jueves, junio 05, 2014

The fantastic variety of opera

These days operas as different as they can be showed the fantastic variety of the genre, and in my case, reaffirmed once again that the richness of this art form has no bounds. The Argentino offered Rossini´s "L´Italiana in Algeri"; Buenos Aires Lírica a so-called "Wagnerfest!", fragments in concert version.

"L´Italiana in Algeri" ("The Italian Girl in Algiers"), with a brilliant libretto by Angelo Anelli, was premiered in 1813 at Venice´s Teatro San Benedetto when the prodigiously gifted composer was only 21 and had already written 9 operas!

This year it was programmed by Guillermo Brizzio, who was the conductor of the La Plata premiere in 1986 ( I presented it in 1992 during my brief tenure as Director General; that time the conductor was Bruno D´Astoli and it marked the debut of tenor Darío Schmunck).

A parenthesis: in the authorities page of the hand programme no mention is made of the Artistic Director, a post held by Brizzio until a month ago; he has been replaced by Gabriel Senanes, who hasn´t yet taken up his post. Meanwhile, who´s running artistic matters?

Pablo Maritano was the producer of "L´Italiana...." and he is thoroughly trendy: deliberately against the original historical context; funny but sometimes gross; fast, almost frenetic; well-rehearsed and professional. As to the first point, transposition in time can work only up to a point: the Ottoman Empire disappeared after World War I, so if you (as is my case) care for historic coherence in opera, you won´t accept a Turkish Sultan, a band of seraglio eunuchs, tourists in a modern cruiser, pirates that look like Al Qaeda recruits, etc. Also you may feel that obsession with sex goes too far.

But the bubbly Rossinian spirit was present.

Mind you, this opera has a very modern libretto: Isabella is a feminist, an expert at manipulation of men and a patriot (I´m surprised that the Austrian Venetian censure accepted her ardent invocation of Italy when Italian unity was a half-century away) and Mustafa is a ridiculous fool.

Costumes by Sofía Di Nunzio are bright, imaginative and farcical, and the stage designs of Andrea Mercado take advantage of the big Argentino stage; drops allow fast scene changes (admittedly rather noisy). The lighting by Alejandro Le Roux helped to create the illusion of an exotic, colorful Maghreb.

There were two casts, I saw the first, and I was sorry to see that the audience was small. Mariana Rewerski has the "physique du rôle" and is a good comedian, but her voice is weak in the lower reaches and the florid technique is average. The Chilean bass baritone Ricardo Seguel has powerful means and is quite uninhibited in his broad but convincing tomfoolery. Tenor Santiago Ballerini has an unpreposessing presence but the part lies high and he can cope. Luciano Miotto is one of the few local specialists in the buffo style and his Taddeo was completely idiomatic.

The Bey´s rejected wife and her companion were sung and played with gusto by Oriana Favaro and Rocío Arbizu. Juan Pablo Labourdette was musically a good Haly, though he had to deal with the absurd marking of the role, continually aiming his gun at anybody.

In this luxurious production the choir is often present singing with enthusiasm and quality (prepared by Hernán Sánchez Arteaga), proving quite willing to collaborate with Maritano´s shenanigans as very feminine eunuchs, naked-torso courtisans or participants in the ridiculous Kaimakan and Pappataci ceremonies (funny Anelli contraptions). Brazilian conductor Viegas proved as effective in comedy as he had been in Wagner last year, with good collaboration from the orchestra.

Which gives me an easy lead to the BAL´s "Wagnerfest!". The Avenida´s pit can hold only 45 players, so the only time Wagner was given years ago ("The Flying Dutchman") the orchestration had to be reduced. This time we had 85 players but on the stage; maybe BAL will eventually adopt the Coliseo to give us complete and fully staged Wagner.

The conductor of an uneven ad-hoc orchestra was the Chilean Pedro-Pablo Prudencio, rather good in general terms but unfortunately lacking in judgment as to programming. To an already long night he added unnecessarily the "Tannhäuser" Bacchanale, in the worst possible moment after the virgin Elisabeth´s Second Act entrance aria, "Dich teure Halle". Prudencio was not prudent but prurient. Also, he mixed the Paris version (Bacchanale) with the Dresden Overture. Instead the Third Act block was coherent: Prelude,Wolfram´s recitative, Elisabeth´s Prayer and Wolfram´s recitative and aria (song to the evening star). Total 57´ with the Overture at the end! And no pause. We had lovely singing from Carla Filipcic Holm and sensitive artistry from Hernán Iturralde.

Strangely Prudencio put first "Götterdämmerung" than "Die Walküre", and, even stranger, he went directly from the former to the latter, again with no pause. From "Götterdämmerung" only orchestral music: from the Prologue, "Dawn" and "Siegfried´s Rhine Journey" preceded by the purely orchestrated last four minutes of the radiant Siegfried-Brünnhilde Duet; and then the orchestrated Siegfried´s farewell to life and his marvelous Funeral Music. From "Walküre": the enormous final duo of Wotan and Brünnhilde. Both Filipcic Holm and Iturralde did well, but they were less comfortable in these heroic parts than in "Tannhäuser". Apart from some bad horn croaks in "Götterdämmerung", the orchestral playing was respectable.

Last time "Tannhäuser" was staged at the Colón: 1994. "Götterdämmerung": 1998. "Die Walküre": 2005. Last complete "Ring":1967... We are falling behind.

For Buenos Aires Herald