Recent weeks have given us a sample of contrasting styles in opera. Two operas by Verdi were offered: "Il Trovatore" at the Avenida (Juventus Lyrica), and a concert version of "I due Foscari" at the Roma of Avellaneda. And a student outfit called Arcana tackled quite a challenge: the Argentine premiere of Handel´s "Alcina" at the Teatro Empire.
It has often been said that "Il Trovatore" needs the four best Verdians of the world to really dazzle. Also –and it´s true- that the complications of its plot are almost unfathomable. But it remains an inextinguishable river of marvelous melody.
We almost had the best possible cast in the world at the Colón in 1969: L.Price, Cossotto, Bergonzi and Cappuccilli. Of course, Juventus Lyrica´s purpose is very different than the international Colón of the Sixties: a good local young cast. Is this quite enough for this opera? There were two casts, and I certainly don´t think the Leonora of Sabrina Cirera up to par: the heavy vibrato and at times uncertain intonation puts her out of court, even if she had incidental good moments. On the other hand, I have long hoped that Laura Cáceres were given a plum role, and she finally got it with Azucena: the voice is quite adequate for the old gypsy, she has a sense of line and acted with intensity both in gesture and vocal inflexion.
Fabián Veloz, whose physical proportions are assuming alas a Falstaffian girth, sang with true and beautiful tone his Conte di Luna. Manrico is one of the toughest tenor leads, although people put too much emphasis on the famous high Cs of "Di quella pira". I commend Darío Sayegh´s courage and firmness, but his voice in the higher reaches becomes shrill. Maximiliano Michailovsky´s arid voice barely coped with Ferrando´s intervention in the Prologue. Good work in the bit roles from Claudia Montagna, Ulises Hanchen and Juan Feico.
I found Ana D´Anna´s staging very pallid, with a boring unit set that didn´t adapt to the different situations and undramatic, stock gestures; I was happy, however, that she didn´t change the Medieval ambience into a frigid twentieth-centur. A partial compensation to the conventionalities were the costumes of Ponchi Morpurgo, not quite as good as I expected but still better than what we generally see.
An interesting and unusual point was that the Chorus was prepared by the orchestral conductor, Antonio M. Russo, and it certainly showed: the famous choruses sounded out accurate and Verdian. But the orchestra was too contained and pat, lacking electricity and with exaggerated pauses.
Two years ago the Colón presented at the Coliseo "I due Foscari", but that version, decent enough musically, was ruined by the staging of Louis Désiré. The Roma interpretation showed that a concert presentation can work if the artists are involved dramatically and have the right vocal means. And both factors were present. The piece, based on Lord Byron, lacks variety but is certainly strong and intense recounting the tragedy of the two Foscari, father and son, in the Venice of the Council of Ten.
A welcome switch of dates allowed me to hear a talented young Greek baritone with the looks of a Don Giovanni, arguably too young for the Dux Foscari but certainly musical and interesting: Aris Argiris. He grew into the part and was impressive in the final scene. Leonardo Pastore presented an anguished and well-sung Jacopo Foscari. And Haydée Dabusti showed again that in this sort of dramatic Verdi part she has the right style, the no-holds-barred attack and the technical ability such as the part of Lucrezia Contarini needs. Good supporting work from Guadalupe Larzabal, Luciano Straguzzi and Cristian Mella. The sum of four different choirs paradoxically wasn´t enough, for the singing was tentative and backward. But the Avellaneda Municipal Symphony responded passably well to the convinced enthusiasm of conductor César Tello.
"Alcina" is one of the very best Handel operas and one I eagerly awaited for decades, knowing as I do the splendid recordings of Boult with Sutherland (1960) and Hickox with Auger (1985). It is paradoxical that the Argentine premiere came from a student group, Arcana, of the IUNA (Conservatorio López Buchardo), for it deserves the honors of a full scale staging with a picked specialist cast. "Alcina" is one of three Handelian operas based on Ludovico Ariosto´s "Orlando Paladino". It is based on a sort of Circe, a beautiful witch that is highly erotic but also changes men into beasts.
The complete version lasts 3 hours 20 minutes; the one I saw, 2 hours 10 minutes: the cuts were recitatives, ballets and arias. The staging by Laura Gutman was very poor, but the small orchestra (eleven members) sounded well under Andrés Gerszenzon. Of the seven singers the best was Juan Pablo Pacchasochi as Melisso (bass). Tenor Emmanuel Faraldo sounded tentative and countertenor Damián Ramírez (Ruggiero), wildly exaggerated. The best of the women was María Cristina Zuccala as Bradamante. Marina Brengi was nice as Oberto. The two witches, Alcina and Morgana, were charming to see but not always to hear: Ayelén Mose (Morgana) was very shrill at the beginning, later improving, and María Clara Maiztegui made a brave but not always convincing effort to master the long and difficult leading part. But the initiative was valid and I was glad to have the chance to hear "Alcina" live.
For Buenos Aires Herald