Opera is a difficult genre and few of those which get to be premiered show staying power. Argentine operas of which such a thing can be claimed don´t number over a dozen. As the recent reprise of Gerardo Gandini´s “La ciudad ausente” at the Teatro Argentino of La Plata proved, this work is among that happy dozen. Based on a novel by one of our most interesting writers, Ricardo Piglia, who also concocted the libretto, Sergio Renán programmed it at the Colón in October 1995 and again in 1997, with great success.
This creation is highly complex and develops in several levels. As put by Luciano Marra de la Fuente in his useful programme notes: “Macedonio (Fernández) gets into a Faustian pact with an inventor to give eternal life to his wife Elena, not realizing that he will die and she, forgotten and becoming a Machine, will sing/tell stories/microoperas during all the centuries to come”. The three microoperas of the First Act have reference to the “birdwoman” (on Classicist molds based on Mozart), to Romanticism, and the third, “Lucía Joyce” (daughter of James Joyce), has an Expressionist air based on Schönberg´s “Pierrot Lunaire”. As you can see, Postmodernism to the full. In the Second Act, a journalist investigating this strange case will try to disconnect the Machine, to no avail. She is left alone forever…
Lyricism doesn´t come easily to modern composers, and Gandini achieves it only intermittently; some bits are arid. But most of the music is quite beautiful, with fascinating orchestration and great subtlety, following Piglia´s difficult but always intriguing text.
This mosaic of eighteen scenes in ninety minutes is quite a challenge for the producer. Pablo Maritano´s approach differs markedly from David Amitín´s (who had done the premiere) but it was almost equally convincing, which shows the dramatic richness implied in this work. Maritano´s collaborators were of a piece with his ideas: the resourceful stage designs of María José Besozzi, the costumes by Sofía Di Nunzio and the imaginative lighting by Horacio Pantano, plus the video and multimedia design by Federico Bongiorno, all added up to telling the story intelligently. I differed in some details but I was impressed by the resourcefulness and the feeling of a unified team.
Erik Oña, an Argentine living in Switzerland, was the first-rate conductor, obtaining a very precise reading from the orchestra and perfect communication with the singers. The cast was outstanding, with specially high praise for Marisú Pavón (Elena), Sebastián Sorarrain (Macedonio), Hernán Iturralde (Russo) and Eugenia Fuente (Lucía Joyce); good work from Luciano Garay (Junior, the journalist), Eleonora Sancho (Birdwoman), Leonardo Estévez (Old man), Santiago Bürgi (Student), Alejandra Malvino (Ana), Patricio Oliveira (Fuyita) and Darío Leoncini (Helper/Male nurse). Rather too characteristic the Dr. Jung of Sergio Spina and the Female Nurse of Matilde Isnardi, and fine ensemble from six sopranos that sang as voices that Lucia Joyce hears, sirens and female nurses.
Buenos Aires Lírica presented a double bill made up of “Suor Angelica” (Puccini) and “I Pagliacci” (Leoncavallo). Good tradition holds that the natural companion of “Pag” is “Cav” (Mascagni´s “Cavalleria Rusticana”), as the two archetypes of “verismo”. As I wrote recently when the complete “Trittico” was given at the Colón, I´m not a fan of “Suor Angelica”, to my mind the weakest link of the trio. It was offered by BAL because years ago they gave a double bill with “Il Tabarro” and “Gianni Schicchi”, the other parts of the “Trittico”, and they wanted to complete it. But it was a pat companion to the powerful “Pag”, whose authenticity in the main drama and skillful “commedia dell´arte” play-within-a-play in the final stretches remain a masterpiece of “truthfulness” in opera.
Suor Angelica was well sung by Florencia Fabris, a healthy voice plus adequate dramatic instincts. Elisabeth Canis, who started her career thirty years ago, isn´t a contralto, and even in the mezzo range her high notes have a lot of vibrato, but she gave presence to the hard Aunt Princess (the best scene of the opera is her duet with Angelica). All the other parts are minor; I found several singers particularly satisfactory: Alicia Alduncín, Vanina Guilledo, Rocío Arbizu, Florencia Machado and Patricia Deleo. The accurate conducting by Carlos Vieu was complemented by a sober production signed Marcelo Perusso that respected the indications of the libretto and included the scene with the Sister Nurse cut at the Colón (he did as well the stage and costume designs).
I may be in the minority but I wasn´t happy with Luis Lima´s Canio in “I Pagliacci”. The 63-year-old still has a big voice and in some bits a fine timbre, but his very exaggerated dramatic impersonation, although intense, leads him to sing with no line, no continuity. Fabris also sang Nedda, freshly and nicely, but with little punch. Omar Carrión lacks heft for a verismo essential role such as Tonio (doubling as the Prologue). Fermín Prieto was mediocre as Beppe (he should learn from Schipa), but Ernesto Bauer was a forthright and pleasant Silvio. The orchestra was well led by Vieu. It must be noted that both scores were adapted to the small pit: Juan Casasbellas in “I Pagliacci” and Héctor Panizza in “Suor Angelica”, good jobs both.Perusso did some unnecessary transgressions to the original ambience of the libretto and some situations weren´t well handled, but other points were in the picture.