Thirty years of democracy. Granted, on a scale of 1 to 10 I would put a pretty low mark on the quality of our democracy, but along with its many failures there have been brighter spots. My field is classical music, and although there have been lamentable facts there´s more to celebrate than to mourn. What follows is an attempt to give a balanced panorama from my point of view as a Buenos Aires resident.
These thirty years are part of a long history with recurrent crises and high spots, in parallel with the political and economic points of inflexion.
In musical endeavors there are some basic elements: a) Leaders of concentrated intensity in maintaining their institution or even bettering it; b) Audiences whose level of education and taste makes them participants in the joy of live music; c) Sponsors who are music lovers and understand the necessity of contributing to a cultured society; d) Politicians whose own culture makes them receptive to administrate public moneys in the best cultural orientations; e) Venues that are apt architectonically and acoustically to appreciate music in the best way.
To a certain degree these points have been present in the three decades I cover, but hardly to the ideal level. Some musical leaders have had the best intentions but haven´t been available to attract sponsorship and more than a few politicians were or are blind to culture. And there´s also the crucial matter of personalities: if the Mozarteum Argentino has been so successful it is because it had the luminous leadership of Jeannette Arata de Erize; the Colón years of Sergio Renán were certainly the best of this period.
I grew up in the Fifties and the shining institution at that time was Amigos de la Música led by Leonor Hirsch de Caracallo; when she died Amigos declined and eventually disappeared. What may be considered its succession, Festivales Musicales de Buenos Aires, had its own great figure, Leonor Luro; Festivales is currently on a decline and I do hope it will find its way out of the mire. And the senior institution, Asociación Wagneriana, who had done so much good in earlier decades, did a last great effort in bringing over the Berlin Philharmonic under Claudio Abbado, but its destiny was sealed and it went under.
However, another important institution was founded in this period: Harmonia; the crisis of 2002 forced a reorganisation as Nuova Harmonia as a result of a salvage operation with Italian Government money, but now it seems to be on firm ground again, always under the directorship of Dino Rawa-Jasinski. Summing up their work to the Mozarteum´s we are assured of international concerts of fine quality. One trend has held through the years: the visits of great orchestras and conductors.
The world of opera has seen a basic change in the last 15 years, for now we have alternatives to the Colón: Buenos Aires Lírica and Juventus Lyrica, at the Avenida. For a long time there were also the seasons presented by Adelaida Negri, who brought us many bel canto operas disregarded by the Colón. Plus various endeavors by Eduardo Casullo. But also two sporadic but valuable projects: those of Baroque and classic opera led by Marcelo Birman (Compañía de las Luces), thanks to whom we had premieres of operas by Lully, Rameau and Salieri; and those planned by Ars Hungarica with the leading hand of Sylvia Leidemann, who premiered two Haydn operas and Kodály´s "Háry János".
There was also the strange venue of La Manufactura Papelera, where in a cellar there were big productions of such operas as "Aida" or Gounod´s "Roméo et Juliette" with orchestra, as well as many others with piano. Now it has stopped. And in recent years the premieres of Lírica Lado B at La Manzana de las Luces and currently at Hasta Trilce.
For "porteños" the Roma (Avellaneda) and the Argentino (La Plata) have also been options. There are recent news in both cases: the Roma enters into a long recess of several years for substantial architectural renovation; and the Argentino is in deep crisis since last year, after the resignation of Marcelo Lombardero as Artistic Director and of Alejo Pérez as Conductor of the Orchestra due to constant problems with the Instituto Provincial, essentially budgetary. The result: the opera season wasn´t able to start.
However, the Roma, a small, charming old "Italian" theater, has offered through the years many interesting things, including revivals and premieres. And the Argentino finally inaugurated its new big building, after years of working with remarkable solvency in a transformed cinema, the Roca. In successive tenures by García Caffi, Suárez Marzal and Lombardero it has been innovating: important revivals of forgotten operas and firsts new to La Plata such as Strauss´ "Salome" and Wagner´s "Tristan und Isolde" and "Das Rheingold".
In what is a new trend, in recent years several cities of our country have offered opera in theaters that are often quite beautiful: Rosario, Córdoba, San Juan, San Luis, Santa Rosa, etc., are finding audiences for their projects. Also, orchestras were founded in Salta and Neuquén, and festivals at Mendoza, Llao Llao, Ushuaia and Córdoba have taken hold.
And now to the Colón. During this period there was the controversial time of closure between 2006 and 2010 for substantial renovation. I am among those that aren´t satisfied. Although the "looks" are fine, it´s what the public sees: foyer, hall. But the authorities betray that all´s not well when the guided visits no longer show many of the back aspects: the workshops, the rehearsal rooms, the many places that can´t be shown for they aren´t finished. And the crucial omissions: the Colón library is still in containers since 2006...
The other matter is the savage elimination of 400 people from the roster since García Caffi took over. It provoked comprehensible reaction and there were numerous strikes. Now things seem quiet but resentment simmers.
Anyway, apart from that silly total interruption of the season in 2008 the Colón has always been active offering opera, ballet and concerts, as well as those concerts organised by the Mozarteum, Festivales and Nuova Harmonia. (For its Midday Concerts the Mozarteum uses the Gran Rex, and it is a splendid thing to offer during 54 years free concerts; Festivales also goes to the Auditorio de Belgrano, a vital incorporation in these thirty years, and to the Avenida; and the Coliseo is home for Nuova Harmonia). It has strayed and strays from proper conduct when the hall is hired for popular music.
Opera: it is impossible in this short panorama to give even a short idea of all the richness offered at the Colón during these years. True, economic conditions and certain unreliable attitudes from some of its functionnaries have had as a result that few great voices come as they used to (Renán´s years apart; just one example: Mattila, Van Dam and F. Furlanetto in "Simone Boccanegra") except for recitals. But there has been a good deal of renovation in the repertoire. Just a few titles at random, Colón directors in parenthesis: Tchaikovsky´s "Iolanta" (Franze), Shostakovich´s "Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk" (Renán), Krének´s "Jonny spielt auf" (Lombardero), Massenet´s "Don Quichotte" (Capobianco), Enesco´s "Oedipe" (García Caffi). Bel canto has been neglected, however, and some basic operatic composers of the Twentieth Century still have glaring gaps in the Colón history.
The Ballet has had ups and downs, even in the number of valuable visitors or of visiting companies, though as the recent "Don Quichotte" showed, after the big 2010 crisis things are picking up substantially. But it needs enormous renovation of repertoire: so many great choreographers are forgotten! And so much great music for ballet! However, in recent years the Coliseo has put on many worthwhile ballet shows with visiting artists.
Our two main concert orchestras are the Buenos Aires Philharmonic and the National Symphony. The Phil is currently going through a good period, under the well-attended and appreciated presence of chief conductor Enrique Arturo Diemecke. And the National still has at its helm our best professional, Pedro Calderón, now approaching his 80 years. Repertoires could be bettered but we still hear a lot of fine music in valid interpretations. We do need greater variety of conductors, and in the case of the National, a more coherent handling from the national functionaries.
In recent years the Fundación Chopiniana led by Martha Noguera has brought us a legion of interesting pianists. Two other institutions do a lot to enliven our musical life: the Museo Fernández Blanco and La Scala de San Telmo. Also, the free concerts at the Facultad de Derecho on Saturdays. And for contemporary music we have the cycles of the Colón´s CETC, the November series at the San Martín and that of the Fundación Encuentros. Plus the fine concerts of Pilar Golf or the San Isidro Easter Festival near the Capital.For Buenos Aires Herald