miércoles, enero 07, 2009

The Colón disaster

In the first half of 2008 I wrote several articles about the Colón situation. The last was called "The Colón´s sad centenary" and was written late in June. Long months elapsed as the paralysis went on. I will now synthesize five main subjects: the so-called 2008 "season"; the internal chaos; the building´s restoration; the Autarchy Law; and the plans for 2009.

A) The "season". There was one really positive thing: the Buenos Aires Philharmonic under the aegis of Arturo Diemecke gave us a good panorama of symphonic music and it accomplished the feat of maintaining its original programming both in the artists it presented and in the varied list of worthwhile scores it played at the Coliseo and the Ópera.

There´s another positive fact; the Institute of Art managed to offer at the Teatro 25 de Mayo a praiseworthy presentation of Purcell´s "The Fairy Queen" with students led by Jeffrey Gall.

Nothing else was unblemished, apart from the "original sin" of the year: no opera season. Small chamber operas don´t begin to compensate for the loss of the big ones, although they can be an agreeable complement; but the year of the Colón Chamber Opera was very poor in quantity and quality. The Center for Experimentation (CETC) had just one bright moment: Marta Lambertini´s "¡Cenicientaaaa!". The Chorus spent long weeks inactive, and similarly the Colón Orchestra, whose conductor Carlos Vieu resigned with a strong letter of solidarity with the organism mentioning a list of working conditions that hadn´t been met by the authorities. Sporadic valuable concerts (Decker, Corboz) don´t make a year.

The Ballet had a sad time; a first half under Guido De Benedetti was marked by dire shortages (no money available for slippers or for a dancing floor needed to level rough spots) and wholesale eliminations of programmed pieces. After fighting with Executive Director Martín Boschet, De Benedetti was replaced by a team made up of Olga Ferri and Jorge Amarante. Their luck wasn´t much better and after several mishaps the year was topped by the cancellation of all activities (not just the Ballet) in December due to an administrative snafu.

Uneven chamber concerts at unrepresentative venues in the Capital ( I single out something positive though hardly characteristic of a lyric theatre, a Franck series of organ music in various churches), a much heralded but to my mind unconvincing "federal Colón" (a "Traviata" in San Luis and some other things in the provinces), a total lack of activity at the "Salón Dorado" after the wrong-headed concert on May 25 although the hall was workable (ditto for the CETC´s theoretically restored premises), complete the lopsidedly grim panorama of what was the centenary year of the great institution.

B) The internal chaos. Boschet was planted at the Colón as far back as May 2007; he was the PRO´s confidence man and one of the factors in Ignacio Liprandi´s downfall as prospective Minister of Culture. When Horacio Sanguinetti, already in trouble due to rash statements to the press, took charge as Director General in December 2007, he had to accept the presence of Boschet as Executive Director (he shouldn´t have). From then on, there was a most unhealthy double command. In the traditional and time-proved organizational matrix, the Colón had a General Director, an Artistic Director, and Directors handling the Administrative and the Technical sides. The General Director had veto power and was the last instance; and he depended in the chain of command from the Culture Secretary (now Minister). In the current Colón crazy scheme, there were two Co-Directors and no Artistic Director, and Sanguinetti depended on Chief of Government Mauricio Macri himself, not on Hernán Lombardi (Minister of Culture) or on his Secretary of Cultural Management ("Gestión Cultural"), Pablo Batalla. Good riddance, you might think, for the idea of a dependence on Batalla, a notoriously controversial ex Executive Director of the Colón who shouldn´t have have had a post in Macri´s Cultural scheme, was certainly worrying. But in fact Macri, his Vice Chief Gabriela Michetti and his Cabinet Chief Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, supervising .Sanguinetti and/or Boschet, proved that none of this quintet understood the way a great lyric theatre functioned, and the whole year become a comedy of errors with the exceptions above mentioned (delegation on capable people like Diemecke and the Institute´s Director Ana Massone certainly was a good thing).

