Well, the great day finally arrived. After a two-year delay and countless problems, the Colón Theatre is back, serving the community. Two events marked the occasion: a reinauguration mixed programme on May 24, and the first performance of the revival of "La Boheme" on May 26.
The May 24 occasion preceded by a day the big celebration of the Bicentenary on 9 de Julio Avenue. I report on it as shown in television (mainly Canal 13), for the Press Department of the Municipal Government didn´t agree to provide the HERALD with a ticket, though other newspapers had them (a thoroughly undemocratic trait).
There were two shows, one outside the Colón on the Cerrito side, and the other on the Colón facing Libertad. I will describe both very synthetically.
CERRITO. TV isn´t the best way to see a big extravaganza street show, and a lot of detail was missing. However, the aesthetics (and even the ethics) of what was offered seemed to me very questionable. It lasted about 40 minutes and mixed a pompous and redundant voice in off insisting that "The Colón is for everybody" (not so with the huge prices applied by the current administration) with images presented in a technologically advanced method called "mapping" (imported), plus an enormous ensemble of dancers (about 150) doing very conventional steps in a big stage. We were shown a hodgepodge of testimonies from famous artists such as Caballé plus fragments of interpretations by singers, orchestras or solo players plus references to the recent restoration in unabashedly laudatory terms. But there were on the one hand problems with the continuity of the sound, and on the other plainly wrong decisions: if you show an artist it must be in something done at the Colón: Pavarotti in "La Boheme" but not in "I Pagliacci". If you choose a fragment of Beethoven´s Fifth Symphony you can´t have a conflation of bits from it, and you can´t have the images of several conductors with the same interpretation for that just isn´t so: each one has his phrasing and tempo. And if you put on Callas in "Norma", present her as she was in 1949 before the "cura dimagrante", not the sexy slim Callas of about 1956. For she was here in 1949. And so on. The whole thing could have been done so much better.
LIBERTAD. There were two shows here: the Red Carpet just outside, up the stairs under the marquee and then into the foyer, and the artistic programme in the big hall. The best parallel of the Red Carpet may not be the Oscar show but it gives the idea: mediatic rather than cultural, image rather than substance. How "they" looked, what "they" wore. And the lamentable team of Canal 13 showing plainly their total lack of information on cultural matters both in their references to the viewing public and in their short interviews. Samples: they asked Inés Pertiné and Fernando de la Rúa if they thought Shakira should perform at the Colón; Inés said yes, Fernando (to his credit) said no, the Colón is for classical music. A very unkempt Ángel Mahler was incited to present his "Dracula" at the Colón; of course, he said, he would love to do it… The presenters never said clearly that we would see the Second Act of "La Boheme"; no, we would see "La Boheme" (without qualifying, that means the whole of it). Ditto about "Swan Lake", of which we saw fragments of the Third Act. However, some interviews were better: Sergio Renán, Julio Bocca. Many highly popular people were attending the Colón for the first time, and some declared they didn´t like opera. But the Colón even for them is not only an icon but a place to be seen…if it´s the reinauguration. Politicians of course were rampant, but none from the National Government; Cristina was peeved with Macri and issued a blanket "no" to any functionary that would have liked to be present. Great musicians weren´t summoned for interviews, but Susana Giménez was highly visible.
The Show. It started of course with the National Anthem, by the Buenos Aires Philharmonic under Javier Logioia Urbe and the usual unmusical "community choir" (pity that the Colón Chorus was absent; it would have provided a solid basis). Then, unannounced until the last minute, the Orchestra played in the pit the Dances from "Huemac" by Pascual De Rogatis ( who though Italian lived most of his life here), thus providing the only presence of "Argentine" music at the Bicentenary special presentation. Then the curtain drop went up (it was the "historical" from 1936, newly restored; you won´t see the new Kuitca drop until October) and we saw fragments of Tchaikovsky´s "Swan Lake" with its classical choreography. The Corps de Ballet seemed in good shape, with some proficient solos, but the best thing was Silvina Perillo as the Black Swan, well partnered by Alejandro Parente. The production is handsome, and the playing was reasonably accurate (under Logioia Orbe). Clearly we were back in Big Theatre ground, something that can only be provided otherwise by the Argentino of La Plata.
After an interminable interval (close to an hour, during which catering was provided to several hundreds of the audience) in which we were shown some of the views of foyer, Golden Hall and corridors (they looked well), back in the hall to see "La Boheme" ´s shortest act, the Second. I won´t say much about it for I got a much clearer impression two days later, when I saw the whole opera. Only that it looked too glam and chockfull of people. After that, the slow desconcentration, for other hundreds remained inside for another round of catering.
