domingo, julio 12, 2009

The Emerson, Menotti and "Messiah": rampant diversity

In just four days, this reviewer saw and heard as dissimilar expressions of classical music as can be. Juventus Lyrica offered a Menotti double bill at the Avenida; The Emerson Quartet made its debut for the Mozarteum at the Coliseo; and Festivales Musicales gave us Handel´s Messiah at the Auditorio de Belgrano. Rampant diversity indeed. And all three defied the ban on shows imposed by the measures against the influenza A pandemia; it has affected all official musical activity and some of the privately organized events as well.

Gian Carlo Menotti was certainly one of the most successful opera composers of the twentieth century. Reviled by many colleagues and reviewers as a dyed-in-the-wool conservative, this creator managed to use tonality in a creative and theatrical way. He also proved to be a first-rate librettist of his own operas and of Barber´s "Vanessa". It was a brilliant idea of Juventus Lyrica to pair Menotti´s first two operas and I´m glad to say they made quite a success of it.

"Amelia al ballo" is a 65-minute "opera buffa" written in 1937 when the composer was 26. The Colón premiered it in 1954 with Arizmendi, Cesari and Falzetti, and revived it in 1982 with González, Gaeta and Ranieri. I was present both times and had fun with this "joujou" based on a very simple conceit: Amelia is frivolity itself and only cares about going to the first ball of the season; when the husband discovers she´s having an affair with a neighbor, both men after initial violence discuss the matter calmly; in a fit - it´s getting late for the ball- she crushes a flower vase on her husband´s head; when the police comes she accuses her lover of being a thief and the attacker of her husband, and she goes to the ball… with the police officer. The music is simple, clear and attractive, with some expansive moments for tenor and soprano. It was nicely sung and acted by Eleonora Sancho, Gustavo Feulien (The Husband) and Norberto Fernández in fine form as the Lover. Agreeable though a bit slow the playing under Leandro Valiente, and involved the singing of the Choir.Very adequate stage designs and sympathetic production by Florencia Sanguinetti, and beautiful gowns by María Jaunarena.

"The old maid and the thief" has more substance; it was also innovative in being the first opera originally conceived for radio broadcasting (NBC premiered it in 1939). The interesting idea in this 75-minute opera is the relativity of behavior: an old maid mistakes a hobo with a thief, but induced by her chambermaid makes him stay for a week, during which she of the impeccable life becomes a thief herself to supply the hobo/"thief" with goods. When she discovers the truth she goes out to denounce him to the police; during that while he, again induced by Laetitia the chambermaid, indeed robs the old maid and goes off with her car and Laetitia. The music is more elaborate, with telling concerted work. Our city had only seen a rather poor condensed version with piano at La Scala de San Telmo, so this real premiere certainly made sense.

There was brilliant singing and acting from Eugenia Fuente (Miss Todd, the old maid), Sonia Stelman (Laetitia), Sebastián Sorarrain (Bob, the hobo) and Vanesa Tomas (Miss Pinkerton, a gossipy friend). And a very intelligent job of producing and stage designing from Ana D´Anna and apposite costumes from Jaunarena. Valiente led the orchestra with a firm hand.

CDs had already told me that the Emerson Quartet is one of the very finest we have, but their debut here provided triumphant confirmation. They have existed for thirty years and two of the members (the violinists) are founders. They have two special characteristics: a) they are the only quartet I know where violinists and violist play standing, apparently to maintain greater vitality and attention; b) the violinists alternate between the posts of first and second violin. The foursome is made of true virtuosi with a total immersion in chamber-musical exchange: Eugene Drucker and Philip Setzer (violins), Lawrence Dutton (viola) and David Finckel (cello). Drucker led Charles Ives´ already prophetic First Quartet (fine choice) and Schubert´s Quartet Nº 14, "Death and the maiden", Setzer led the Ravel Quartet and the Scherzo from Mendelssohn´s "Four pieces", op.81 (as encore). I won´t be redundant: all was played with supreme clarity and insight, although I have a preference for the immense subtlety displayed by them in the Ravel.

Everything has been said about Handel´s "Messiah"; it is a wonder and will always remains so. With the augmented Camerata Bariloche and the Orfeón de Buenos Aires (prepared by Néstor Andrenacci and Pablo Piccinni) Mario Videla´s conducting was orthodox and proficient, with animation in his phrasing and clearness of gesture. I was amazed by the quality of the choir, who sang with uncanny precision the very florid singing assigned to them. The orchestra was quite good too, with resounding solos from trumpet player Fernando Ciancio. The soloists ranged from high class (Víctor Torres and Carlos Ullán) to uneven though with fine moments (Martín Oro and Silvina Sadoly). The concert was recorded, and with the public present two baritone and trumpet passages were re-recorded. I don´t abide Videla´s deep cuts, however; I can accept the eight from the Appendix, but not another seven pieces. A blot in an otherwise satisfying session.

For Buenos Aires Herald

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