domingo, noviembre 03, 2013

High drama in “Jenufa”, low comedy in a different “Falstaff”

Few careers in opera have had so much trouble to reach a wide public as Leos Janácek´s, Moravian composer who lived between 1854 and 1928, now generally recognized as one of the most original talents of the Twentieth Century. A slow developer, it was only in 1887 that he tried his hand at opera with "Sarka", object of various revisions and tardily premièred in 1925, so that before "Jenufa" he only made known the one-act "The beginning of a romance" in 1894, based on a story by Gabriela Preissová. It was this authoress that attracted the composer with the stark rural drama of her play "Jeji pastorkyna" ("Her foster-daughter"), and he condensed from it the libretto of what came to be known outside of Czechoslovakia as "Jenufa".

It took him no less than ten years (1894 to 1903) to arrive at the version that was premièred in 1904 at Brno, the Moravian capital, whose great post-WW II Opera House is called Janácek.  The opera was revised in 1907 and the new version was given in 1911 and played for the last time in 1913. Only in 1916 the opera arrived in Prague, with further revisions made by the Director and conductor of the National (Národni) Theatre Karel Kovarovic. But it was  when Max Brod (supervised by the composer) translated the libretto into German that the opera, renamed "Jenufa", took flight internationally, beginning with Vienna in 1918.

In Buenos Aires it was premièred in 1950 conducted by Karl Böhm with great success, and repeated the following year; it was revived in 1963 (Ferdinand Leitner). Finally it was done in Czech in 1994 (Berislav Klobucar). The BAL version is the first done by a private company here, and it has a further element of interest: for the first time we are hearing the original final Brno version as rescued in Mackerras´ recording (1982) by the conductor and John Tyrrell. However, the dimensions of the pit are a limitation at the Avenida and we heard a version for reduced orchestra made by Tony Burke and published by Universal (Vienna). A pity, but couldn´t be avoided.

What is it that impressed audiences so much, even in German? (a hard task, for Czech sounds so different, and the composer bases his melodic lines on the natural rhythm of the language). Undoubtedly the earthy realism and sincerity of the composer, the beautiful melodies with folk inflections (he was a specialist on the musical Moravian folklore) but wholly Janácek´s, the brusque contact with the miseries of human beings and their ambiguities (no one is wholly bad or good). Plus a quirky individualism that sweeps all before it and sounds like nobody else. Janácek had an Indian Summer and produced five splendid operas between 1917 and 1928 (two of them are still unknown to our public, gaps that should be filled promptly).

There was much to admire in BAL´s endeavor, certainly the most interesting enterprise of private opera this year. Swiss-Chilean conductor Rodolfo Fischer, who did a notable "Ariadne auf Naxos" (Strauss) for BAL in 2004, offered a clean, accurate job, creating excellent rapport with the stage although lacking some punch; the necessity of having to use lateral loges for the xylophone and the brass meant that homogeneity was hard to obtain. He brought along two musical assistants, Katherine Chu and Karin Uzun. Very good work from the Choir prepared by Juan Casasbellas, and both here and with the soloists one has to thank Igor Herzog for the good Czech instruction.

The cast had three strong points out of four. Daniela Tabernig was a sensitive and musical blond Jenufa, with a voice that encompassed all the elements of the part and good acting to boot. Adriana Mastrángelo was a dour, redoubtable Kostelnicka, the foster-mother that in a feat of madness murders Jenufa´s child by Steva; the voice, steely and well projected, gave the right character. She wasn´t helped by a makeup that made her too young and she was taxed in some high notes. The Brazilian tenor Eric Herrero was a ringing and accurate Laca, who conveyed the complexity of a man who jealously disfigures Jenufa but loves her and stays with her at the end. All three didn´t hesitate to break their voices when the drama became unbearable; it works in this piece.

The miscast fourth was Santiago Bürgi as the dissipated Steva; his body language was wildly exaggerated and unconvincing and the singing was partially good. Old Buryja was well done by Virginia Correa Dupuy and Norberto Marcos was fine in two parts. The others were in the picture.

        The production by André Heller-Lopes was generally good, with fine groupings and with efficient collaborators (Daniela Taiana, stage design; Sofía Di Nunzio, soctumes; José Luis Fiorruccio, lighting). A pity that there were bad mistakes in the final minutes: after confessing her crime, Kostelnicka comes out with a completely unnecessary revolver, and later Steva gashes his own face as a token of love to Jenufa, which is completely contrary rto the libretto. But the producer respected the rural setting, an essential matter.

        I will be brief about the première of Antonio Salieri´s "Falstaff" on a libretto by Carlo Defranceschi. The piece is light and agreeable, quite inferior to his fine French tragedy "Les Danaïdes" heard here some years ago; it needs support and got precious little. A very poor orchestra was conducted dully by Mariana Ferrer; I except the plausible work of clavier player Alan Puyol. Three singers merit a favorable mention: Alejandro Spies as the protagonist, Claudio Rotella as Bardolfo and Patricia Villanova as Mrs.Ford; the others I prefer not to name here. But it was the unrelieved grotesqueness of the staging by Diego Rodríguez that ruined the evening; when a comedy  doesn´t elicit even a smile something is gravely wrong, and indeed it was so.

For Buenos Aires Herald

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