Verdi´s "La Traviata" is of course a masterpiece and of course so are "La Boheme", "Tosca" or "Carmen". But my God, give me some variety! The insistence with which they are put on stage grates on my nerves. There´s so much interesting stuff that we don´t see. Nevertheless, I went to Avellaneda´s Teatro Roma with high expectations. About "La Traviata"? No, about the Roma! For after a year and a half of restoration, it reopened.
It is older than the Colón, it was born in 1904. From then on it was the cultural center of the area beyond the Riachuelo that encompasses not only Avellaneda but also areas South and West of it. It is a typical horseshoe theatre and a small one (about 540 places) such as you can see in many towns of Italy. During its long history it presented famous people such as Sarah Bernhardt, Carlos Gardel and a long roster of famous Argentine actors.
But it also has a long history of presenting opera and I often went to the Roma, for it often gave us operatic scores not easily encountered, such as Puccini´s "Edgar" or Verdi´s "Alzira"; of course I won´t compare them to "Tosca" and "La Traviata", but the true opera lover wants to fill in what he doesn´t know of the great opera creators.
However, I understand the choice of "La Traviata" for a reinauguration: it´s a surefire success and you need a full theatre in a relaunching. And there was one, although the audience looked rather old and unsophisticated.
Some words about the refurbishing. In fact, it was more than that: on the one hand, the theatre was indeed cleaned up, so that everything looked bright but respectful: the white-and-gold ornamentation, the upholstered seats, the refreshed foyer; you can´t ameliorate the mediocrity of the many portraits of composers close to the roof but I feel that they were right in preserving them. On the other hand, an adjacent building was torn down and a new modern one was built, with a big dance hall and plenty of dressing-rooms; they should make life more comfortable for the artists.
So the theatre is ready for a new era, which I hope will have enough budget to give us a true operatic season; these isolated three performances of "La traviata" were called "season", which is obviously a misnomer.
The theatre has original limitations which can´t be bettered: the stage is quite small, the flies insufficient. One thing has changed and I welcome it: the orchestral pit has been enlarged and now can hold about 46 players; if you add about six more in the lateral loges on the same line, you get to 52. You can´t do the big Verdis or Wagner, but there´s plenty left.
Two matters: a) the Roma upheld its bad reputation for punctuality; it started half an hour late . b) Add 10 minutes for a filmed blurb about the Roma´s trajectory which only mentioned Tito Schipa but otherwise overlooked its opera record; however there was plenty of praise for Avellaneda´s Mayor.
And how was this "Traviata"? Fair. The minimalist stage design by Hugo Ciciro has been seen elsewhere; it isn´t beautiful but it serves. The costumes were chosen from the vast reservoir of La Plata´s Argentino Theatre by María Vucetich, not always rightly: e.g., Germont´s attire was unbecoming but Violetta´s black gown in Act III was marvelous, and there were many choristers dressed parodistically.
The Orquesta Sinfónica Municipal de Avellaneda leaves considerable room for improvement, especially in the violins´ tuning, though they were led in good style by Dante Ranieri. The IMNA Choir prepared by Armando Garrido should be restructured: it has plenty of old people and it is too big for the tiny stage; they are enthusiastic but it isn´t enough. The version was complete, including the often cut cabalettas for tenor and baritone (I could do without the latter).
The cast had a proficient lyric baritone, Fernando Grassi, who sang with fine line though his acting was limited. Sebastián Russo lacks an essential quality for Alfredo: he has to have charm. In the First Act the tenor was only intent in singing the notes; later on he acted with his voice, which is reasonably good, but he was at his best when Alfredo was angry and insulting (end of the Second Act and all his scenes in the Third).
Rocío Cereceda tackled valiantly her enormous role, Violetta. She started weakly but found gradually her voice, which is no more than serviceable. However, she communicated the anguish of the fallen woman deeply in love but condemned by phtisis to an early death.
In the smaller parts the best were Nora Balanda as Flora, Cristian Karim Taleb as Gastone and Stephanie Rivas as Annina. Alfredo González Reig (Douphol), Juan Feico (D´Obigny) and Claudio Rotella (Grenvil) were in the picture.
The production by Boris had good and bad in it. Good: it respects time and place; it has some well-observed details (e.g., Germont picks up Violetta´s message to Alfredo, thus knowing that his son will be at Flora´s party). Bad: the absurd intervention of the Police in Flora´s party manhandling the women and distracting from the stasis needed by the great concertante; Germont and Violetta taking off clothes unnecessarily; people spying the main action voyeuristically.
Good luck, Roma; be part of the scene again.
For Buenos Aires Herald