain of the piece. Anyway, this was only apparent in the title role, for Soledad de la Rosa sang very beautifully, with an immaculate register from top to bottom, but there was no inkling of drama in what she did, and for me there’s no Norma without powerful involvement. Juan Borja was precisely what the programme notes said he shouldn’t be as Pollione: a full voice of considerable volume and Verdian character; but he came to grief in the last scene, where his voice simply gave out. Cecilia Arola has a strange voice; she sounds like a rather harsh mezzosoprano but is capable of high soprano sounds and sings with true intonation, though she certainly isn’t the lyric soprano the programme claims Adalgisa should be. Marcos Nicastro was a capable and true Oroveso, Roxana Deviggiano a vibrato-ridden Clotilde and Gustavo Torella a good Flavio.
Sebatiano de Filippi is a well-oriented young conductor, with the right sense of phrasing, but the Orquesta Municipal de Avellaneda just won’t do; the intonation of the violins in particular is horrid most of the time. And the late arrival of a trumpet player forced the use of a deplorable organ in the First Part. The Choir was enthusiastic but faulty. The production by Alejandro Atías was terribly conventional and static.
“I Masnadieri” dates from 1847 , immediately after Verdi’a wonderful “Macbeth”. Based on Schiller’s “The Bandits” (“Die Rauber”) , Andrea Maffei produced a deplorable libretto full of absurdities, certainly far from the original. The composer isn’t always inspired, but there’s enough true Verdi to justify a revival every 30 years or so; and such was the case, for the opera, never seen at the Colón, was offered by the Argentino at the Coliseo in 1979 . The best thing in this revival was the very good work of the orchestra under Giorgio Paganini and the choir prepared by Ezequiel Fautario. The production by Eduardo Casullo was simple and direct, respecting the original ambience, and there were attractive costumes by Mariela Daga. The most interesting feature was the satellital images by Santiago Espeche, quite evocative.
Of the singers only Leopoldo López Linares as the baritone villain and Mario de Salvo as his imprisoned father were up to par. Adelaida Negri had as usual both a dramatic sense of phrasing and evident vocal limitations, and Eduardo Ayas has lost his timbre of yore; his singing now is effortful and arid. In the smaller parts Jorge Bellone (Rolla) was correct, Cristian de Marco dry as the pastor Moser and José Luis Galimidi rather poor as Arminio.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald

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