sábado, noviembre 16, 2013

The Colón and the Argentino offer Neoclassic ballet

            In the same week-end both the Colón and La Plata´s Argentino renovated their seasons with new Neoclassic ballets. The former gave us "Cinderella" ("Aschenbrödel"), music by Johann Strauss II, choreography by Renato Zanella. The latter combined their own company now led by Mario Silva with Iñaki Urlezaga´s Ballet Concierto in a varied programme featuring especially "Birthday Offering", music by Glazunov arranged by Robert Irving, choreography by Frederick Ashton.

            I have had for some time the brilliant interpretation by Richard Bonynge of Strauss´ ballet, the only one he composed. A very late work, although all the music  was extant he didn´t live to finish the orchestration, and the job fell to Joseph Bayer, who wrote a ballet famous in Austria, "Die Puppenfee" ("The dolls´ fairy", 1888) and at the time was Director of the Vienna State Opera Ballet. Strauss started the score in 1898 and  died the following year. 

            Gustav Mahler was at the time the Director of the Vienna Opera and didn´t enjoy the Strauss waltzes, unfortunately; he refused to stage it, so the premiere was in Berlin (1901). Felix Weingartner succeeded Mahler in Vienna, and he was enthusiastic about "Aschenbrödel", premièring it there in 1908; after World War I the piece was forgotten, until Zanella revived it in 1999 when he was at the helm of the Vienna Opera  Ballet.

            Strauss wasn´t enthusiastic about the plot, which transfers the old Perrault/Grimm story to a milliner´s workshop in Vienna, with Leontine as stepmother, Franchon and Yvette as stepsisters  to Greta (Cinderella). Zanella introduces Strauss himself as a character, a sort of Magician that helps Greta to go to the ball and win the special shoes. Gustav, a fashion designer, will marry Greta, and in this rosy version, Leontine will welcome this because she has placed her daughters with Gustav´s brothers.

            This ballet, revived here by Benito Marcelino, is light, agreeable and expensive. The Strauss music may have its longueurs, but no one else has imagined such lovely waltzes or peppy polcas, mazurkas and galops. Not quite topnotch Strauss, but well worth knowing. Bayer´s orchestration is in the appropriate style. There´s a profusion of roles apart from the main ones: fiancés and fiancées, milliners and suitors, guests of Monsieur Arnaud (owner of  the store "Four Seasons"), butlers,  a bunch of little angels, and in the Third Act Divertimento, the Opera dancers Cerini and Guerra and their entourage, Jewels, Viennese porcelains, and models in a fashion parade. Plus marionettes of doves (Greta´s helpers).

             Zanella´s choreography is uneven within its Neoclassicism, with some attractive scenes but others   were routine  or misconception prevailed, perhaps because of the week dramaturgy. But by and large it was good fun.

            The Colón put on a handsome production, apart from some kitschy details. The stage designs of Juan Carlos Greco privileged Viennese evocation (the Opera, St. Stephen´s) and alternated between a phantasmagoric millinery and a floodlit salon. A basic stage prop was a "cloud" that went down and up transporting Strauss and Greta. Aníbal Lápiz had his hands full designing dozens and dozens of costumes, some of them quite striking, others intentionally grotesque and a few on the side of kitsch. One bad idea: there´s a scene about New Year, and big letters tell us 2014, which goes against the style of the whole thing, an evocation of Viennese 1900s.

            The vast variety of these 110 minutes was encompassed with great professionalism by a very well-rehearsed Colón Ballet. On the afternoon of November 10 the cast was satisfying. Petite Karina Olmedo was all flexibility and charm as Greta, Juan Pablo Ledo a capable Gustav, Alejandro Parente a personable and sympathetic Strauss. Igor Gopkalo was a very funny travestied Leontine (at the ball with tutus!) and her daughters were done with a nice sense of grotesque by Paula Cassano and Daiana Ruiz. There were also good contributions by Carla Vincelli, Edgardo Trabalón and Leonardo Reale, whilst the Corps de Ballet and the kids gave of their best. Swiss conductor Emmanuel Siffert did a good job with the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, notwithstanding some slips of ensemble and intonation.

            The Argentino´s Ballet Estable is now led by Mario Silva, an Argentine with vast European and American experience. The First Part  of the programme was made up four classics and a new work. The "Paquita" "pas de trois" is typical Minkus/Petipa and was nicely done (Julieta Paul, Bautista Parada, Aldana Bidegaray). The best thing of the evening was the ethereal Elizabeth Antúnez in the Saint-Saëns/Fokin "Swan´s Death". The schmaltzy "Spring Waters" (Rachmaninov/Messerer) was done passably by Marianela Bidondo and Mario Navarro. Then, the ultra-famous "Pas de deux" from "Don Quichotte" (Minkus/Petipa) in its expanded version with variations for Kitri´s friends; Iñaki Urlezaga and Celeste Losa (both from the Ballet Concierto) plus Sol Infer and Julieta Raglia gave us good traditional dancing.

            The First Part ended with "The Guide" (première) by Silva on Ravel´s "Bolero"; Alejandra Baldoni was the skillful Guide of this cumulative ballet that ends with 34 dancers in good Neoclassic choreography tinged with some modernisms.

            The Ballet Concierto gave us the première of "Birthday Offering" in the Second Part, as revived by Margaret Barbieri. It was created in 1956 to commemorate the 25 years of the Royal Ballet and featured Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev. Some agreeable Glazunov well compiled by Irving allows Ashton to hew to the Royal Ballet´s very British style in a series of solos, a big "Pas de deux" and two pieces for the whole Corps. Pleasant enough but hardly substantial, it wasn´t quite congenial to the Ballet Concierto, perhaps uncomfortable with the original peciliar costumes by André Levasseur. Urlezaga and Elena Figueroa were "Nureyev/Fonteyn", and the others tried to follow the styles of the original dancers (Beriosova, Grey,Nerina, etc.).

            Pretty good playing and conducting by the Argentino´s Orchestra and conductor Darío Domínguez Xodo.

For Buenos Aires Herald

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