sábado, julio 18, 2015

“The Marriage of Figaro”, comedy travestied into farce

            "Le Nozze di Figaro" ("The Marriage of Figaro") is the model adaptation by Lorenzo Da Ponte of Beaumarchais´ splendid comedy, second part of the trilogy begun with "The Barber of Seville".  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart gave us the best Classicist "commedia in musica".

            In recent decades Buenos Aires has caught up with Europe and the piece is done very regularly, though rarely well. Frankly I had good vibes about María Jaunarena´s production for Juventus Lyrica, for she had staged admirably not so long ago Britten´s "The turn of the Screw". And having grown in her profession first as costume designer and then  as producer at Juventus, founded by her mother Ana D´Anna –a Mozart fanatic- I did hope that she would respect the style of the work.

            Unfortunately it wasn´t so. From the beginning, and with very few good moments, we had comedy turned into gross farce.  I ask from any producer congruence and a comprehension of the material; I didn´t find it. First, I disliked the fact that we couldn´t hear the Overture by itself: she opened the drop curtain and we found ourselves in front of a very bare and ugly stage design by Gonzalo Córdova (the other culprit in this failed production).

            Then, Act I began, with an invisible Figaro counting if a bed destined to that room will have enough space; in its place we see a miserable seat. Soon after the signs were clear: the singers, especially Figaro and Cherubino, would be manhandled often, the "fun" would come from pratfalls and not from the subtlety of text and music. Also, one wants good rhythm and spryness in "Nozze", but not constant movement, often mixing ridiculous dancing.

             Susanna is the Countess´ maid and she is rather special –for instance, she takes singing lessons from Don Basilio (the intriguer from "The Barber", though here a tenor,  not a bass). She is astute and charming, but not here, where she is constantly vulgar. The part isn´t helped by the chosen singer, María Goso, but anyway she is poorly marked. 

            Figaro must be, and is here, alert, agile and ingenious, but not to the extreme of moving all the time like a spinning top (I admire the singer´s topnotch physical condition). Marcellina turns out to be, in the strangest episode of the libretto, Figaro´s mother, but here she looks young; they forgot the makeup?

            Cherubino is a delicious character and Cecilia Pastawski seems born to it, but she becomes a punching ball  of Figaro in his famous aria ending the First Act.  Before  that, the big comedy scene in which first Cherubino and then the Count must hide is completely absurd for the scene lacks the appropriate stage elements.

            A breath of fresh air comes with the start of Act II, when the exquisite Oriana Favaro sings the Countess´ opening air and nothing interrupts her. But later the inadequacy of the stage design again intrudes, for Cherubino hides apparently in the closet of a big room otherwise unused and with a superfluous bed. And the jump into the garden is ludicrously wrong.

            In the Third Act the Recognition scene is played for crude laughs, but the big Finale was a good moment, for the orchestra had the time to place themselves at the back of the stage, thus accompanying with greater verisimilitude the ceremony and better musical effect.

            The Fourth Act has the least credible and unpleasant garden I´ve ever seen; the "trees" are supposed to be functional to the action as hiding places; they weren´t. And it wasn´t helped by the lighting, also by Córdova (there was too much of it).

            The costumes by Jaunarena were much better than her staging, for they were in the spirit of the late XVIIth Century.

            Fortunately the musical side had several positive aspects, although with some mistakes.  As happened in recent years, the young Hernán Schvartzman was the conductor, and I suspect he was the author of the added ornaments to most arias, to my mind excessive and unnecessary but in style. His tempi were right and the orchestra played well; it was made up of a mix of local players with some (I presume) from The Hague, where Schvartzman lives. The Choir (Hernán Sánchez Arteaga) was alright. And the harpsichord recitatives were brilliantly done by Manuel de Olaso.

            The cast was dominated by the very good Figaro of Juan Salvador Trupia y Rodríguez (Asturian but a BA resident), with firm and solid voice and mercurial acting. The Count of Fernando Grassi was also solid and professional though not aristocratic. Favaro was a lovely and refined Countess, perhaps lacking the personal touches that can make the character grow. Pastawski, better handled, would have been an ideal Cherubino, but she was even instructed to start haltingly her aria "Voi che sapete".

            Of the main characters María Goso let the team down as Susanna: apart from being far from the "physique du rôle", I was constantly bothered by her sliding from note to note, the antithesis of Mozartian singing.

            Walter Schwartz doubled as Bartolo and Antonio the gardener (as happened in the Viennese première) and similarly Norberto Lara was Basilio and Don Curzio the notary; both were convincing though over the top. Two new singers did well: María Cecilia Pérez San Martín (replacing the announced Sabrina Cirera) and the charming and salacious Julieta Fernández Alfaro as Barbarina. 

For Buenos Aires Herald 

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