Now and then, out of the murky internal panorama, some matters became unavoidably public: the resignations around June-July of Vieu, De Benedetti and Irene Amerio (who held the important role of Director of Studies, the person who coordinates the artistic affairs of the theatre), the complaints published in the press, the very poor repercussion of the centenary´s celebrations, the cumulative anguish and rage of the employees, the lack of clarity in all communications and its effect on public opinion. The constant difficulties provoked by a completely dispersed Colón rehearsing or working in uncomfortable or inadequate buildings, the cancelled performances, the public statements of such beloved conductors as Daniel Barenboim and Franz-Paul Decker deploring the current state of the Colón. And two matters that kept on being delayed week after week and were both crucial: the whole sorry affair of the old and the new Master Plans and the ugly manipulations surrounding the project of the Autarchy Law, undergoing constant reworkings.

C) The building´s restoration. Chief of Government Mauricio Macri was informed of the characteristics and advancement of the Master Plan (MP) as early as May-June 2007. When he won the elections he had a crucial interview with the then Chief Jorge Telerman, who along with the Minister of Culture Silvia Fajre had always promoted the MP. It transpired that Macri had asked Telerman to cut down the heavy City deficit in the long six-month transition until Macri took over in December, and newspapers informed that restorations in progress wouldn´t be affected, but it turned out to be untrue. Indeed, from July on work at the Colón was progressively paralyzed. When Macri denounced in February 2008 the stopping of the reforms he was being disingenuous. Apart from matters of finance, there had been strong attacks on the modifications and telltale photographs were published; some of the worse aspects were avoided through the resolute action of people such as the patrimony specialist Fabio Grementieri or the Colón photographer and ATE labor leader Máximo Parpagnoli. But Macri confirmed Architect Sonia Terreno as Director of the MP and decided not to investigate. Things got much more complicated. Macri decided to change “supervisor” and switched control of the MP from the Ministry of Culture to the Ministry of Urban Development (“Desarrollo Urbano”), which meant an executional delay of several months. But he also decided to call a bid for the management of the MP; this was won in June 2008 by SYASA (Seminario and Sons); the terms of the bid call for severe sanctions if the main work isn´t finished by December 2009. But SYASA couldn´t control a basic factor: the interruptions during the second half of 2007 had left the City with a big debt owed to the main Spanish concerns that had won the bids years ago , San José and Dycasa. It took until late September 2008 to reach an agreement and liberate the funds allowing the work to resume. Which it did, though rather slowly. Further complications: not content with having the MP controlled by SYASA, the Ministry for Urban Affairs invented an Unidad de Proyectos Especiales (UPE) to control SYASA! But Minister Daniel Chaín still said that the Ministry didn´t decide what had to be done, that supposedly it was the Colón´s authorities that provided the requirements. And Executive Director Martín Boschet presented a plan to SYASA that put heavy emphasis on VIP venues, gift shops and tea rooms whilst neglecting spaces for production. When published by La Nación, it was promptly disclaimed by Chaín and Colón General Director Horacio Sanguinetti, both insisting that the Colón´s traditional vocation wouldn´t be altered. But many employees thought otherwise and believed that there were signs of a drastic orientation change toward a multiuse Colón with much less integrated production and reduced personnel. At the present time we still don´t know (and neither does the Legislature) exactly what plan has been accepted and is being put into execution by SYASA and the MP. Damage control is