miércoles, junio 27, 2012

Splendid Britten and admirable visitors

            Benjamin Britten´s "The turn of the screw" was admirably presented by Juventus Lyrica at the Avenida. Nuova Harmonia brought back the National Symphony of Washington D.C. in full form and the Mozarteum gave us the world-class Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire, both at the Colón. 
            "The turn of the screw" is arguably one of the best Britten operas. Based on a sinister tale written in 1898 by Henry James, it was very intelligently adapted in the libretto by Myfanwy Piper. In two taut acts of one hour each, the librettist and the composer tell us cogently a ghost story in a prologue and sixteen tableaux (eight in each act). In fact James departs from his usual style and produces for the only time in his career a novella of supernatural connotations. "A masterpiece of horror" (Collier´s Encyclopedia), yes, but not gory; subtle, ambiguous, psychological, terrible in its implications but never melodramatic, this story of two children under the influence of malevolent ghosts is compelling. 
 Britten´s music is a perfect foil; the swift action is joined by interludes of great unity for they are variations of the same melody, and the characters get music that fits them like a glove. Particularly haunting are the melismas on "Miles"  sung by Quint, the ghost that was in life a domestic that had molested the boy.  The spell is broken at the end after a tug-of-war between Quint and the Governess for the control of Miles´ mind, but at the cost of the boy´s life. "The ceremony of innocence is drowned" (W.B.Yeats).
The opera dates from 1954, after "Gloriana" and before "Noye´s Fludde". Our city saw its premiere under Roberto Kinsky in Amigos de la Música´s season, and the opera was later offered at least once. 
  This "Turn of the screw" is a complete success, certainly a landmark in Juventus Lyrica´s trajectory, a rare blend of carefully chosen cast and completely apposite staging. On very functional stage designs and lighting by Gonzalo Córdova, María Jaunarena (daughter of Ana D´Anna and Horacio Jaunarena) does her first production after years of being costume designer and executive directress for Juventus. Her costumes were perfect for the characters and her whole approach to the action was completely attuned to the libretto´s every detail. Maybe the lighting could have created a more ghostly aura around Quint and Miss Jessel, but otherwise this was as good a staging as can be imagined: theatrical but not melodramatic.
Chilean soprano Macarena Valenzuela has done some talented jobs for Juventus, but I believe her Governess is the best thing yet: completely immersed in the character´s gradual realisation of the ghostly influence, not only her singing was beautiful and her presence totally natural, but she gave dramatic strength even to isolated words by psychological insight. Carlos Ullán was notable as Quint, with fluid command of florid singing and the right inflexions. Britten asks for a boy soprano to sing Miles, but it´s a long part in English and probably Juventus´ solution is the best here: they found a mezzosoprano that can look and sound like a kid  and act it with complete verisimilitude; she is Cecilia Pastawski and was outstanding and moving in every respect.  Soledad de la Rosa was very good as Mrs. Grose and Mariana Mederos a fresh Flora. One step down were the contributions of Eugenia Fuente, a Miss Jessel of excessive vibrato, and Paolo Spagnolo in the Prologue. The English pronunciation was reasonably good all around. The 15-member orchestra was very accurate under the convincing conducting of André Dos Santos.
I have a soft spot for the National Symphony of Washington D.C., as I spent two years in the USA capital as a student (1956-7) and the NSW was "my" orchestra. Curiously the following year (1958) led by their American conductor, Howard Mitchell, they were in BA.  Many years later they were back under Rostropovich for the Mozarteum, when they were acclaimed. And now they came at the Colón for the cycle of Nuova Harmonia, led by their current Principal Conductor Christoph Eschenbach. He had been here as a pianist way back in the seventies and in recent years was appreciated as a conductor with a German orchestra.
Alas, the programme was very run-of-the-mill: "Roman Carnival Overture" by Berlioz; the R. Strauss Suite from "Der Rosenkavalier"; and Beethoven´s Seventh Symphony. At least one work should have been from the States. Eschenbach is a solid conductor, with very orthodox ideas, and the Orchestra is first-rate in the USA mold, tending to brilliance rather than mahogany hues as in Europe. Apart from some horn fluffs in Strauss, the playing was uniformly very good. Encores: "Gypsy Dance" from Bizet´s "Carmen", Brahms´  First Hungarian Dance and the "Thunder and lightning" polca by Johann Strauss II.
Nelson Freire has long been known here as the best Brazilian pianist. In his Mozarteum recital he validated this concept with a programme of standards, excepting two pieces by Villalobos: Mozart´s Sonata Nº 11, the one with the "Turkish March": Beethoven´s "Moonlight Sonata"; Schumann´s "Scenes from Childhood"; and from Chopin, the Barcarolle, Nocturne Nº 17 and Scherzo Nº 4. From Villalobos: Prelude to "Bachianas Brasileiras Nº 4" and "Chôros Nº5". Encores: Granados´ "La maja y el ruiseñor", Villalobos´ "O ginete do pierrozinho" and Debussy´s "The Hills of Anacapri".  Uniformly impeccable style and execution with no loss of quality throughout in a masterful recital.
For Buenos Aires Herald

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