Strange things happen in our opera milieu. There are the standards, of course, but there are also mindless experiments wrongly called "operas" and out-of-the way operas that add some pep to the audiences´ normal regime. There was recently a work for spoken words accompanied by music; there´s a technical word for that, and it´s "melodramma", not opera as it was called.
Out-of-the-way opera indeed: Scott Joplin´s "Treemonisha", certainly an Argentine première and a valid one. I was especially asked to attend an advanced rehearsal, the pre-general, and there were minor matters to adjust, but I believe there´s a remote chance that the actual performances will have strong differences with it.
You will probably remember a Robert Redford movie called "The Sting" ("El golpe"), and if so you had probably gone out of the cinema whistling a Scott Joplin rag. Fortunately he left us a good number of piano roll recordings, and I treasure two cassettes with two round dozens of rags by and with Joplin, an excellent pianist. He influenced such greats as Stravinsky (we have three rags from him!) and Hindemith (who manages to combine it with Bach...).
There may be more, but there are at least three operas about Deep South black people that are really attractive, and the best of the three is to my mind the best opera ever written in the USA: George Gershwin´s "Porgy and Bess". It is an amazing mystery that a first-generation American of Ukrainian Jewish extraction proved to have a profound empathy with the mores of Deep South black people and wrote his very best music for a tragic and moving love story, and this at a time when racism was still deeply ingrained (1935). "Porgy..." was done twice in BA, both times with an imported American company: 1955 and 1992; they count as highlights in my long experience of opera.
Much earlier in 1904 the English composer Frederick Delius, living in Florida as a planter, wrote his black opera, "Koanga" (I have the excellent recording conducted by Charles Groves). Lighter and less idiomatic tham Gershwin´s, it´s still a charming piece well worth knowing and with an admixture of the Creole culture.
Joplin´s "Treemonisha" (1915) is very different, a willingly simple fable with straightforward music, words by Joplin himself, duration 90 minutes. The original version is with piano. The ingenuity is already in the title: well, Monisha found a three-year-old girl under a tree and decided to adopt her; hence, Treemonisha! Gunther Schuller, the orchestrator of the splendid Houston recording, tellingly says: " it is a period piece full of innocent charm", "not a ragtime opera".
The story is easily told: a wizard with a curious name (Zodzetrick) wants to sell Tremonisha an amulet, she rejects it; later on, she is abducted ; when she is about to be thrown into a cauldron a friend of hers, Remus, frightens the wizards with a scarecrow they take to be the Devil; in a final scene the abducters are pardoned. Simple moral truths: "ignorance is delictive at a time of illumination"; superstition must be fought; convert wrongdoers into good people. As Treemonisha is the only educated person among them, the community asks her to lead them.
The music alternates between narrative recitatives, songs, choruses and dances. The opera was never performed in Joplin´s lifetime and was forgotten until his collected works were published in 1971 by Vera Brodsky Lawrence.
The opera is set in Arkansas at a plantation in 1884. There are three acts and twenty-seven numbers, ending with "A real slow drag", sung and danced ("hop and skip").
Three performances will be offered at the Empire by a new group, Oíd Opera. The musical director is also the orchestrator: Leandro Soldano. In the small orchestra two members seemed to me outstanding, the pianist and the trumpeter. Others need improving. The producer, Nicolás Isasi, respected the piece´s naiveté with simple movements, and the stage props were essentially corn stalks, cotton plants and bales of hay (María Dubini). The performers were in blackface, naturally enough (this isn´t a black company).
The group of little-known but talented singers included especially the fresh presence of Natalia Albero as a tall, lithe Treemonisha with a bright soprano voice, well matched by her adoptive mother Monisha (Lucía Alonso, mezzosoprano), the booming bass of Ned, her "father" (Carlos Ammirata), the nice timbre of Matías Klemm (Remus, tenor). I found Ignacio Agudo as Zodzetrick too smooth, lacking in menace (baritone). The small choir was enthusiastic both in its singing and dancing. Worth your while.
I have to be brief about a concert version with about a half hour of cuts of Verdi´s "La Forza del Destino" at the Roma (Avellaneda). Two singers dominated: the easy professionalism of baritone Omar Carrión and the strong personality of soprano Haydée Dabusti, always intense and accurate (though I missed some softer singing at appropriate moments). Tenor Juan González Cueto started poorly but later found better line and voice. Luciano Straguzzi was a correct bass, Vanina Trifoglio an agreeable Preziosilla (she skipped some high notes), Antonello Tramonti a wholly inadequate buffo baritone and Pablo Basualdo a rather dry bass in three roles.
Conductor César Tello was the dynamic conductor of a passable Orchestra (de la Municipalidad de Avellaneda) and an agreeable Chorus (Instituto Municipal de Música de Avellaneda; Armando Garrido, director).
For Buenos Aires Herald