being tried through an ad-honorem Commission of Notables, two from the Colón (Roberto Oswald and Mario Perusso) and two from cultural life (Architect Alberto Bellucci, Director of the Museum of Applied Arts, and Gisela Timmermann, Executive Director of the Mozarteum Argentino); the names are irreproachable and one hopes they will be able to put some order in this mess. On the other hand, an internal commission named by Sanguinetti and integrated by technicians of the theatre has had no chance to act and they have even been forbidden to enter the Colón by the Ministry! In fact, the annual holidays have arrived for the Colón´s personnel, so the problem will be when they come back in the middle of February; theoretically they should be assigned to different buildings all over the capital but won´t be allowed to work at the Colón itself, wholly taken over by SYASA and the MP. And there are denunciations that no inventories have been made and that patrimony may disappear. D) After half a dozen versions and endless controversy , the Autarchy Law so urgently demanded by Sanguinetti finally passed, when a definitive text incorporated a Board of Directors of five members instead of the twin Directors we had during most of 2008. This change convinced the leading members of the Frente para la Victoria (“Kirchnerista”) and the Coalición Cívica (Carrió) to vote with PRO , whilst others protested to no avail (Patricia Walsh, Néstor Ibarra, etc.) against what they felt were gross mistakes; the law passed with a big majority. Among many other dangerous or wrong dispositions I single out: a) The five-member Board, which surely dilutes authority; b) The Board lasts as long as the Chief of Government (this is autarchy??); c) Many windows are opened to let the Colón drift out of its main vocation; d) The Law only insures that salaries will be paid by the City, but all the rest must be obtained by the Colón: it will be reduced to a second-rate theatre, for in this devalued country only the Government can dispose of enough money to pay for the international artists and productions that make a great opera house. Just one good point: the elimination of the so-called “cuenta única” that didn´t allow multi-year contracts. E) The future. A silly scandal allowed Sanguinetti to get rid of Boschet, for it was exposed in La Nación that the latter had allowed the celebration of the centenary of Converse, the brand of sport footwear, at the CETC (Center for Experimentation) featuring one of the Ramones, a famous punk rock band. There have been flagrant attacks against the Colón´s vocation in earlier years (the A.N.I.M.A.L. rock group, Cerati, etc.) but somehow this struck a public nerve and Macri allowed Sanguinetti to drop Boschet. Anyway it was for a short time, due to the new Board of Directors allowed by the Autarchy Law; but when the members were known, it came out that one is a labor lawyer and two are accountants; hardly people “with a known trajectory in the arts” as is specified in the Law… The first member is of course Sanguinetti, and the fifth is supposed to be a technician of the Colón, but an internal election had no quorum, so there are four named directors, not the required five. Finally Sanguinetti decided to present a restricted opera season in 2009 at the Coliseo, the same theatre that he had discarded in 2008; he now says that the financial conditions of the agreement are much more reasonable. Five operatic titles is certainly little, but at least there is a season. The biggest event will be Wagner´s “Parsifal”. Two rather small operas will hardly take advantage of the Coliseo´s big pit: Mozart´s “The Abduction from the Seraglio” and Gluck´s “Orfeo ed Euridice”. A standard Verdi, “Rigoletto”. And a double bill with Dallapiccola´s “Volo di Notte” and Puccini´s “Suor Angelica”. No details about singers yet. Various rumors have circulated about replacing Sanguinetti, even mentioning Plácido Domingo, but the Colón is in such a parlous condition that the 2009 season will surely be a thankless task for whoever holds the helm. Time will tell.

