I wrote about the Colón Ballet recently and promised a review of a Russian ballet offered at the Teatro Argentino of La Plata. Here it is: Aram Khachaturian´s "Spartacus" in the choreography of Vilen Galstyan. It was a revival, for the premiere had taken place in late last December. A big epic piece, it was originally a typical product of the Grigorovich years at the Moscow Bolshoi, and we saw it in BA when that great company visited us more than two decades ago. Later in 1996 there was another very good version by the Novossibirsk Ballet featuring our Maximiliano Guerra in one of his best roles. And earlier, in 1978, there was another choreography for the Colón Ballet by Attilio Labis.
The Argentino´s version by Galstyan was revived by José Luis Lozano, who last year was the Director of this theatre´s ballet; he is now replaced by Mario Galizzi, an artist of vast reputation. I am sorry that in the reprogramming a very important ballet was discarded, the first time in more than sixty years that Delibes´"Sylvia" would have been seen; it is urgent that either the Colón or the Argentino should offer it, because it is of the best ballet music of the Nineteenth-Century.
You will probably remember if you are a veteran the "Spartacus" movie with Kirk Douglas, and now a new TV series is announced: the story of the Thracian leader of the slaves against the Roman Empire´s oppression is a strong and attractive one and was the subject of an excellent novel by Howard Fast; the ballet´s plot was concocted by Nicolai Volkov and has a quartet of principals: Spartacus, his beloved Phrygia, the Roman centurion Crassus and his lover Aegina. And immense groups of dancers: slaves, shepherds, Gaditans (from Gades, now Cádiz), participants in an orgy, gladiators, soldiers. It is a huge show of love and death, of the fight for freedom, with the grandiloquent, "Soviet Hollywood" music of Khachaturian (the love duet of Spartacus and Phrygia is famous), sometimes kitschy but always effective.
Galstyan´s revision follows the general lines of Grigorovich´s original, with athletic, vital dancing, big symmetrical groups, exalted love duets and a sense of show. The local designers understood the spirit of the piece and followed the Bolshoi´s aesthetics: María José Besozzi in the stage designs, Mariano Toffi in the costumes and the lighting of Roberto Traferri gave evidence of solid professionalism and of the resources of the Argentino.
There were two and sometimes three casts; I comment on the one of April 17. Both principal male roles need powerful physiques and virile dancing. Whilst not in the same league of the Guerra of 1996 or especially Vasiliev, Bautista Parada gave a good, solid account of Spartacus, and his foil as Crassus, Nahuel Prozzi, was appropriately visceral and impetuous. The fragile, sensitive Phrygia and the energetic Aegina were well-taken by Agustina Verde and Stefania Vallone, dancers of good looks and fine technique. Not all the members of the vast Corps de Ballet are quite up to par, but most are, and the numerous group scenes had vitality and reasonable mutual adjustment.
The young conductor Darío Domínguez Xodo showed visible progress in this often loud and strongly rhythmic music, difficult to play with real virtuosity; the Orchestra did pretty well. Musically I certainly find Khachaturian´s "Gayaneh" (done here decades ago by the Armenian Ballet) vastly better than "Spartacus".
In this article I also want to deal with a valuable concert. The Mozarteum Argentino gave much pleasure at the Colón in the first of its season presenting the return visit of the Budapest Festival Orchestra led by its founder Ivan Fischer. I could only hear the second of two different programmes, but it was enough to appreciate again the high qualities of this organism, already met in 2003 and 2007. Fischer is still relatively young (in his late fifties) and adheres to the same principles as he did when he founded the Orchestra (with Zoltan Kocsis) in 1983: a fresh, communicative approach, a palpable joy of making music live in the players and himself, a very high technical standard.
The unusual physical layout was interesting and functions beautifully: basses behind the woodwinds, first violins in front of the seconds, cellos and violas in the middle, trumpets, trombones and tympani to the right of the woodwinds, and horns to the left. The result was rich, deep and clear. All sectors are splendid but I particularly admired the vital, burnished sound of the violins. As I expected, the artists were wonderful in Dvorák: the rarely played and charming "Prague Waltzes" and three of his marvelous Slavonic Dances: op.46 Nº 2, and op.72 Nos. l and 8 (the hand programme had the op.72 items wrong, the other way around, 8 and 1).
Pianist Dejan Lazic dazzled the public in the 16-minute "Konzertstück" by Weber, a quicksilver score leading directly to Mendelssohn: wonderfully dexterous but also extremely sensitive and musical, Lazic is certainly outstanding (he had been here with another orchestra back in 2002 –or was it 2003?). His encore was a Scriabinesque Fantastic Dance by Shostakovich.
I do find Schumann´s Third Symphony ("Rhenish") too heavy and blocky in texture, but Fischer´s straightforward reading presented it in the best possible light. Two charming encores: Brahms´ Hungarian Dance Nº 10, and Leroy Anderson´s Blue Tango.