Two extremely divergent operas are being offered in these recent weeks: Verdi´s first comedy, "Un giorno di regno", by an ad-hoc group at the Teatro del Globo; and Massenet´s "Werther", a Gallic look at a Proto-Romantic Goethean antihero, at the Teatro Argentino (La Plata).
"Giorno..." was a City of Buenos Aires premiere; the Argentine privilege had come seven years ago in a pioneering but rather weak interpretation at the Roma (Avellaneda). Poor Giuseppe Verdi had to write a comedy at a time when he was afflicted by family tragedies: the death through various illnesses of his beloved wife and two children. And he had a very bad case of angina. Nevertheless he met the deadline imposed by the impresario Merelli, and the opera duly had its first night on September 1840 at Milan´s La Scala...and it was "un giorno di fiasco", as cleverly put by Fabián Persic in his excellent comments on the hand programme. Verdi might have ended his career then, but the perceptive Merelli convinced him to write "Nabucco", and that opera was a smashing success. The rest is history.
Felice Romani´s libretto had in fact been written for Adalbert Gyrowetz, whose opera was premiered at La Scala in 1818. By 1840 it was rather late in the day for traditional "opera buffa". The full title of Verdi´s comedy is "Un giorno di regno, ossia Il finto Stanislao", and it is based in a true episode, in which Stanislaw Leszczynski, King of Poland, indeed was impersonated for one day so as to allow him the time to arrive incognito to Warsaw. Romani was the most famous librettist of his time and he moves his characters with a good deal of charm, although the ending is very abrupt. And Verdi´s music follows the Rossinian (rather than Donizettian) pattern, with little of his future style. But the writing is pleasant and fluid, with arias, duos, trios, quintets, sextets and septets cunningly disposed.
After his dramatic first opera, "Oberto, Conte di San Bonifacio", he tried his hand at comedy with bad luck, a mediocre cast certainly unhelpful. "Un giorno..." was staged with better results in Venice, Rome and Naples; however, it soon disappeared from the repertoire until after World War II. Cetra recorded it in the Fifties conducted by Simonetto with Pagliughi and Capecchi, and later Gardelli led a star-studded cast in a Philips recording: Norman, Cossotto, Carreras, Ganzarolli. Even then the European theatres were slow to put it on stage. It is unfair: the piece certainly is worth knowing. The intensely dramatic Verdi that was to follow nevertheless capped his career with the miraculous "Falstaff", definitive proof of his genius for comedy.
Dante Ranieri was our most refined tenor in the Sixties and Seventies; now he is a guardian of good tradition as demonstrated in this "Giorno", leading the 26-member Asociación Ensamble Lírico Orquestal plus a choir of 26 enthusiastic singers, the Coral Ensamble prepared by Gustavo Codina. Oscar Grassi, our best buffo thirty years ago, was the savvy producer, with lovely costumes by Mariela Daga, a succinct but adequate stage design by Daniel Feijóo and conventional lighting by Ernesto Bechara. The acoustics of the Teatro del Globo are optimal for a chamber opera.
A generally good cast was assembled, with outstanding work by Fernando Grassi (son of Oscar and quite as able, but with a better voice and figure) and Ricardo Crampton, who cut a fine figure and sang well as the false King. The wily Marchesa del Poggio was fleshed out with fine character by María José Dulín, though her big voice had too much vibrato. Cecilia Layseca, on the contrary, sounded sweet, discreet (maybe too discreet) and musical as Giulietta. Leonardo Pastore forced his tone in the very high range of Edoardo, but otherwise was correct. Fernando Santiago was the able buffo foil of Grassi. Quite poor Lucas Córdoba (Ivrea) and barely passable Alfredo González Reig (Delmonte). All in all, though, an enterprising and useful evening. Please, in 2013, why not "Aroldo" or "Oberto" or "Masnadieri"?
"Werther" has been staged pretty often in the last twenty years (in 2011 there was a modest but correct version at the Roma) but it was a logical decision to offer it at the Teatro Argentino, where it had only been done in 1956. However, it wasn´t satisfactory in two main points: the staging by Paul-Émile Fourny and the work of Guadalupe Barrientos as Charlotte. The Belgian producer had the wrong idea of a distancing (Brechtian) ploy for a Sturm und Drang melodrama that needs communication and nearness. He worked with the Belgian stage designer Benoit Dugardyn in producing an effect of a frame within a frame within a frame. Visually agreeable but self-defeating in terms of Werther´s quandary. The costumes by Stella Maris Müller and the lighting by Horacio Efron were competent.
Basque tenor Andeka Gorrotxategui made an interesting debut with an ample voice full of lights and shadows, good style and fine dramatic presence. Barrientos has strong vocal means but Charlotte doesn´t seem to agree with her temperament; the singer is an extrovert and here she tried to be introspective and stylish, but it didn´t jell; and her French was unintelligible. I hoped for more from Oriana Favaro´s Sophie, too light and fluttery. Very good contributions from Gustavo Gibert (Albert) and Luis Gaeta (The Bailiff) and correct jobs from the pair of friends Johann and Schmidt: Federico De Michaelis and Maximiliano Agatiello. Benjamin Pionnier conducted acceptably though without refinement, and the Children´s Choir under Mónica Dagorret sounded fresh and in tune.
For Buenos Aires Herald