martes, noviembre 15, 2011

Two Verdian masterpieces in awkward stagings

La Plata´s Teatro Argentino ended its season with an important first: the South-American premiere of the French original version of Verdi´s “Don Carlos”. And Buenos Aires Lírica closed their year with the composer´s “Macbeth”. In both cases there was considerable pleasure to be had from the musical point of view but not from the stagings, quite inadequate and wrongly conceived.
            “Don Carlos” started life in Paris, 1867, on a Schiller-based libretto by Joseph Méry and Camille Du Locle. It is a complex, long opera in five acts following the precepts of the “grand´opéra” as imposed by Meyerbeer; with enormous talent Verdi manages to synthesize that emblematic style with his own deep, complex dramatic-musical ideas. The result is a fascinating blend of romance, political and ecclesiastical turmoil. All in eight variegated tableaux originally including a 15-minute ballet, “La Peregrina”.
             Verdi later made a four-Act version in Italian (1883-4) and this has been the standard  in the Twentieth Century; however, in 1886 Verdi added the First Act in an Italian translation, and this has been sporadically offered (also at the Colón). I only got to know the French version in the Abbado recording of 1985 and by then the Italian version was in my bones, but I came to like the  original a lot, and some dramaturgical points are clearer in the French libretto (although it still has some faults). Of course, the non-historical liberties are already in Schiller.
            Even before the first performance, Verdi had to cut about 25 minutes of the gigantic score to allow suburban patrons to catch the last train before night closure! Well, in La Plata´s version the ballet and a good deal of that extra music is cut, but fortunately not the expressive initial Chorus sung by a famined populace in a winter-time wood near Fontainebleau. We still heard close to four hours of music and it was a long evening adding two 15-minute intervals and a 17-minute delay before the opening bars.
            The Italian Francesco Esposito (debut) was the producer and costume designer; the Argentine Enrique Bordolini did the stage designs and the lighting plot. I was amazed by the lack of common sense and gross mistakes. Just a few essential ones (for space is a tyrant):  the producer converted the opera into a festival of voyeurism at the most inappropriate scenes; the stage designer gave us a heavy unit set of fake wood with several stories of lateral stalls  and we were supposed to accept that as a proper setting for a garden with a fountain or for an immense open space for the auto-da-fe, grotesquely done with a huge fan that blocked the view and where at the very end some poor devils were supposed to broil. Unbecoming costumes and makeup and a shaky sense of historical ambience plus very weak dramaturgy completed a sorry panorama, worsened by technical snafus.
            The hero was Alejo Pérez conducting a very convincing and strong performance with an orchestra that responded quite well, save for some doubtful intonation of the offstage band at one point. The Choir was good under Fabián Martínez. The best voice was soprano Carla Filipcic Holm, who did lovely things in soft high attacks and very musical phrasing. Spanish bass Rubén Amoretti (debut) sang with a light though well-focused voice and a sense of drama, but was strangely dressed and had to tolerate unbecoming long hair.  Bulgarian baritone Krum Galabov (debut) has little volume in the center and low range and for long stretches his voice was a distant murmur, but he had isolated good moments. Tenor Luca Lombardo dealt with good technique and firm high notes with his difficult part (Don Carlos), even if neither his timbre nor  presence are alluring. Presence on the other hand is the strong point of Siberian mezzo  Elena Sommer (debut), who had some doubtful phrasings and a couple of dicey high notes but was a real character as Eboli. José Antonio García (Grand Inquisitor; debut), a bass from the Canary Islands, though rather woolly, gave dramatic sense to his terrible priest. Mario de Salvo was acceptable as the Monk (Charles V) and the young fresh voice of Victoria Gaeta offered a beautiful moment as the Voice from Heaven. Fabiola Masino was rather strained as the page Thibault.
            There was no need for a “Macbeth” from BAL for they had presented it in 2004.  Two points in this revival: it eliminates the ballet of the witches (I agree) but it cogently adds the arioso of Macbeth´s death from the 1847 version. I was disappointed by producer Fabian Von Matt´s profusion of added alter egos and ghosts (especially the irritating King Duncan). And by his bad judgment at several key points: the reading of the letter, the death of Macbeth, Banquo´s death, etc. His colors are right: black and red. The witches are passable, though why only three in the first scene, and why many small cauldrons instead of a huge one as specified in their second scene? Bad makeup for Macbeth, uneven costumes vaguely Medieval by Daniela Taiana, mediocre lighting by Alejandro Le Roux.
            Firm, rather fast conducting by Javier Logioia Orbe and good choral work prepared by Juan Casasbellas.  Strong dramatic characterisation and skillful singing from veteran baritone Luis Gaeta, and stunning looks as well as reliable high-range singing from Mónica Ferracani, a bit weak in her lows and much too soft in the letter reading, but still an important achievement. Too much vibrato although stark projection from bass Christian Pellegrino, and open, emotional singing from Arnaldo Quiroga (Macduff). 

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