For Buenos Aires Herald

martes, enero 06, 2009

A varied musical roundup (II)

This is the second and final instalment of the season´s musical roundup. I will start with two concerts of the Pilar Golf cycle, certainly the most important of what might be called "the countries area". Argentine soprano Carla Filipcic Holm spent a year in Germany with various engagements but she also took special courses on the interpretation of the German Lied. It certainly showed in her splendid all-Schubert recital with a common theme: specifically songs for women. Although she missed the opportunity of doing short groups with the same heroine, her programme was very attractive, and if some pieces are very well-known, others were almost novelties: "Iphigenia", "Daphne am Bach". The soprano sang everything with exquisite phrasing and lovely voice, and she was partnered with great sensitivity and accuracy by Diana Schneider.

"The legacy of Cremona" was in principle a good idea: a group of local players had at their disposal splendid instruments made in that city for the collection of Carlos Pedro Blaquier, following the techniques that have long distinguished that city of "luthiers": models of Stradivarius, Guarneri, Montagnana and Landolfi. Unfortunately someone programmed the Brahms Piano Quintet with a poor pianist, Eduardo Páez; with his mistakes and lack of style he apparently disconcerted the string instrumentalists, who sounded under-the-note and murky. Things turned much for the better with the original and lovely Dvorák Quintet for strings with double-bass op.77; a rarely played work was given its reasonable due and some of the lustre and quality of the instruments could be appreciated. The artists were Pablo Saraví and Hernán Briático (violins), Verónica D´Amore (viola), Siro Bellisomi (cello) and Luis Tauriello (double bass).

The Midday Concerts of the Mozarteum at the Gran Rex provided some nice surprises. The Ensemble Musica Viva is made up of Argentine players living in France: Mónica Taragano (flute), Pablo Márquez (guitar) and Ezequiel Spucches (piano). They were joined by the French cellist Johanne Mathaly and the Argentine violinist residing here Elías Gurevich in an out-of-the-trodden-way programme: the very pleasant Sonata op.48 for flute and piano by our seminal composer Alberto Williams, valuable music by the great Brazilian Villa-Lobos (Two chôros for violin and cello and the Guitar studies Nº 10, 11 and 12), "Al declinar el día" by the Argentine Gustavo Beytelmann (1945-) and "Tango que yo ví bailar" by the French composer Thierry Pécou (1965-). All of this provided varied and attractive textures and the instrumentalists were first-rate.

In the same cycle it was a real pleasure to hear the Austrian Minetti Quartet (Maria Ehmer and Anna Knopp, violin; Markus Huber, viola; and Leonhard Roczek, cello). They offered two substantial scores (Berg´s Quartet op. 3 and Schubert´s Quartet Nº 14, "Death and the Maiden") in well-considered readings, as befits disciples of the Berg Quartet. Young, concentrated and proficient, they should have a fine career.

Their season closed with the debut of the important Coro de la Comunidad de Madrid, very well conducted by Jordi Casas Bayer. There were only three "foreigners" in their programme: Rossini with his funny "Carnevale di Venezia", Fauré´s refined "Cantique de Jean Racine" and our Guastavino´s "Gala del día". And just one piece of the great Renaissance Spanish repertoire: F. Guerrero´s "Niño Dios de amor herido". Two fine composers of their country were represented with well-wrought and inspired pieces: Rodolfo Halffter by his "Three epitaphs" (for Don Quixote, Dulcinea and Sancho Panza) and X. Montsalvatge by two of his "Canciones negras". The rest was an exhilarating zarzuela recital, with pieces by Barbieri, Giménez, Bretón, Chueca, Vives, Alonso and Sorozábal done in authentic style.

A lute recital is a rare occasion; although the instrument has a big repertoire, little of it is played. The Museo Larreta is an adequate venue and the Argentine player Evangelina Mascardi, who lives in Europe, gave an illustrative cross-section of tasteful and charming music: Charles Mouton´s "Pieces in A major, a contemporary of J.S. Bach, Sylvius Leopold Weiss ("Suite in G major", "Tombeau sur la mort de M. le Comte de Logy") and by Bach himself ("Prelude, Fugue and Allegro", BWV 998). Except in the Allegro of the Bach score, her interpretations were clean and in style. This was a session of the Bach Academy.

Víctor Torres is undoubtedly our best chamber baritone and he is always looking for interesting and neglected music. He certainly found two lovely British cycles for his recital at the Auditorio Borges of the National Library in the series "La Scala fuera de La Scala": the "Songs and proverbs by William Blake", a mature Benjamin Britten; and Ralph Vaughan Williams´ "Songs of travel" on texts by R.L. Stevenson. With fine English diction and his ingrained musicality, the artist gave an object lesson of insightful interpretation and was well abetted by the talented pianist Haydée Schvartz.

