Opera was born in 1597 at the Camerata Fiorentina, whose name indicates that at first it was an art form designed for a small audience in an intimate hall. Eventually the exiguous Late Renaissance orchestra grew into a sizable one during Baroque times and public theatres welcomed opera. Even then, there were big pieces such as Cavalli´s "Ercole amante" with great stage machines and a quest for splendor, and "intermezzi" such as Pergolesi´s "La serva padrona", with just two characters. Classicism was a time for refinement and Mozart´s "Così fan tutte" is the perfect example of a chamber opera. The expansion of Romanticism gave the genre little space, but nevertheless there are such pleasant small operas as Donizetti´s "Rita". In the Twentieth Century chamber opera sometimes came about as the result of restricted financial resources, and the same author, Benjamin Britten, could write the ample "Peter Grimes" and such chamber pieces as "The turn of the screw". Ideally this repertoire should be done with the small orchestra most composers require, but sometimes the originals are so "chamber" that they make do with just a piano, and at other times money (the lack of it) imposes the piano as a replacement.
In 2011 we´ve had a good sampling of the genre, even if Pedro Pablo García Caffi scrapped two years ago the Colón Chamber Opera . But at least the ISA (Instituto Superior de Arte) has followed the good tradition established by Ana Massone during her many years with the Colón formative institution; now led by Eduardo Ihidoype, it offered a charming work by Valentino Fioravanti (1764-1837). The chosen opera has two versions: as "Le cantatrici villane" ("The gross singers"), in two acts, it was premiered in 1799 and in BA, the old Colón Chamber Opera offered it in 1970 with a splendid cast. This time we heard and saw the local premiere of the second version, reduced from two acts to one: "Le virtuose ridicole" ("The ridiculous virtuosi", not "The conceited ridiculous girls", as the "Argentine"-style put it: "Las vanidosas ridículas"), premiered in 1801. It was sung in "Neapolitan" Italian, and unfortunately dislodged in time and place to an approximately Fifties small town in the Province of Buenos Aires (the 1970 "Cantatrici" left things as they should be in time and place). The venue was the Teatro Margarita Xirgú, adequate for the purpose.
Two blots: no references on the work in the hand programme, and especially no supertitles! (by now they are a must). The adaptation of the libretto by Giovanni Palomba is by Betty Gambartes, who also produced. I certainly enjoyed the text of "Le cantatrici villane" and I presume that the one for "Le virtuose ridicole" was equally funny. The music is fresh and accomplished in the spirit of "buffo" Paisiello. The basic idea has surely been preserved: a sham maestro appears in a small village and in no time three local girls pretend to become prima donnas; this, plus some Romantic shenanigans with two suitors, is the whole plot. If you accept the transposal to 1950s Argentina, Gambartes´ production was fast and funny, and her collaborators were in the spirit of the farce: Gerardo Pietrapertosa (stage design), Alicia Gumá (costumes) and Gonzalo Córdova (lighting).
The Orquesta Académica del ISA was led with charm and professionalism by Carlos Vieu. There were two casts, I write on the second. Fernando Grassi was a splendid Don Bucefalo, he has perfectly assimilated the "buffo" school of his father Oscar. I was well impressed by the "ladies": María Eugenia Coronel Bugnon, Beatriz Quinteiro and Verónica Cano moved and sang nicely. A talented tenor looking like a young Pavarotti, Gastón Oliveira Wekesser, should have a fine career. And Claudio Rotella was a convincing Marco.
Earlier in the season, the plucky independent Lírica Lado B presented for the first time in Argentina an opera by Vicente Martín y Soler: "L´arbore di Diana". And recently they presented in eight performances the premiere of another opera by the same Spanish author: "La festa del villaggio", at the Manzana de las Luces, the same small amphitheatre they used in 2010 for Haydn´s "L´isola disabitata". "La festa…" has a libretto presumably by Ferdinando Moretti; he as well as Martín y Soler were residing in 1798 at Saint Petersburg, where Italian opera was much liked (both Paisiello and Cimarosa stayed there a number of years). The libretto presents typical comedic equivocations between three couples, plus a Marquis officiating as a Cupid; the music is always pleasant and classical, though hardly memorable.
There were two casts who intermingled; I write on the one I saw (the fifth performance). The men were mostly good: baritones Juan Pablo Paccazochi and Gabriel Vacas and especially tenor Christian Casaccio; I disliked the foppish and mannered Marquis of Esteban Manzano. Of the girls I preferred soprano Milagros Burga to Mercedes Olivera and found mezzosoprano Tamara Odón below par. An added dancer seemed superfluous. The 20-strong Orchestra was weak in the violin department but otherwise responded acceptably to conductor Camilo Santostefano, who has a good sense of style. A 9-member Choir was more enthusiastic than accurate.
Again I don´t respond favorably to the ideas of producer Diego Rodríguez; I find him arbitrary in the extreme and often tasteless, with outlandish ideas passing for imagination. A pity, for Lírica Lado B is bringing to us new pieces worthy of better treatment.