With rare exceptions (Gianni Schicchi), Puccini´s operas are led by his heroines. Within a week, the Teatro Argentino staged "Tosca" and the Colón, "Madama Butterfly". Both are very much in love and both commit suicide, but their temperaments are dissimilar and their stories offer very different worlds and conflicts. The new artistic directress of the Argentino, Valeri Ambrosio, confesses very little operatic experience, even as audience member. But she had no qualms in taking upon herself the staging of "Tosca", her second "hit title" selection after "La Traviata". And she promises more of the same for next year, so forget about the innovative programming of Suárez Marzal and Lombardero: Ambrosio goes for the sure thing.
She comes from musical comedy of the "Priscilla" kind, hardly the preparation for a "Tosca". So I have to thank her for one decision: she respects the original time and places: Sant´Andrea della Valle, Palazzo Farnese and Castel Sant´Angelo. Following the current trend, her staging is multimedia and she chose collaborators that don´t have an operatic background: Ana Repetto (stage designer), Maximiliano Vecco (multimedial content designer), Sandro Pujía (lighting; an isolated "Boheme" is his only operatic antecedent). Only the costumes, selected from the Argentino´s vast and splendid archive, were supervised by two people long associated with this theatre, Fabiana Yalet and Raúl Gatto.
The initial zoom form the Square in front of Sant´Andrea to the inside of the Church was impressive, for Vecco had access to very good documentary material; so the architecture was projected, and Repetto´s contribution was a big wooden contraption from whose top Cavaradossi painted an absurdly gigantic Madonna. When the Sacristan entered, Ambrosio invented two wholly unnecessary parodic mimes as helpers. Otherwise she respected the libretto and the Te Deum was impressive.
I was bothered by the bad use of projections in the First Act, and again in the Second: I don´t need to be shown everything mentioned in the libretto, as when Tosca evokes nice moments passed with Mario, nor do I have to see the tortures inflicted on the painter. Another thing was very wrong: an enormously long table placed dead center and whose only object was for the singers to ludicrously climb on it.
Up to then there was a mix of good and bad, but the Third was unremittingly bad. From the beginning: the boy shepherd singing a folk song was an apprentice soldier and a travestied woman; Mario bribed openly the Jailer in front of a completely superfluous dozen soldiers, who remained in place throughout, even during Mario and Tosca´s very private duet, and the firing platoon supposed to enter, kill Mario and go away was made up of those already on stage, and after killing Mario stayed transfixed in their places...
Amparo Navarro had sung Verdi at the Colón ("I Lombardi") and the Coliseo ("I due Foscari"). A handsome woman, she moves well, but she sang a small-scale Tosca, professional enough however. Chilean tenor José Azócar is neither handsome nor young enough for Mario; his singing was very stilted and vibratoed, though firm. The best vocality was Hernán Iturralde´s, an uncharacteristically bald Scarpia; the Chief of the Pope´s Secret Police in Napoleonic times wasn´t malignant nor subtle, but the voice was always solid in the whole range.
Several other artists did well: Víctor Castells (Angelotti), Fernando Santiago (Sacristan), Santiago Bürgi (Spoletta), Oreste Chlopecki (Jailer). But the helmsman of the Orchestra, Carlos Vieu, went beyond normal standards and produced an admirable orchestral tapestry, with all players responding with real quality. And the Choirs (mixed and children) were very good (Hernán Sánchez Arteaga and Mónica Dagorret).
As usual, in his "Madama Butterfly" Hugo De Ana did everything: production, stage , costume and lighting design. And as usual, he was arbitrary but interesting. He too goes multimedia, and often his ideas are technically valuable but wrong in terms of adequacy to the libretto.
We certainly don´t need Hokusai´s famous Wave in the quietest piece of the whole opera, the "bocca chiusa" chorus. The three metallic cubes (one bigger and central) officiate unconvincingly as Butterfly´s house. Those absurd black ninjas are quite a bother in a number of scenes, and nowhere as obnoxious as when Cio-Cio-San shows her son to the Consul (the poor kid is brought on stage carried by the ninjas, ruining all verisimilitude). There is no hill and the sea is omnipresent (all against the libretto). Both the Bonze and the rich Yamadori are ridiculed. An unwarranted assistant sailor in the First Act even played a mute saxophone! And kitsch often intrudes, especially when instead of cherry flowers we get what looks like discombobulated mops.
However, there are some insights: the convincing demeanor and beautiful costumes during Butterfly´s wedding; the merited slap in the face administered by Kate (Pinkerton´s wife) to her husband; or the collaboration by Suzuki in the ritual suicide once she understands that Cio-Cio-San´s determination is irrevocable. By the way, De Ana´s team of collaborators comes from Europe.
Once again the Colón has changed the announced singers with no explanation: instead of the famous Patricia Racette, the unheralded Armenian Liana Aleksanyan; replacing Fabián Veloz, the Russian Igor Golovatenko as Sharpless. Aleksanyan works at Braunschweig and has had little international projection; however, she is a seasoned professional, with a pleasant voice of good range, though not enough volume in the center, acts well, has the right appearance and stamina.
James Valenti certainly looks the part, "tall and strong", as Butterfly says. His singing is agreeable though the voice has little metal. The best voice was the young baritone Golovatenko, who should have a fine career in lyric roles. Guadalupe Barrientos (Suzuki) and Sergio Spina (Goro) were convincing. Fernando Radó (Bonze), Mario De Salvo (Imperial Commissary) and Gabriela Ceaglio (Kate) were in the picture. The kid, Matías Romig, moved nicely and has the right looks.
Ira Levin showed again his versatility in a well-conducted and –played performance, abetted by good choral work (Miguel Martínez).
For Buenos Aires Herald