The intelligent soprano Soledad de la Rosa also gave an impressive recital of British music but with guitar, well played by Guillermo Gutkin. This was at the Salón Anasagasti of the Jockey Club and for Ars Nobilis. The First Part was dedicated to the Baroque with three great composers: John Dowland, Henry Purcell and George Frideric Handel. Britten took the Second Part with his "Songs from the Chinese" and some of his imaginative arrangements of English popular songs. The singer´s wonted musicality and complete professionalism were constantly in evidence, as well as careful diction. And thus I lay down my pen.

For Buenos Aires Herald

A varied musical roundup (I)

In tight synthesis I will try in two final articles to bring to an end the classical music reviewing of last season.

Ending the Cycle of Contemporary Music prepared by the Teatro San Martín, and after a delay of a week caused by a blackout, there was a homage to Stravinsky with a 1917 work (hardly contemporary) that defies classification: "L´histoire du soldat" ("The soldier´s tale"), a Russian folk tale adapted in French by Charles Ramuz but offered in Spanish translation by Marcelo Lombardero at the Teatro de la Ribera. The composer wanted a stage piece that could travel easily from city to city in Switzerland and be cheap, due to the straitened economic circumstances of World War I (that country was neutral). The music is concise, rhythmic, polytonal, whilst the tale of a soldier duped by the Devil seems rather weak by now. The seven players under Santiago Santero were correct but too manicured for the score´s raw power. Lombardero both produced and played a cynical, sarcastic Devil; Claudio Gallardou was an agreeable Soldier and Héctor Calori a good Narrator; Laura Aguerreberry (Princess) was given too little to dance or mime. The production used projections in excess, some of them incongruous.

In 1934 Claudia Muzio had a great success at the Colón when she premiered Licinio Refice´s "Cecilia". We had to wait until late in 2008 to see a revival of this sacred opera based on Saint Cecilia´s martyrdom (called the Patroness of musicians, in fact her story has little to do with music). On a poor libretto by Emidio Mucci, the composer wrote a post-verista opera that is impersonal though pleasant enough to hear. Adelaida Negri´s Casa de la Ópera put it on at the Avenida with the soprano as the protagonist, a part that suits her better than others at this stage of her career. The Brazilian tenor Miguel Geraldi made a fine debut as her husband, Valeriano. Roberto Falcone was forceful as Amachio, María Laura Martorell fragile but appealing as the Angel, Mariela Barzola rather shaky as the Old Blind Woman and Sebastián Sorarrain a good Tiburzio. The production and stage designs by Alejandro Atías were too kitschy for my taste, I preferred the costumes by Mariela Daga. Giorgio Paganini led a convincing performance and the choirs were good enough.

"¡Oh, el amor, el amor…!", music and libretto by Valdo Sciammarella, was premiered by the Colón Chamber Opera at the Teatro SHA. It lasts just half an hour, so it was rather absurd to offer it alone. The work is certainly inferior to the same author´s charming Peruvian Colonial story "Marianita limeña" but is well written in a moderate language. It tells an amoral true story: in 1909 a man who had made love to a widow and her two daughters was absolved because he maintained them! The subject is treated with light sarcasm and touches of grotesque. Well conducted by Bruno D´Astoli and produced by a good team that provided fun and clear narration (Ximena Belgrano Rawson, producer; Víctor de Pilla, production design; Alicia Gumá, dress design; Mauricio Rinaldi, lighting), it also had a good cast: Vanesa Tomas, Laura Penchi, Silvina Martino, Mirko Tomas, Rocío Arbizu, Fermín Prieto, Juan Barrile and Alejandro Di Nardo.

