domingo, junio 13, 2010

New and old: Ainadamar” and “Madama Butterfly

            Undoubtedly La Plata´s Teatro Argentino did the best musical homage to the Bicentenary: it combined one of our classics (Ginastera´s "Estancia") with a premiere by the currently best-known Argentine composer with residence in the United States: Osvaldo Golijov. His "Ainadamar" is a homage to García Lorca and has had a big success in the North, including a Grammy. On the other hand Buenos Aires Lírica put on (no connexion with the Bicentenary) a great Puccini opera: "Madama Butterfly"; and they did justice to it.
I unfortunately missed "Estancia", an eight-dance suite choreographed by Carlos Trunsky, due to a snafu on starting time.
            "Ainadamar" means in Arabic "fountain of tears" and certainly applies to the place in Granada where the great poet was shot. It is the first opera by Golijov, a "platense" composer born in 1960 who studied in Argentina with Gandini, in Israel with Mark Kopytman and in the States with Crumb and Knussen. The text was written by David Henry Hwang, author of "M. Butterfly" (no relation to Puccini´s work!), which has a Chinese locale. It is a chamber opera lasting about 80 minutes (not 45 as wrongly stated in the hand programme of the Argentino) evoking the poet through the memories of the great actress Margarita Xirgú. The libretto was translated into Spanish by Golijov and is organized in "three images" that are presented in a continuous single act.
            The First Image, "Mariana", refers to García Lorca´s play "Mariana Pineda", the revolutionary executed in 1831. Montevideo, 1969: the old Xirgú tells her young pupil Nuria (Espert?) about her first meeting with the poet and his ideas of freedom. The Second Image , "Federico", tells us about Xirgú´s last encounter with García Lorca, when she tried to convince him unavailingly to travel with her company to Cuba, but he wanted to stay in Granada and accompany the Republican cause; the Falangist  Ruiz Alonso later in the Image leads the poet to the solitary place of execution. The Third Image, "Margarita", brings us back to the closing minutes of Xirgú´s life; the spirit of the poet accompanies her and they both enter into a visionary transformation.
            A moving story, then.  Golijov´s music is very trendy: a vast array of elements  both classic and popular (at times it might be called "fusion")  are mixed: the basic language is tonal with just enough audacity to be called contemporary, but always with a strong Spanish tint, reinforced by the presence of a Flamenco "cantaor" and two guitarists; and there´s electronic transformation of words and sounds to submerge us in the tragic atmosphere of the Civil War. The technical skill is always  evident and in two extended vocal trios Golijov shows that he has a real gift for melody and euphonic sounds. The choral writing is also very effective. True, the whole thing is overextended and with too much redundancy; but I still find it an attractive musical-theatrical experience.
            It was handsomely presented. Claudia Billourou, who had been so wrong last year in "Lucia di Lammermoor",  gave real Andalousian flavor to her staging, with expressive grouping of women in black (she was also costume designer), an interesting use of projections (especially a dancer) and coherent aesthetics. With stark stage design and lighting plot from Juan Carlos Greco, the staging was of a piece.
            The musical side was equally satisfying. Excellent conducting from Rodolfo Fischer, first-rate singing from the feminine chamber choir, and admirable lead singers. Marisa Pavón replaced the announced Graciela Oddone as Margarita, and gave to her singing and acting a deep telluric strength. Franco Fagioli sang with great intensity his García Lorca (Golijov wrote the part for a mezzo but he admitted a countertenor for the La Plata premiere, and I feel it´s much better this way) and Patricia González sang with free and fresh expansion her Nuria.  Good jobs from the cantaor Jesús Montoya and the bass baritone Víctor Castells.  One controversial aspect: such is the variety of sounds on stage that amplification is needed; it worked generally well, but Fagioli had the bad luck of having his microphone maladjusted and some wrenching sounds emerged; no matter, "Ainadamar" was a success.
            A shorter review of "Madama Butterfly", to my mind the very best Puccini. Buenos Aires Lírica had included it on their  first season, with Mariela Schemper. They decided to do it again, and with a young talented singer, Florencia Fabris. I´m glad to state that she coped well with the enormous role in every sense; although she´s a big girl, by dint of well-studied movement and adequate makeup she was a believable Cio Cio San, and she sang with a healthy, beautiful voice, quite well used.  Enrique Folger was a splendid Pinkerton, probably the best we have, with fine timbre and style. Ernesto Bauer lacked some volume and color as Sharpless, but sang and acted correctly. The smaller parts were quite good: Vanesa Mautner as an ideal Suzuki, Santiago Bürgi doing an outstanding Goro, Walter Schwarz sonorous and impressive as the Bonze, Mariano Fernández Bustinza as a pleasing Yamadori.
            Fine conducting by Carlos Vieu of the Panizza reorchestration for chamber orchestra, nice choral work led by Juan Casasbellas. And an agreeable production from Crystal Manich (debut, USA-born) with fine stage designs (originally from the Theatro El Círculo of Rosario) by Nicolás Boni and very beautiful costumes by Lucía Marmorek.   
For Buenos Aires Herald

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