Private opera companies always have a problem in making ends meet. So it is particularly meritorious when they choose unfamiliar material instead of the umpteenth "Tosca". Veterans such as myself have had such a surfeit of the standards that we jump for joy when finally offered a piece long awaited in vain. Last week I wrote about the ballet "Manon" and promised for next time my review of Puccini´s "Manon Lescaut" as presented by Juventus Lyrica. This isn´t a rarity, but the difficulty of the main roles –particularly the tenor- tends to make this first success of the composer far less done than his favorite warhorses. In fact, the last revival at the Colón was undistinguished (Salazar and Scibelli, 2004) and before that you have to go back to 1966 to find a worthwhile couple (Caballé and Tucker). I commend the courage of Darío Sayegh in the terrible role of Des Grieux (four arias, several duets and much exposed writing), whilst admitting that he doesn´t quite fit the bill: his vocal method in the highs produces tight and strident sounds. But his center and low registers are fine, he knew the part well and acted with reasonable conviction.
Both he and his soprano, Eugenia Fuente, are rotund in figure and look older than their characters; it´s hard to find the ideal physiques for young Romantic lovers. Fuente was impressive years ago as Menotti´s "The Medium", a very different part. As a teenager immoral coquette of Louis XV´s time, she tried her best, helped with adequate makeup and fine clothes designed by Ponchi Morpurgo. Her voice has an indefinite color, not quite soprano nor mezzo, but she sings with fine intonation and good line, though she strains a bit in the highest register. But she had a cold on the performance I saw, and both artists showed their mettle and professionalism in their reaction to an accident: unseen by the audience, at the end of the Third Act they had a bad fall from the "ship"; after 20 minutes in the dark (for no interval was scheduled) they sang the Fourth Act with fortitude. Ana D´Anna, the producer (and Artistic Director of Juventus) at the very end explained to the audience what had happened. I believe the announcement should have been made before the Fourth Act.
The rest of the cast was uneven. Fernando Santiago has the right idea about Lescaut but his vocal means are scarce. Oreste Chlopecki was a black-voiced Geronte, adequate for an unpleasant old man. Sebastián Russo was correct as Edmundo and Lamplighter, Damián Ramírez sang pleasantly as the Madrigalist (this was an interesting innovation, a countertenor in a mezzo role), and the others were in the picture (Juan Feico, Norberto Lara, Enrique Borlenghi). An acceptable orchestra was conducted with taste and passion by Antonio Russo, and the young Choir sang and acted with enthusiasm and accuracy under Miguel Pesce. Ana D¨Anna´s stage designs were spare but sufficient in the first three acts but her "desert" was rather ugly. Her acting indications were generally right. Morpurgo´s costumes, as usual with her, very nice.
Alfredo Catalani´s operas are rarely staged nowadays, but they were very popular during 60 years. They tend to have German ambience, such as "La Wally", last done at the Colón with Neblett in 1981, and "Loreley", now finally staged by Casa de la Ópera de Buenos Aires, at the Avenida, but absent since 1934 (with no less than Muzio!). The subject is the love of a Rhine nymph with a human, of course ending badly. On a libretto by Carlo d´Ormenville and Zanardini on Heine´s poem "Loreley", this 1880 opera has plenty of atmospheric orchestral writing and some expressive vocal pieces with rather advanced harmony.
I have often admired Adelaida Negri´s spirit of enterprise and her dramatic presence, whilst lamenting that her vocal means are no longer up to the requirements, and so it was again, though certainly she does better nowadays in this sort of repertoire than in bel canto. Two Brazilians sang with valuable voices and professional projection: tenor Miguel Geraldi and baritone Douglas Hahn. María del Rocío Giordano as Anna was lovely both in her acting and singing, and Víctor Castells was a stalwart Rudolf. The Ballet Surdanza did acceptably a very conventional choreography by Luciana Prato. The staging by Eduardo Casullo was based on projections of uneven quality and the movements were quite elemental. Good costumes by Mariela Daga. A rather green Choir sang under Ezequiel Fautario, and the Orchestra played tollerably under young Lucía Zicos, who showed promising qualities.
I decided in 1992, as Director General of La Plata´s Teatro Argentino, to stage the Argentine premiere in French of Bizet´s "Les pêcheurs de perles", a charming Orientalist love story with a dramatic ending and very beautiful music. I was hoping that the Colón or Juventus would revive it, but this finally happened at the modest Roma of Avellaneda, where a very well-chosen team of principal singers made it worthwhile. Carlos Ullán, Laura Polverini, Sebastián Sorarrain and Juan Pablo Labourdette all sang the rewarding music quite well. There was too much dancing of little Orientalism, and a very simple staging by Boris with stage designs of mediocre quality by Hugo Ciciro; good costumes from the Teatro Argentino. Very poor choral singing but acceptable playing from the Orquesta Sinfónica Municipal de Avellaneda, well conducted by Roberto Luvini.
For Buenos Aires Herald