The CETC (the Colón´s Center for Experimentation) had a very poor season apart from the premiere of Marta Lambertini´s "¡Cenicientaaa!" (about which I wrote some months ago). A rather strange venue, the Sala Villa Villa of the Centro Cultural Recoleta, was the ambience chosen for a programme of music by Martín Matalón, an Argentine who lives in Europe and wrote the music for the restored version of Fritz Lang´s film "Metropolis". His music is long in timbric resources and short in substance. First we heard three pieces called "Traces": No. I for cello (Martín Devoto), No. VI for flute (Patricia Da Dalt, excellent), No. 4 for marimba (Angel Frette, very good), all with added electronics. The main piece was "Monedas de hierro", for ten players and electronics, in eight parts totalling 14 minutes; its succinctness was telling, for the material was interesting enough as sonorities but wouldn´t have sustained a longer span.

The Czech Center organised an agreeable concert at the "Microcine" of the Centro Cultural Recoleta, rather dry in acoustics but bigger than "micro". Two scores were original for wind quintet: Antonín Rejcha´s Quintet op. 88 Nº 2, a good exponent of early Romanticism, and the Small Serenade by Jaroslav Zich (1912-2001), a pleasant Neoclassical score. The others were arrangements for the same combination of flute (Raúl Becerra), oboe (David Bortolus), clarinet (Luis Slabý), bassoon (María Marta Ferreyra) and horn (Carlos Hussain): two fragments from "Along an overgrown path" (original for piano) by Janácek and a curious transcription by David Walter of the famous Dvorák String Quartet op. 96, "American". Very proficient playing.

"Music in singular" is a cycle of modern music structured by Gerardo Gandini. I heard only one of the five concerts offered at the Auditorio Borges of the National Library and it proved very worthwhile. Pianist Haydée Schvartz and violinist David Núñez played with high quality a difficult and rewarding programme: two scores by György Kurtág ("Eight duos op.4" and "Three pieces op.14e"), the fascinating "Musica ricercata" by György Ligeti (11 pieces), the adventurous "Sequenza VIII" for solo violin by Luciano Berio, the five subtle "Studies" (1990) by Gandini and Ravel´s 1927 Sonata.

For Buenos Aires Herald

The hard ways of modern music

The music of the twentieth century has undergone innumerable changes of style. After World War II creative richness began to suffer from an increasing anomie, as if the dialectic of the history of music had come to a dead end, and such false alternatives as conceptualism, minimalism and extreme Dadaism took over. What has happened so far in the twenty-first century certainly gives the future little hope.

I will refer now to the Cycle of Contemporary Music presented by the Teatro San Martín in diverse venues, a total of 14 sessions, some of them staged. As has happened since its inception twelve years ago, the programmer Martín Bauer stresses the avant-garde and experimentation, so that it isn´t a balanced view of what is being or has been written. This year though there was a homage to Stravinsky with his 1917 "The Soldier´s Tale". I will only comment on those sessions I attended, the others either collided with other events which I felt were more important or quite simply I decided they were too far out.

The initial concert was played in memory of the recent death of the influential German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen by the German Ensemble Recherche (debut) at what seems to me an ideal place, the Sala Casacuberta of the San Martín, a warm hemicycle of fine acoustics. It was an all-German programme which included works by Stockhausen, Helmut Lachenmann and Mauricio Kagel (who also died last year and was born in Argentina). In the Fifties Stockhausen innovated with indetermination (aleatoric music) and electronic music (now called electroacoustic). Later on he leaned toward mysticism of a kind in his immense project "Licht" ("Light"). Between 1952 and 1984 he wrote 14 "Klavierstücke" ("Pieces for keyboard") where he explored a vast gamut of sonorities. The curiously denominated "Nº4 Klavierstück X" (does it mean that we heard the fourth section of a bigger work?) lasts all of 27 minutes, dates from 1954-5, revised in 1961, and is an exhaustive and exhausting sampler of clusters and resonances, brilliantly played in this concert by Klaus Steffes-Holländer.

I found Stockhausen´s "7.Stunde aus Klang: Balance" ("7th hour from Sound: Equilibrium") much more concise (13 minutes) and convincing, with a fine ear for timbric combinations (flute: Martin Fahlenbock; Jaime González, English horn; Shizuyo Oka, clarinet). Helmut Lachenmann´s "Fluid Trio" seemed rather too hermetic; clarinet, viola (Barbara Maurer) and percussion (Christian Dierstein). Kagel´s "MM51" was added to the programme; playfully Dada, it features metronome and laughing. Fine execution all around.

