sábado, junio 01, 2013

Delirious opera productions prevail



            As readers know, I am against the current world trend in opera, for producers consider themselves co-authors rather than interpreters of the librettist. And feel that any transgression is right, for what counts isn´t Da Ponte or Boito but what they, the producers, want to convey. Historical relevance means nothing to them: Cleopatra can be Evita (in La Plata years ago), Lucrezia Borgia is ludicrously transferred to the 1920s fascist Italy (Buenos Aires Lírica recently), blasphemy is permitted (completely nude frontal Virgin in "Pepita Jiménez" as seen by Bieito), "Rigoletto" in Las Vegas (recent Met production). Anything goes, but without the charm of Cole Porter: gross travesty is in, fidelity to the author is out, the poor singers are forced to go through very disagreeable stage business completely irrelevant to the words they sing, and a big etcetera.

             And who are the culprits that sanction this trend? The Artistic Directors of the theatres that hire those producers, and the reviewers that applaud such enormities. If us of the "Old Religion" defend coherence and a modern but faithful version, we are called dinosaurs by the progressives. But let them not forget that some dinosaurs aren´t meek, like the diplodocus, but fierce in their defence of principles; rather like a Tyranosaurus minus the brutality.

            There are  other aspects to consider. One is crucial: young generations haven´t had the benefit of earlier ones: to see the operas in their proper context. And as education has declined so much, an opera taken seriously can be a crucial cultural element in their  formation, but if a Medieval insurrection in Verdi´s "I Vespri Siciliani" is transformed into a Garibaldi adventure, as at the Colón in 2006, and we were given as a reason "because it´s cheaper", no ethical or aesthetic parameters exist any more. And when all is allowed, nothing is allowed. Freedom is one thing, libertinage is another. The greats of yore in production could be   figurative (Visconti) or abstract (Wieland Wagner) but the synthesis of text and music was always respected. We saw what Wagner (the composer) had imagined, even if his grandchild Wieland was a far cry from Richard´ s  contemporaries.

            Lírica Lado B is an enterprising private group whose aim is to present premieres from all periods of opera, and this is certainly meritorious. Since 2009 they have given us Telemann´s "Don Quichotte at the wedding of Comacho" (it should be Camacho, but Telemann changed it...), J.Haydn´s "L´isola disabitata", two operas by Martín y Soler and last year a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, "Utopia Limited". I have reviewed them all and   had good words for at least parts of the musical side, but I was very bothered by the productions, except in the case of Sullivan, where extreme tomfoolery somehow jelled.

            Now it happened again, with the premiere of Mozart´s "Il sogno di Scipione". There was a change of venue: the Teatro Hasta Trilce, at Maza 177 (Almagro), where there is a small pit available for the orchestra ( a very useful matter), a reasonably big stage for chamber opera and a stepped space for the audience, holding about 200. As Lírica Lado B is an alternative enterprise financially well below either Buenos Aires Lírica or Juventus Lyrica, one doesn´t expect costly productions from them, but there are many ways to be tasteful and poor. Unfortunately the formula was tasteless and poor.

            Music lovers should have (many unfortunately don´t) a healthy curiosity in getting to know the lesser creations of the great masters. Certainly if you overlook "Il sogno di Scipione" you won´t miss an important experience (I mean the opera, not the production), but it is a link in the chain that would lead to absolute masterpieces, and even at 16 Mozart was a redoubtable composer. He had already  written six operas!  His K.126 is described as an "azione teatrale" and the librettist is the famous Pietro Metastasio. It is a homage allegory in the Baroque manner with little "azione"; as the text is uninteresting –a moral duel for Scipione´s soul between Costanza and Fortuna, ending with a "licenza" in praise of the new Archbishop Hyeronimus Colloredo of Salzburg- it is almost impossible to make an agile production, for there is just a succession of recitatives and arias. So it might be an adequate choice to offer it in a concert version, for the music is good of its kind, in some passages giving an inkling of the future Mozart (just nine months after its premiere -April 29, 1772- he created the impressive "Lucio Silla").

            On the musical side there were some estimable singers, especially sopranos Natalia Salardino and Laura Bjelis and tenors Maximiliano Agatiello and Christian Casaccio. Hernán Crida is a good actor but his presence as an almost naked Doppelgänger of Scipione was completely uncalled for. The 22-member orchestra was quite weak, even if the orientation from conductor Camilo Santostefano was generally right.

            But the production by German Ivancic was wholly wrong. He opted for ugliness and dirt as an "appropriate" treatment for a dream that happens in the Heavenly Temple.

In a supposed garden a choir of deformed people grotesquely made up surrounds the main characters, who are subjected to the same treatment. Scipione´s ancestors Emilio and Publio suffer particularly. Only  the Licenza is properly dressed as at the end of Scipione´s dream she praises Colloredo. I have unfortunately little hope that Lírica Lado B will change its ways.
For Buenos Aires Herald

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