I have an understandable soft spot of "Les pêcheurs de perles", for I proposed its Argentine premiere in French to conductor Antonio Russo back in 1992; I was Director General of the Teatro Argentino of La Plata, in those uncomfortable days when its house was the Teatro Rocha, a converted cinema, and Russo was my Artistic Director. He accepted and we premiered it with Mónica Philibert and Eduardo Ayas with remarkable success. Then and now, I can´t understand why this beautiful music has been heard only once at the Colón, back in 1913 but in Italian. Among those that saw it in 1992 was Boris, and last year he presented it at the Roma. Russo has wanted for years to premiere it in our city, he finally got his way and I´m very glad.
Mind you, the libretto is weak, a rather insubstantial triangle told by Michel Carré and Eugène Cormon. The same authors had written for Maillart "The fishers of Catania", a similar plot. When they did the libretto for Bizet, the first locale was Mexico and the opera was called "Léila"; they changed afterwards to Ceylon (present Sri Lanka) and the current title. The melodramatic tale is told with too many conventions and lacks backbone, except in a strong choral scene. But the music is often so beautiful that it matters little. The arias for the protagonists, the wonderful duets, certainly stay in the memory and are the very gist of Romantic French opera. Local Orientalist color adds some charm.
The main parts are quite difficult to sing and the cast I saw was no more than reasonably good. Two of them had already been in the Roma cast: tenor Carlos Ullán (Nadir) and lyric baritone Sebastián Sorarrain. Both should better their French. Ullán looked well but sang with audible strain in the high-lying bits, and Sorarrain needs more body in his tone, though he phrased well; he wasn´t helped by unbecoming makeup. Virginia Wagner isn´t the lyrical soprano with agility that Leila needs, her voice is certainly sustantial but sounds better in dramatic parts (as her recent Suor Angelica); the intense fragments were the best, although she was taxed by the high notes; she acted with conviction. Nourabad was quite well sung by Maximiliano Michailovsky.
The work of the Chorus was brilliant, for it had been prepared by Russo himself, our best choral conductor. The Orchestra played correctly but didn´t respond with as much enthusiasm as the flexible gestures of the conductor indicated. The production was mostly by a father-daughter team: Florentino Sanguinetti did the stage designs, pleasant but a bit kitschy; María Jaunarena as costume designer had partial success, for Zurga should have looked much more primitive; Florencia Sanguinetti did a traditional production (I mean it positively) at times a little too static; the only surprise was a violent choreographic episode by Julián Ignacio Garcés.
Most opera lovers know a tiny bit of the music of Vicente Martín y Soler: in the dinner scene of Mozart´s "Don Giovanni", a small band plays for the amusement of the Don; a sprightly tune is heard, and Leporello says: "Bravi! ´Cosa rara´!", mentioning "Una cosa rara", an opera by the Spanish composer that was at the time very famous in Vienna. Now Lírica Lado B, an enterprising young alternative group whose aim is to present eighteenth-century premieres, has brought to us for the first time a complete opera by Martín y Soler: "L´arbore di Diana", libretto by the great Mozart collaborator, Lorenzo Da Ponte. It was premiered in Vienna in 1787. It is a picaresque comedy that opposes the chaste Diana, the Roman goddess of the Hunt, to Amor. The music is light and slight, charming enough and agreeable to know. The text of Da Ponte is witty and full of funny situations.
The musical side was decently presented though with ups and downs. The 24-piece orchestra, big enough for this music, was conducted with good style by Camilo Santostefano. Of the singers Alejandro Spies stood out as Doristo; a voice of fine timbre used with skill, a good acting presence, the ability to sing recitative at breakneck speed. Diana is terribly difficult to sing, and Patricia Villanova couldn´t quite overcome all hurdles in her big aria, but elsewhere was good enough. Tenor Christian Casaccio was professional, Esteban Manzano couldn´t cope with his high notes, Selene Lara was a pleasant Amor and Milagros Burga a nice Britomarte. The rest were enthusiastic.
Alas, the production was a disaster. We had a campy grotesque instead of tasteful comedy. Horrible clothing, lewd gestures, absurd stage fixtures, an intolerable non-singing part (Matías Pérez), all went against late eighteenth-century Vienna. Producer Diego Rodríguez and his collaborators were wide off the mark.
For Buenos Aires Herald