It is always sad when a new opera proves to be a failure; and that is the verdict on "Bebe Dom o la Ciudad Planeta", libretto by Horacio Ferrer, music by Mario Perusso, presented at the Colón. Pretentious, confused, lacking in focus, at times vulgar, Surrealist in the worst way, absurd, falsely poetical, the whole libretto is unredeemable.
This is the man that decades ago imagined "Balada para un loco", tango lyrics admirably musicalised by Piazzolla, and Ferrer´s Surrealism worked well in the short context of a song. But his libretto for "María de Buenos Aires, "operita" for Piazzolla, already presented many problems; the Uruguayan writer is now 80 and in this case his imagination runs wild. Beginning with the ridiculous name given to the architect that is at the center of the action, the basic idea is the poorest science fiction, for there can´t be a "planet city" even under the most extreme Malthusian view; there are such things as the oceans and the deserts.
Ferrer puts on stage an enormous and expensive cast but in fact only four characters matter: Bebe Dom the visionary; Fargas the tycoon of limitless power; his estranged daughter Lili; and his secretary Gea. Trouble is, we don´t care what happens to them. Plus a symbolic spoken role,"Alma Ciudad". Otherwise, the gangster Hormurcurats, drunkards, the wholly unnecessary Pious Women ("Beatas"), madcaps ("calaveras"), town criers ("pregoneros"), newspaper vendor, women beggars, and Bim, a mimed part for Lili´s disabled son. Plus the only bit of true humor, a TV anchor woman (filmed) that gets mixed up and quarrels with the girl that transmits the news with gestures.
Among other items superficially treated, there are corruption, smog, drugs, violence, bribery, swindles, idealism. In fact all things similar to what we are living currently in this city, but without the acuity, truth and impact of such a piece as the Weill-Brecht collaboration in "Grandeur and decadence of the city of Mahagonny".
Mario Perusso composed the music for this unpromising material, and it is much better than the text. But there are moot points to consider. First, he was designated resident Composer of the Colón four years ago, and I feel that such a privilege shouldn´t be given for more than two years, for it assures the creator a significant fee and in exchange he must produce items that will be premières at the theatre. Perusso´s aesthetics aren´t avantgarde and I welcome this; his music combines tonality and atonality and is very proficient.
Second, he is guilty of poor judgment in his choice of dramatic text; if his two previous operas (he has written six) had much greater interest, it was because "Phaedra" is a great subject and the basis of "El ángel de la muerte" is Cocteau´s "The two-headed eagle". Perusso is now in his late seventies after an ample career as conductor and composer always tied to the destinies of the Colón and the Argentino of La Plata.
His professionalism shows in the amplitude and strength of the orchestral and choral writing, but for his soloists he writes lines that are too high and not melodic enough. There are 22 scenes which makes for variety, but unfortunately chaos reigns in the narrative so that the opera becomes oppressive and much too long (about 130 minutes).
Marcelo Perusso (Mario´s son) has been associated to the recent projects of his father as librettist (not in this case), producer, and stage, costumes and lighting designer.
His stage designs were quite handsome, especially the big open space with stairs and the imitation-marble Fargas bureau, but not in the least futuristic, as I think they should be. He handled the action well and both costumes and lighting were adequate. Naturally, his father was in full charge as conductor and he got excellent results from the Orchestra and the Choir (Miguel Martínez).
I have nothing but admiration for Gustavo López Manzitti, singing with stamina and perfect intonation the high tessitura of Bebe Dom. Good jobs from Víctor Torres and two young promising singers, María Victoria Gaeta and Florencia Machado. Myriam Toker was quite effective in her spoken parts. The whole cast sang and acted with conviction (Pablo Sánchez in particular is a voice to watch).
The greatest news about Wagner´s "Der Fliegende Holländer" at the Argentino (a local première) is that it came about. It was the beginning and the end of the "opera season". Due to a long labor conflict based on budget problems and bad handling by the authorities the orchestra was on strike until the difficulties were at least partially solved. Things aren´t quiet but the orchestra played, quite well, under the incisive, intelligent baton of Silvio Viegas (Brazilian, debut, currently conductor of the Rio de Janeiro Municipal Theatre). And their splendid Choir did very reliable work under Esteban Rajmilchuk.
There was a world-class artist: our Mónica Ferracani was radiant both musically and as an actress. The Brazilian Licio Bruno made a good debut as the Holländer, dark and firm though not mysterious. Francesco Petrozzi was an exaggerated Erik, Víctor Castells a correct Daland, Sergio Spina an unbalanced Steersman (one phrase soft, the following full force) and Roxana Deviggiano an agreeable Mary.
Louis Désiré´s production was unnecessarily hermetic and not very imaginative. His acceptable collaborators were Diego Méndez Casariego (stage designs), Mónica Toschi (costumes) and Marcelo Cuervo (lighting).
For Buenos Aires Herald