I missed deliberately both concerts by Joan La Barbara (Feldman, Subotnick); I was sorry to miss Messiaen´s "La Nativité du Seigneur" by organist Theo Brandmüller; I couldn´t hear the two concerts by the French ensemble L´instant donné, featuring specially Gérard Pesson, Sciarrino and Castiglioni.

The premiere of Iannis Xenakis´ "Oresteïa" (1967-87-92) proved to be a major event. An adaptation of Aeschylus´ trilogy on the Atreidaes, this opera for baritone, mixed choir and chamber ensemble uses appropriately stark sonorities particularly interesting in the choral and percussion writing. The baritone not only sings in his normal voice the Presence of Agamemnon and the Presence of Apollo but also, in anguished and sustained falsetto, the prophecies of Cassandra, the Voice of Pallas Athene and two coryphaei. Florian Just coped well with his arduous task. The Grupo Vocal de Difusión led by Mariano Moruja gave expression and accuracy to the choral fragments. Alejo Pérez was the excellent conductor of 13 first-rate players. The down side was Carlos Trunsky´s production, wrongly tilted to extravagant and confusing choreography instead of powerful miming, but three of the dancers were admirable: Leandro Tolosa (Orestes), Victoria Hidalgo (Electra) and Laura Cuchetti (Clitemnestra). Edgardo Trabalón was weak as the Presence of Aegisthus. I didn´t enjoy Marta Albertinazzi´s concepts as stage and costume designer.

Garth Knox is a marvellous violist, fully committed to the avant-garde. The First Part of his concert gave us two unconvincing works, although Giorg Friedrich Hass´ "Solo" had the interest of letting us hear the sound of the viola d´amore; the other was Feldman´s "The viola in my life", where Knox was accompanied by pianist Lucas Urdampilleta. A good deal more attractive was the English composer George Benjamin´s "Viola-viola" for viol and viola d´amore, with fine textural combinations; Knox was complemented very well by Mariano Malamud, who played the viol.

But the main point of the concert were the three scores by Gérard Grisey (1946-98), principal exponent of "spectral music". After a "Prologue" for solo viola, there was a chamber piece called "Periods" (seven players) and finally a truly rich and varied score, "Partials", with no less than 17 players well led by Santiago Santero.

A change of venue: an homage to Marcel Duchamp at Fundación Proa (La Boca), but as a composer! He seems to have been the first to discover chance as a possibility, long before aleatoric music became trendy. I was interested by the first two pieces ("Erratum musical" for three voices, and "La Mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires même", where Czech flutist Petr Kotik showed himself a virtuoso) and bored by "Sculpture musicale". Apart from the well-known "Density 21.5" for solo flute by Varèse, the rest was a total loss: John Cage ("Five" and "Fontana mix") and Steve Reich ("Pendulum music").

I have no space here for the concluding "Soldier´s tale", I will write about it soon.

For Buenos Aires Herald

viernes, enero 02, 2009

"The tales of Hoffmann" , Offenbach at his best

Labor conflicts are the bane of official theatres. In the last couple of years the Colón, the Cervantes, the San Martín and the Argentino of La Plata have had several episodes of varying gravity. I have enough experience on the subject to state that truth isn´t unilateral, but in most cases it is the fault of functionaries, although some protests go beyond logical bounds. Recently the Argentino cancelled Verdi´s "Nabucco" at the last moment because the Chorus declared it was in assembly during rehearsals as a reaction against unfulfilled commitments from the authorities; they had signed agreements earlier in the year to ameliorate working conditions and they hadn´t honoured them. Most of the other employees of the theatre had expressed their solidarity with the chorus. After tense weeks an interim solution was arrived at, and the otherwise successful season could resume with the closing opera, Offenbach´s "Les Contes d´Hoffmann". I heard the fourth and last performance, where there was a clear indication that all was not well, for a member of the chorus read a communiqué announced that the show would go on as a sign of respect for the audience, but that the conflict wasn´t solved.

