lunes, marzo 16, 2009

"Carmen" again, and the Juventus Lyrica anniversary

I can understand that independent operatic organisations need surefire stuff to ensure adequate box office, and this in part explains the routine programming that often affects our seasons; it is also an indictment of the audiences´ lazy taste. So Fundamús, led by producer Eduardo Casullo, gave us "Carmen" for the umpteenth time, thus starting the whole operatic year. Frankly the prospect didn´t enthuse me. The venue, as usual in recent years for them, was the Avenida, home to most "alternative" opera. And –I´ve said it before and will continue to harp on this point- the small pit is a very limiting factor .

As both an aesthetic and pragmatic decision (for it cuts costs) Casullo has had resort lately to a production system that gives us projections as main visual attraction, substituting onerous constructions. It can work well, especially when it shows, e.g., big photographs of good resolution of ample landscapes. The controversial point this time was the exclusive use of Picasso pictures chosen by Edgardo Beck from the collections of three museums. The problem here was whether those shown were apposite to the dramatic situation and my verdict is half right and half wrong; at their best they reinforced the plot situations but at their worst they seriously weakened them. Costumes were traditional and rather good (designs by Mariela Daga). Choreographies (by Gabriela Castro Barros) seemed unnecessary in preludes though the three girl dancers were expressive. Casullo´s indicated stage movements varied between the realistic and intense contrasted with some tradition-bound and rather undramatic groupings.

I heard the second performance cast. Usually it isn´t Micaela that one remembers but it was so in this case: María Rocío Giordano was crystalline, musical and charming. The seasoned Carmen of Alicia Cecotti was professional enough but unalluring in timbre. Juan Carlos Vasallo sang a stolid though firm Don Jose; as an actor he was a cipher. Alberto Jáuregui Lorda presented a rather aged Escamillo with sufficient means but little flexibility. In the smaller parts I was agreeably surprised by the clarion neatness of Oriana Favaro´s high register. Workmanlike jobs from Verónica Cánaves, Alejandro Di Nardo, Maico Hsiao, Hernán Sánchez Arteaga and Gonzalo Castro Santillán.

Positive aspects were a clear rendition of the orchestral writing by Roberto Luvini and the ad-hoc players, and enthusiastic work from the young Nuevo Coro de Ópera (Ezequiel Fautario). The Nuevo Coro de Niños (Rosana Bravo) was acceptable but very uneven in age and appearance.

By and large the semistaged lyrical concert celebrating Juventus Lyrica´s tenth anniversary was enjoyable and at times moving. It was a dicey proposition to combine so many singers in such a variegated mosaic and I can´t say that all the choices of producer Ana D´Anna and conductor Antonio Russo were right, either in regard to repertoire or singers. But many were, sometimes strikingly so, and the spirit of comradeship and love for opera was infectious and empathetic. The venue was also the Avenida.

The First Part concentrated (with the exception of Rossini´s "Barber of Seville") in what has been the greatest love of D´Anna and Russo during the nine preceding years: the three Mozart Da Ponte comedies and the same composer´s "Magic Flute". "Don Giovanni" had been the starting opera of the company´s trajectory and naturally had the lion´s share. No less than six fragments, most of them with dramatic continuity, gave a satisfying conspectus, where only some acidity in the high notes of Lara Mauro (Donna Elvira) marred the vocal pleasure derived from some of our best singers: bass-baritone Lucas Debevec-Mayer´s Giovanni, by now a classic, full of innuendo and subtlety; Soledad De la Rosa´s Donna Anna, not ideally dramatic but so well vocalised; Carlos Ullán´s refined Don Ottavio; Sonia Stelman´s delicious Zerlina. All this had been preceded by an ideal rendition of that marvelous trio from "Così fan tutte", "Soave sia il vento", where De la Rosa, Stelman and Debevec-Mayer did marvels of blend and taste in "pianissimo".

I wasn´t so happy with "The Magic Flute", where only the Papageno-Papagena duet really worked (Fabián Veloz and Laura Penchi); Stelman was stretched by Pamina´s "Ach, ich fühl´s" and so was Marcela Sotelano in the admittedly terribly difficult aria by the Queen of Night, "Der Hölle Rache" (absurdly sung on a bicycle taken from the production of "Les Contes d´Hoffmann"). But great things were in store: three fragments of "The Barber" where Veloz stunned the audience with a brilliant "Largo al factotum", Ullán and Laura Polverini were quite nice in "Se il mio nome", and all three were fluid and comedic in "Zitti, zitti". Both "The Barber" and Mozart´s "The Marriage of Figaro" are fresh in my memory, for they closed the 2008 season. From "The Marriage" we heard the delightful Cherubino of Cecilia Pastawski ("Voi che sapete"), the stalwart Figaro of Debevec-Mayer ("Non più andrai") and seven singers in the Second Act Finale, ending in a spirited brouhaha.

The size of the orchestra was too small (16) to be truthful to intense, accented passages, and if this was felt in Mozart and Rossini, it was much worse in later music, even if they played rather well under the careful conducting of Russo. The stagings were mostly right but certain things were overdone (the use of the middle corridor or the jokes with the players) and the clothing concept was inconsistent, at times in good period costumes, veering suddenly into modern tuxedos, or making do Carmen´s dress for the travestied Nicklausse.

In the Second Part I rule out Verdi´s "Nabucco" chorus, "Va pensiero", sang by the soloists (bad idea) and although Debevec-Mayer sang smoothly, Wolfram´s third act recitative and aria from Wagner´s "Tannhäuser" was out of place, for it wasn´t done (and will never be) by Juventus. No less than ten operas (eleven if you count the encore "Toast" from "La Traviata") and an operetta ("Die Fledermaus") was too much and the contrasts were jarring at times, especially with the "Carmen" fragments, poorly done by María Luján Mirabelli and Norberto Fernández. The latter was too uneven in the famous "Una furtiva lacrima" from "L´elisir d´amore" by Donizetti; but the composer was meltingly sung by Santiago Bürgi and Polverini in two fragments from "Don Pasquale". Verdi was made proud in the "Rigoletto" Quartet, admirably sung by Fernández, De la Rosa, Fernando Grassi and Mirabelli. I also enjoyed the two pieces from "La Boheme" (Puccini): Musetta´s Waltz with a provocative Penchi and the Third Act final quartet, with Fernández, De la Rosa, Penchi and Grassi. Penchi was also a fine Adele in "Mein Herr Marquis" from Joh. Strauss II´ "Die Fledermaus". De la Rosa sang with lovely line Tosca´s "Vissi d´arte" (Puccini) and the programme ended with two fragments from the Venice Act of Offenbach´s "Les Contes d´Hoffmann", quite well done by a septet and a small choir. Long life to Juventus Lyrica!

For Buenos Aires Herald

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