There were two shows for the packed audience of the Gran Abono on the 26th: the opera on stage, but much more vital and important, the theatre itself. And I , along with most people, must give a positive verdict on what can be seen by the public: the theatre looks beautiful, not overbrilliant as I feared, but in tasteful pastel tones, and very clean. True, there are debatable points: I don´t like the holes in the roof of the Golden Hall, though the main picture is quite a pleasure to look at; they are there for the air-conditioning system, but I wish the leaders of the restoration had found a way to mask them. The corridors, the White Hall, are a bit different but the ensemble is quite recognizably our old Colón refreshed. In the great auditorium, seats, lights, curtains, look fine. We are back at what is for music lovers their second home, and I can´t avoid confessing I was happy, even if I know that in the rest of the theatre that are still plenty of wrong decisions and problems to be solved. And of course the matter of the 400 transferees is profoundly galling, and Judge Scheibler has again pronounced sentence against the Government. But the theatre is alive once more. And the acoustics seem almost the same; my doubt comes from the fact that some singers were heard with less volume and projection (especiallly Virginia Tola) than I imagined. But the sound of both orchestra and choir was healthy and true.
The opera: I won´t say anything about "La Boheme", the Puccini masterpiece is the most overperformed opera in the repertoire, here and elsewhere, and would certainly not have been my choice for the reinauguration. After seeing countless revivals, I would put this one somewhere in the middle. Throughout its history the Colón often made do with second-rate artists hoping that the magic of the piece would anyway produce a success.
Singers were a true cosmopolitan combo. An Argentine Mimì, Virginia Tola; a Romanian tenor, Marius Manea; an American Musetta, Nicole Cabell; a Sardinian, Marco Caria; an (I believe) Russian Colline, Denis Sedov. Manea, Cabell and Caria made their local debuts, and are quite young. For me the best singer was Caria, with a firm lyric baritone of pleasant timbre and a good vocal line, but the strongest personality was Cabell, a truly disinvolt Musetta, even with some acid notes. I found Tola below expectations, her voice too contained, although always musical and tasteful. Manea is still too green, with a bleat to his tone in the highest register, and doubtful phrasing, though he had some agreeable moments. I disliked the funereal and unpleasant timbre of Sedov, who made little of "Vecchia zimarra". Of the locals Omar Carrión was his reliable self as Schaunard, Fernando Grassi was a traditional buffo Benoit and Leonardo Estévez a better-sung than usual Alcindoro, but looking too young for the part.
The resident ensembles sounded well under Stefano Ranzani, an old hand at this repertoire, who phrased knowledgeably even if he lacked a measure of poetry. For the occasion the Choir had a new director, the Argentine Antonio Domenighini, who acquitted himself professionally, and Valdo Sciammarella obtained fresh and accurate singing from his children.
Hugo De Ana is an Argentine with a vast international career as integral producer, for he is also responsible for the stage and costume designs and the lighting plot. This certainly provides an integrated point of view, but it doesn´t mean that it´s right. And to my mind this particular "Boheme" isn´t. I disliked several main points: a) he claims to translate the time of his production from the 1840s to the end of the Belle Époque, but this had an abrupt closure by World War I in 1914; how come we see a car and a motorcycle from at least the 1920s? Anyway, several historical references should preclude any such change of time (King Louis Philippe, his minister Guizot, are cited; and especially the Barrière d´Enfer of the Third Act, for it was one of the barriers that indeed were guarded by customs officers at different points going out of or into Paris; the French capital changed after Haussmann some decades later). b) Why an open-air garret without a containing wall? No wonder they are cold… And why half-destroyed, leaving no comfortable place for the horsing around of the Bohemians? c) Why an over-populated Café Momus, providing such confusion that at times you didn´t make out who was singing? And why the military band isn´t on stage but on the central corridor of the stalls , contradicting Puccini and his librettists? d) And on the Third Act, why such an unrecognizable hostelry, why no windows in it, why the snow in April, why the very uneven ground in what is supposed to be a road? There were some good points in his handling of the singers, and clearly a professional hand was there, especially in the costumes, but a lot was misguided.
However, I went out with a positive feeling. No great "Boheme", but the Colón was doing what it must. And those are the real news. First-rate quality will eventually come, we all hope. Time, money and some guidance as to the proper artistic ways should do the trick.
For Buenos Aires Herald