Sixty years ago we used to have Colón Summer opera (late February and all of March) at the Amphitheatre of Parque Centenario, but later it decayed, and in the Sixties we had excellent chamber opera in closed theatres such as the San Martín during the same period.
In recent decades productivity lowered substantially and the Colón stopped offering Summer seasons. Instead of the eighteen operas of the Sixties (from February to December) we only had seven or eight. This year it announces an exaggeratedly called Summer season starting in the middle of February, for the pieces announced only require a small instrumental ensemble (Weill and Stravinsky).
So we spent many seasons without January-February opera (or for that matter, concerts). In these last years, however, there was a welcome innovation: the Fundación Beethoven presented in certain selected Saturdays operas from New York´s Met in HD (high definition) images and with adequate sound at the Teatro El Nacional. They are a treat and it allows "porteños" to appreciate artists that mostly don´t visit us.
I have a soft spot for Bizet´s "Les pêcheurs de perles", for in 1998 as General Director of the Teatro Argentino I convinced Antonio Russo to offer for the first time in Argentina this beautiful creation in the original French (it was done in Italian by the Colón in 1913 and our principal opera house never gave it in the original language, either before or after 1998). And Russo eventually persuaded Ana D´Anna to première it in our city.
Well, believe it or not, the Met´s production is the first in a century, and in this case it was proposed by soprano Diana Damrau as an ideal role for her voice (it is) and a charmingly exotic score with plenty of suggestive melody. And she was right, for the sold-out house gave this exhumation enormous applause. Indeed, the soprano sang admirably, with plangent timbre and perfect florid passages.
Tenor Matthew Polenzani and baritone Mariusz Kwiecien (Polish) are still young but by now they can be considered Met veterans (15 years). They are in this opera friends (Nadir and Zurga) separated by their love for Léïla, but there´s a catch: she is a Hindu priestess committed to chastity and brought by the High Priest Nourabad to be a protectress of the pearl fishers.
Polenzani has a beautiful lyric timbre and a refined line that allows him to sing in pianissimo his difficult and dreamy aria, and Kwiecien, although he lacks some Gallic charm, sings very well and with dramatic sense. A young bass, Nicolas Testé, showed impressive means as Nourabad. The excellent choir and orchestra of the Met responded brilliantly to Gianandrea Noseda´s convincing approach to the colorful score.
This was a joint production with the English National Opera (although there it is sung in English) ; the producer was Penny Woolcock, stage designs by Dick Bird, costumes by Kevin Pollard, lighting by Jen Schriever. Considering the horrors one often sees in Europe nowadays, I found this staging viable in dramatic terms, although I saw no need to change it to contemporary times, and in what is basically an analphabet society to see people reading papers and Zurga with accounting elements is rather silly.
And now to a new initiative. The Plaza del Vaticano is the ample space between the Colón and Viamonte Street; a huge screen and a barely acceptable sound reproduction system have been installed and during a whole month DVDs will be shown from different places, covering opera, ballet and concerts. Simple wooden chairs are provided and access is free first come first served. Basic complain: we are not given even very bare programmes. You will find information on the general programming in www.plazavaticano.com.ar.
The Festival de Música started on Jan 14 and will end with the only live performance on Feb 14: "Mahagonny Songspiel" by Brecht-Weill. You will see productions from the Colón, Paris, Guanajuato (Mexico), Berlin, Oslo, Helsinki, Israel, Leipzig, Vienna, Naples, Rome and the USA. Everything is classical except an extemporaneous Tony Bennett-Lady Gaga recital. I haven´t the space to be more explicit, but e.g. in opera you can see "Aida" and "Tosca" (both from Paris), the ballet "Zorba the Greek" (Naples) or the New Year 2014 concert (Vienna Philharmonic/Barenboim). The starting time is always 8 pm.
I chose a novelty for Buenos Aires and myself: the concert version of Vivaldi´s opera "Motezuma" (not a misprint but a gaffe from librettist Girolamo Giusti) as presented by the Festival Cervantino of Guanajuato. Vivaldi is a champion of instrumental music but little is known about his numerous operas; here I have only seen "Il Giustino" at the Coliseo, about four decades ago. When Berlin recovered from Kiev the manuscript, several pieces were absent, including the Overture and several scenes; the version we heard, by Federico Sardelli, incorporates the Overture from "Tamerlano" and choirs from "Griselda".
Data from Internet: Sardelli´s Orchestra Modo Antiquo numbers 16 first-rate musicians, especially a marvelous trumpet player. Of the good singers I preferred mezzo Vivica Genaux (known in BA) as Mitrena and Luigi De Donato as a bass-baritone Motezuma. Even in a concert version, it wasn´t a good idea to have rivals sung by the same soprano (unbelievable as both Fernando –Hernán- Cortés and Asprano, an Aztec General).
I enjoyed the typically Vivaldian music, mostly fast, nervous and rhythmical, but it does have some serene melodic passages as well.
For Buenos Aires Herald