If we admit that "V.O.", by Beatriz Sarlo and Martín Bauer, is an opera -a moot point indeed- its contrast in the same week with Rossini´s evergreen "The Barber of Seville" certainly was a way to show the extremes of opera as a genre.
Some commonplaces happen to be irreversibly true, and "The Barber..." remains the best "opera buffa" of the first half of the Nineteenth Century. Curiously at the time of its premiere (1816) another "Barber...", Paisiello´s , had been a rousing success for decades, and with good reason, for it is a very accomplished piece. But Rossini´s is a marvel, and poor Paisiello after that was relegated. Such is history.
Although "The Barber..." has been done innumerable times here (and it was the first opera ever staged in B:A., back in 1825) in recent decades it has been poorly served both in cast and production. Producers in fact have done horrors in several occasions, and casts were below requirements, though there were exceptions (Almerares, e.g.). So I´m happy to say that the results of Juventus Lyrica´s recent revival were generally satisfactory, even if there were debatable points.
The main thing is to catch the spirit of fun without distorting time and place, and this was what Ana D´Anna´s production obtained. Gonzalo Córdova´s stage pictures gave an Andalusian feeling without being realistic and his lighting was good. Costumes by Lizi Tarasewicz and Ponchi Morpurgo were generally well conceived and observed. And D´Anna managed to follow the devilishly cunning rhythm of the action with accuracy and spontaneity. True, there were exaggerations, as the initial irruption of the men´s chorus shouting and talking (not in the libretto and against its sense, for it´s only after receiving the money that they grow ludicrously rowdy) and in the same scene the over-grotesque Fiorillo. And the Harlequins, though discreet, are out of place (there´s no "commedia dell´arte" in this opera). But there was genuine joy on stage.
The singers were a talented bunch, especially Armando Noguera, who is a sought-after Figaro in Europe. Mercurial, with dexterous body language, although he exaggerated certain things (too many whoopees and falsettoes), he sang very well with just the right type of voice, light but full. Mariana Carnovali was scheduled to sing Rosina; she was replaced by Laura Polverini and I was sorry, for I remember Carnovali as a splendid Angelina in "La Cenerentola" and I prefer a mezzo timbre rather than a high soprano (Rossini made two versions). Although Polverini was a bit strident in certain high notes, she played the role with conviction and sang with accuracy. Verónica Canaves gave character to Berta´s aria, although the makeup made her look too young for someone who complains of being old.
Almaviva is a very difficult part of "tenore di grazia". Iván Maier, who is still very young, made a brave shot at it, and was funny as soldier and especially as "seminarist". The use of Alberto Zedda´s critical edition meant that we heard Almaviva´s very long final aria, which to my mind impedes the action. Maier´s voice projection is open and he should learn to veil it a bit, though he was musical in the tough florid passages. I liked Alberto Jáuregui Lorda´s Bartolo, who eschewed the usual "buffo" interpretation and gave us a wily old tutor; though somewhat undervoiced, he was always a presence. Maximilano Michailovsky, on the other hand, was in the best sense a traditional Basilio, broad in his gestures and a very funny way of moving, singing with great confidence. I disliked Gabriel Carasso´s Fiorillo.
Hernán Sánchez Arteaga was a gratifying surprise as a conductor that has the "buffo" style down pat, always precise yet flexible, brilliant but never covering his singers. The Choir was alright and the orchestra had a successful night.
"V.O." is indeed an experiment, so its premiere was in the right place, the CETC (the Colón´s Center for Experimentation). This collaboration by Sarlo and Bauer had some interesting points. Of course, nowadays Sarlo is a very respected voice commenting on politics and social aspects, a first-rate intellectual. What she and Bauer have done is a "collage" of different moments of Victoria Ocampo´s life and in particular her relationship with Igor Stravinsky, for she was there on the night of the scandalous premiere of "Le Sacre du Printemps". And in the Thirties she was the reciter in Stravinsky´s premiere of "Perséphone" at the Colón, of which nary a word on "V.O.", which seems to me a major mistake, especially when Victoria is shown having classes with that wonderful character actress, Marguerite Moréno (María Inés Aldaburu, very good).
There are incongruences which I found hard to fathom. E.g.: an old lady billed as Maid enters, sits at the piano and plays admirably a Debussy Prelude ("Homage à S. Pickwick Esq, PPMPC"). She is that redoubtable artist, Margarita Fernández. But what does it mean? More to the point, a dancer (Florencia Vecino) did movements that seemed adequate for the Sacrificial Maid (a bit of Pina Bausch thrown in). Musically the best thing was the three short interludes sung by a soprano, the pure-voiced Selene Lara. And in the text, the monologue where V.O. distributes her moneys ("for Tagore, Ortega, Stravinsky, Drieu" -her lover, writer Drieu La Rochelle- "the magazine" –Sur, of course). And the limericks "à la Edward Lear". Analía Couceyro was convincing as V.O. and Pablo Seijo showed poor articulation as Stravinsky and Drieu.
Six strings, piano and percussion, conducted by Pablo Druker, provided the instrumental music. Sober stage design and lighting by Matías Sendón, good costumes by Luciana Gutman, and very stylish videos by Minou Maguna and Gastón Luciani.
For Buenos Aires Herald