Although last year´s season ended with the deplorable "Colón-Ring", it had many interesting premieres, such as Enesco´s "Oedipe", Szymanowski´s "Hagith", Händel´s "Rinaldo" or Mercadante´s "I due Figaro". But this year there is only one foreign premiere, apart from Argentinian composer Mario Perusso´s "Bebe Dom o la Ciudad Planeta": a Sergei Rachmaninov double-bill combining "Aleko" and "Francesca da Rimini". The rest of the season offers only two titles of some interest: the revival after 34 years of Richard Strauss´ mighty "Die Frau ohne Schatten", and Verdi´s "Otello", again with José Cura as in 1999, but now also as producer.
"Frau..." had a good success with a cast of seasoned Straussians: Manuela Uhl, Elena Pankratova, Iris Vermilion, Stephen Gould and Jukka Rasilainen. And it was very well led by Ira Levin, recently named Principal Conductor of the Colón Orchestra. To us veterans, the cold production by Andreas Homoki left us yearning for the splendid collaboration of Georg Reinhardt with Roberto Oswald in 1979.
There are sad news elsewhere: a drastic budget cut at La Plata´s Argentino forced Artistic Director Marcelo Lombardero and Musical Director Alejo Pérez (an admirable team) to resign, and labor reactions for lack of payment. Now it seems that there will be a meager half-season featuring La Plata´s first "Fliegende Holländer". As to the private opera companies in Buenos Aires, they are having a middling year where only Janácek´s "Jenufa" (Buenos Aires Lírica) seems worthwhile.
So the double Rachmaninov was important, and it represented the return of Russian opera to the Colón. The early "Aleko" is a conservatory score written at 19-years-old, immature although with some aspects of the future Rachmaninov. "Aleko" has parallels with both "I Pagliacci" and "Il Tabarro", though it is based on the Pushkin dramatic poem "The Gypsies". Unfortunately, the gypsy camp in the meadow becomes in Romanian producer Silviu Purcarete´s distortion a hangar with an obtrusive red car, the dances become a ridiculous acrobatic act with a performing "bear" and another circus artist, and voyeurism is the adopted style.
"Francesca..." tells the Medieval story of Paolo Malatesta´s ill-fated love with Francesca, the wife of his brother Lanceotto. Both Dante Alighieri and the Spirit of Virgil intervene, and we are shown the circle of Hell where the doomed lovers remain in eternal turbulence. The chromatic, sinister imagination of Rachmaninov has a powerful dramatic punch that only relents in the exalted lyricism of the love duet. Purcarete was better here, though with some absurdisms.
The casts were dominated by the commanding personality of Sergei Leiferkus. Irina Oknina sang well, the hefty Hugh Smith and Leonid Zakhozhae were the good tenors, and Maxim Kuzmin-Karavaev is a fine young baritone. Levin gave them a convincing orchestral support.