Masterpieces are always risky: the heavy hand of comparison weighs in as we evaluate the casts and we opera lovers have our own ideas on how to solve some problems in the staging. Cases in point: the recent performances of Mozart´s "Don Giovanni" at the Colón and Verdi´s "Rigoletto" at La Plata´s Argentino. The last "Giovanni" at the Colón was as far back as 1993, and the Verdian item was seen at La Plata in 1999, before the existence of the current theatre.
Michael Hampe, now 75-years-old, is an old friend of the Colón, and I believe this is the fifth opera he stages here. He is a cultivated man who gives its due to tradition. I liked the general lines of his "Giovanni". But there were difficulties along with the good points. On the plus side: fast changes of locale through laterally sliding elements; an agreeable and tasteful basic frame with apt hiding places (although it looks more like a Viennese palace than a Sevillean one); a complete absence of tastelessness (a rare event nowadays); adequate placing for the small instrumental groups that have to be onstage for the First Act Finale and for the dinner scene of the Second Act.
On the down side: the utter botching of the scene where Giovanni falls into Hell (a gyrating view of the cosmos hardly suggests the nether regions, the lighting is inappropriate and the Don lamely walks three paces behind the statue and merely lies down); the costumes veer between the late eighteenth-century and the first half of the Romantic era; the peasants instead of being colorful and joyful look like Quakers; the interrelationships between characters are too pat and rather boring ; there is an excess of symmetry. Stage designs by Hampe and Germán Droghetti; costumes by Droghetti; lighting by Ramón López.
There´s a vexed point I want to raise: the Colón first opera production ("La Boheme") came from Milan; this "Giovanni" originated in Santiago de Chile, and that was also the source of the first ballet of the season, "Manon". It all points ominously to a deep reduction in the Colón´s own production and seems to be connected with the deep cut in personnel decided last year (now in partial remission, as over a hundred people have had to be taken back as a result of a judicial sentence). And there are adaptation troubles, for the Santiago stage is much smaller.
The cast was dominated by Nicola Ulivieri (debut), a Giovanni of firm, pleasant voice who sings with good line and has a convincing stage presence. Canadian tenor John Tessier (debut) may not have a particularly beautiful timbre, but as Ottavio he was the singer with the best style and breath control. The Argentine Eduardo Chama was a traditional Leporello of clear singing and adequate movements. In terms of sheer voice no one was more impressive than Fernando Radó as Masetto and he was also a good actor. I didn´t care for the woolly singing of Venezuelan bass Ernesto Morillo Hoyt (debut) as the Commendatore (Knight Commander).
The ladies: I was much disappointed by Norah Amsellem, whose Donna Anna was unfocussed and vibrato-ridden. Virginia Tola, after her opaque Mimì, sounded reinvigorated and sang with purpose and character, but her timbre isn´t Mozartian. Eliana Bayón as Zerlina does have the right kind of voice but her singing had some small lapses of intonation and she lacked charm. Also disappointing was conductor John Neschling, so good in concert with the Sao Paulo Symphony; but this "Giovanni" was often poorly coordinated and the playing dind´t have enough precision. The Choir was correct.
The Argentino´s "Rigoletto" had some positive things in the casting and the production, but enough flaws to make it less than a success. Pablo Maritano was the producer, Daniel Feijóo the stage designer, Sofia Di Nunzio the costume designer, and Gabriel Lorenti was in charge of lighting. Maritano went overboard in the initial scene, a tasteless orgy with plenty of nakedness, but he was better in other scenes, especially in the last act, with its interesting idea of a bridge joining Sparafucile´s house and the opposite coast of the River Mincio (also to Feijóo´s credit) and the inclusion of a sexual encounter between Maddalena and the Duke was here fully apposite (in other stagings one can´t understand why the Duke goes to sleep without having had his tryst with Sparafucile´s sister). I don´t agree with a medieval fortress when what we need is a Renaissance palace, and I was bothered by a gross change of text as the Duke enters Sparafucile´s house: he normally says: "Two things, a room and wine", but here: "Two things, your sister and wine". Some of the costumes were quite attractive.
Lisandro Guinis, a Platense living in Italy, has a rather limited voice, but his portrait of the misshapen Rigoletto was powerful and convincing. Darío Schmunck was stylish and pleasant as the Duke, though he hadn´t enough volume for this vast house. Spanish soprano Sabina Puértolas (debut) sang an accurate Gilda and had a sense of drama. Christian Peregrino was a sonorous Sparafucile, Ernesto Bauer sang nobly albeit with not quite enough impact as Monterone, Mónica Sardi looked fine as Maddalena though her voice lacks harmonics. The others were in the picture, especially Emiliano Bulacios and Oriana Favaro.Good conducting by Guillermo Brizzio and excellent choral work (Miguel Martínez).
For Buenos Aires Herald