This is the year of Alberto Ginastera´s hundredth anniversary of his birth. And although nowadays Astor Piazzolla is the most widely played of our composers, Ginastera not only holds the second place in frequency but is considered worldwide as the most significant Argentina has produced. So of course the Colón will pay homage to him throughout the season, especially in the Philharmonic´s subscription series.
But the Colón is foremost an opera house, and Ginastera wrote three. Unfortunately Darío Lopérfido chose the weakest of them, when pride of place should have gone to his first, "Don Rodrigo", premièred there in 1964 and never revived. It is an ambitious historical opera of considerable demands and huge orchestration, but the challenge must be met for it contains a deal of fine music in a very complex language of great intensity but also haunting lyricism.
I won´t rehearse yet again the vexed question of Onganía´s cancellation of "Bomarzo" ; it was finally offered in 1972, 1984 and 2003. I admire certain aspects of the music, especially the expressionistic orchestration, creating mysterious ambiences, and also the arias for the courtesan Pantasilea and for Julia Farnese, but I strongly dislike the story and the abundance of forced spoken passages, as well as the gloating of both librettist and composer in depicting the unseemly aspects of life with heavy underlining and grotesque effects. The Mujica Láinez original novel is much better, and of course the famous Garden of Monsters has a visual attraction of its own.
That leaves "Beatrix Cenci", a sordid true story of the very Late Renaissance. Three well-known writers gave their own views: Percy Shelley wrote a tragedy in five acts in the Romantic period; in the Twentieth Century Antonin Artaud, the often deranged promoter of the Theatre of Cruelty, wrote a play in 1935 in his over-the-top style, and the Italian novelist Alberto Moravia gave his disenchanted focus on the family.
Well, Count Francesco Cenci was powerful in Rome during the last years of the Seventeenth Century and although his malignity was common knowledge, not even Pope Clement VIII helped his family to be freed of the Count´s tyranny. As Guillermo Scarabino (conductor of this revival) wrote, Francesco was "violent, avaricious, sadist, corrupt and vicious". He evaded jail and death (such was the sentence for sodomy at the time) by wholesale bribing. Finally his family (second wife, two sons and Beatrix) killed him but were condemned to death for the deed (except the youngest son).
The libretto by William Shand is deplorable in every sense: the language is stilted and unmusical, the events are narrated grossly, the structure is poor. And the characters pile up adjectives about their own condition instead of interacting. Some hermetic poems by Alberto Girri are interspersed and at least allow the composer isolated lyrical moments.
I witnessed the Argentine première at the Colón in 1992 and was very disappointed not only by the drama but by the music, to my mind the weakest in Ginastera´s whole production. His technical command of contemporary trends is beyond reproach but it is almost constantly used for cheap effect There´s some Renaissance pastiche in the Bacchanale. The final minutes (the execution of Beatrix) end with a very complex choral ululation that necessitated the presence of the choir director. The whole thing only lasts 90 minutes, shorter than "Salome" or "Elektra", and the opera was presented without an interval, perhaps wisely (avoiding an exodus?).
I have only admiration for the singers that solved such ungrateful music. Mónica Ferracani was Beatrix 24 years ago and keeps both her splendid presence and vocal fortitude intact. Víctor Torres (Francesco) is an accomplished professional; however, his soft-grained voice and relative volume aren´t right for this brutal villain. Gustavo López Manzitti (Orsino) again showed his firmness in the constant high range of his part. Alejandra Malvino was ideal as Lucrezia, Francesco´s long-suffering second wife.
Florencia Machado sang well the trouser role of the adolescent son Bernardo; Alejandro Spies was imposing as the other brother Giacomo. Smaller parts were well done by Mario De Salvo, Sebastián Sorarrain, Iván Maier and Víctor Castells. Scarabino did a brilliant job preparing the Orchestra, and Miguel Martínez managed well the choral fragments (he is uncredited in the hand programme!).
Alejandro Tantanian was the producer. He tells us in an interview in the programme that this opera is "a ghost tale, a pornographic narrative and a Gothic novel". Well, he put the accent on the porn, with the obsessive presence of men naked from the waist down and fully lighted, in the worst taste of Calixto Bieito or La Fura dels Baus; I haven´t seen the likes at the Colón before and I don´t accept it. I am no prude but I believe in suggestion; Jaime Kogan didn´t have recourse to such cheap genitality when he staged the opera in 1992. And of course we saw mock sex acts in the Bacchanale.
Oria Puppo contributes Neo-Greek columns in her stage design; the costumes veer between different centuries, and there are some weird contraptions for the half-naked men. Good lighting by David Seldes and interesting projections by Maxi Vecco don´t save the show. Four well-behaved mastiffs made an ominous contribution.
Three performances with two casts in non-subscription performances: it´s easy to infer that the non-inclusion in the subscription series was a sign of lack of confidence in this opera. The list of invited audience was huge.