A few days later it became known that the commanding team was resigning: Fernando Di Rito, General Administrator, and Reinaldo Censabella, Artistic Director. And shortly after the ex General Director of the Colón, Leandro Iglesias, took Di Rito´s post. It was further announced that in March Marcelo Lombardero would take over from Censabella, though he will maintain his predecessor´s plans for 2009 (published in the hand programme of "Hoffmann" and featuring the first ever R. Strauss at La Plata, "Salome"). So the team that led the Colón in 2006-7 will be at the helm in what is now Argentina´s most important functioning opera house, with its imposing new 2.200-capacity main theatre. I hope they find a way of solving the labor troubles before the start of the season, otherwise the phantom of cancellation will rise again.

Offenbach´s only opera is the culmination of his career, mainly as the writer and almost the creator of French operetta. One of the most interesting operas of the French repertoire, it shows unlimited freshness of inspiration and is based on the extravagant loves of Hoffmann, with the audacity of putting the famous author of fantastic tales as the protagonist. The libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré is structured as a prologue, three acts and an epilogue, and it features a devilish character under four different guises, always Hoffmann´s nemesis.

Death took the composer before he could put the final touches on his score, so it was lightly revised and completed by Ernest Guiraud as an "opéra-comique", with spoken parts; it was later adapted as straight opera with very few spoken bits surviving. There remain some moot points concerning details of the Prologue and the Epilogue and the order of the three acts. The Argentino´s production placed the Venice Act as the Third, when habitually that place is held by the Munich act with Antonia; it makes better sense of the reprise of the Barcarolle in the Interlude before the Epilogue, but Antonia´s act is musically longer and better.

There were two casts combined irregularly in the four performances; I´m commenting the one I heard. Hoffmann is an immense part, present almost throughout the 160 minutes the opera lasts. It needs stamina, expansion, lyricism, good French and acting. Marcelo Puente did lack a more penetrating voice of considerable volume, but otherwise fulfilled all requirements; he is pleasant, personable, professional and agile.

Although Cuban bass-barytone Homero Pérez Miranda has been often cast locally in a variety of important roles, I don´t find his voice ingratiating ; it is gritty and too backward in projection. But he is intelligent and a good actor, so he knew how to differentiate between his four villains; he was at his best as Coppélius.

Two of the ladies were outstanding. Laura Rizzo has sung with success Olympia the doll at the Colón and in Paris; she was again brilliant in the florid singing and the interpretation was very funny with well-imagined mechanical movements and some musical innovations. Soledad de la Rosa sang with crystalline timbre and perfect line as Antonia . Of the others I especially liked Mario De Salvo as Crespel, Antonia´s father, and Vanesa Mautner as Hoffmann´s "mentor" Nicklausse. In the picture Gabriel Centeno in three of the four characteristic tenor parts (good in his operettish Franz), Alicia Cecotti as the courtesan Giulietta, Sebastián Sorarrain as her lover and Alicia Alduncin as the Voice of the Mother (Centeno was weak as Spalanzani, terrible French). The voice of the Muse (María Rosa Hourbeigt, spoken role) was badly recorded, almost inaudible.

The veteran Uruguayan conductor Federico García Vigil did a workmanlike job, keeping things reasonably together and with correct tempi, but his orchestra lacked animation and color, though the playing in itself was good. The Chorus under Sergio Giai got into the spirit of the opera and sang accurately.

The production by Carlos Palacios was a strange mixture of positive imagination with wrongheadedness and kitschy taste, with such absurdities as substituting Antonia´s claustrophobic room by the open air with the tomb of her mother. A pity for there were production values in the stage designs of Nicolás Boni and some of the costumes by Mariano Toffi.

For Buenos Aires Herald