Fortunately the axe Buenos Aires- La Plata is providing plenty of opera. In just one week there were three widely different offerings: Verdi´s "Simone Boccanegra" at the Colón, Rossini´s "Il viaggio a Reims" at the Argentino (La Plata) and Haydn´s "Il Mondo della Luna" at the Avenida (Buenos Aires Lírica-BAL). Due to lack of space I will deal with Rossini in another article.
"Simone Boccanegra" is for me in its revised version one of Verdi´s masterpieces, where the blend of politics and love attains some high peaks, even if everything isn´t perfect . As in "Il Trovatore", it comes from a drama by Antonio García Gutiérrez, a Romantic view of Medieval times. It matters little that historical truth isn´t respected in this story about a Genoese corsair that becames Dux. The first libretto was by Francesco Piave for the 1857 original; it was modified -and with an added tableau- by Arrigo Boito for the definitive version of 1882. Some of Verdi´s most sublime music was imagined for the father-daughter duets.
The Colón has presented this opera handsomely in 1942 and 1946 with Leonard Warren, in 1961 with Giuseppe Taddei, in 1964 and 1967 with Cornell MacNeil (recently deceased) and in 1995 with Jose Van Dam. Last offered in 2003, it was hardly a necessary revival, especially with a rather weak cast. Roberto Frontali (debut) certainly can´t compete with such illustrious predecessors; after a tentative start he settled into a professional but uncommunicative traversal of the role. Chilean soprano Ángela Marambio (debut) replaced the originally announced Svetla Vassileva; the voice is big and she sings with aplomb, but she becomes strident in high notes and lacks delicacy.
It was a pity that the debut of tenor Keith Richards didn´t come about due to last-minute illness, but our tenor Gustavo López Manzitti (who had sung Gabriel Adorno in 2003) rose valiantly to the occasion, singing with intensity and fortitude. Russian bass Konstantin Gorny (debut) was a correct Fiesco, though too Slavic in timbre and with a voice that was far from the rotund tones of Ferruccio Furlanetto in 1995. Fabián Veloz sang very well as the traitor Paolo, but dramatically he was uninteresting. Mario De Salvo was a good Pietro, and in bit parts Fernando Chalabe and Cintia Velázquez did well. There was also a second all-Argentine cast that I didn´t see, with the Colón debut of conductor Carlos Vieu.
Conductor Stefano Ranzani was very convincing; he believes in this score and knows how to transmit its theatrical and musical values with well-chosen tempi, dark hues and fine phrasing; the Orchestra played well. The Choir was also satisfactory under Peter Burian.
Bearing in mind the parlous state of opera production in the world and lately here, the Colón debut of José María Condemi (Argentine, he works in the USA) had its points even if I wasn´t convinced. He is a "concept" producer; his big idea: as Simone is a sailor, the sea dominates, although all scenes happen to be on land! So the Prologue, a street in front of Fiesco´s Palace in Genoa, is acted in a restricted area before a beautiful painting by Cameron Anderson (debut) of boats in heavy seas. And the following acts are variations of the inside of a boat making do for a garden and several chambers, including the Dux´s Council. Some beauty of design doesn´t compensate the basic inadequacy and discomfort (the negotiation of huge steps surely wasn´t easy for the singers). At least the period costumes of Eduardo Caldirola (from an earlier Colón production) helped to create the right ambience (although rather than Medieval they looked Renaissance). Some skilled lighting by Roberto Traferri was also positive.
I like Haydn´s operas and I have a fervent wish that some of them will be premiered in the near future, particularly "Armida", "Orlando Paladino" and "Orfeo ed Euridice", all of them really important and in the realm of dramatic rather than buffo operas. But Buenos Aires has seen several buffo operas by Haydn: in the far past, "La canterina"; just last year, "L´isola disabitata"; three years ago, "L´incontro improvviso"; and in 197l and 2006, "Il mondo della luna", by the Colón Chamber Opera. I would certainly have preferred some of the aforementioned dramatic titles to a premature revival (2006 isn´t far away) of this latter opus; anyway, it is a charming piece.
The Carlo Goldoni libretto (used previously by Galuppi, Piccinni and Paisiello) is no science fiction; rather, a mixture of ingeniousness and ingenuity concerning the well-named Bonafede and the false astrologer Ecclitico, plus two couples and two servants. So-called "dramma giocoso", it is in fact a farce where Bonafede lands on a false moon concocted by Ecclitico; after several light vicissitudes he eventually understands that he has been duped and he allows her daughters to wed their respective candidates. The music is beautiful and refined, not very theatrical, adapted to the exquisite tastes of Count Esterhazy, Haydn´s patron.
The cast was dominated by Hernán Iturralde, an admirable Bonafede. Osvaldo Peroni was miscast as Ecclitico, both in "physique du rôle" and in vocality. The girls were nice: Jeanette Vecchione (debut) and Maria Savastano (she used to be called Virginia) managed to cope reasonably well with the very high tessitura and difficult florid writing. Vanina Guilledo (mezzo) and Rocío Arbizu (a "soubrette" in the Despina model) were agreeable enough. Sergio Spina was rough and wildly exaggerated as Cecco. The eight-member choir was good and the 29-piece orchestra attempted successfully to conform to eighteenth-century style under the very able conducting of Rodolfo Fischer.
As so many nowadays, producer Pablo Maritano gives us grotesque when comedy is called for. His wild Moon includes the March Hare from Carroll, men-trees, tasteless fat men in tutus,etc. Constant references to trysts in bed make a travesty of the libretto. Naturally the costumes of Sofia Di Nunzio were made according to Maritano´s bizarre ideas. I yearned for the tasteful 1971 production by Sara Ventura (which moreover had a wonderful cast). What a pity that no videos are left of the admirable work of the Colón Chamber Opera during Valenti Ferro´s directorship.
For Buenos Aires Herald