Simultaneously the authorities announced the 2016 season of the Teatro Argentino (La Plata) and an ambitious renovation plan. On the one hand, Martín Bauer replaced Valeria Ambrosio as General and Artistic Director. He concocted a rather strange short season ending on the last day of October. On the other hand, November will see the beginning of surprising and expensive ameliorations of the massive brutalist Theatre that replaced the old beautiful Italian horseshoe-shaped Opera House. In just 16 years the building is in need of important reforms, which speaks of evident shortcomings in the construction. (Both the Argentino and the CCK are unfinished!).
I must say that I was rather bothered by the election of Bauer, for his specialty is contemporary music, not opera, and the Argentino is basically an opera house, even if it also offers ballet and concerts, and has always been a traditional theatre in a traditional town. Innovations must be introduced with tact. After the Ambrosio seasons, heavily conventional on the instructions of Jorge Telerman ("La Traviata", "Tosca"), Bauer accepts "la Boheme", cancelled last year for lack of money, and only adds Mozart´s chamber "Così fan tutte" to repertoire fare. The other two choices of this mini-season are strictly contemporary: "De materie" (1989) by the Dutch composer Louis Andriessen, and "Written on skin" (2012) by George Benjamin and Martin Crimp. The proportions between repertoire and new works aren´t right.
Of course, the TACEC (created by Bauer as the Argentino´s counterpart to the Colón´s CETC during the period of Lombardero´s Artistic Direction) is back. But the Ballet, now with a new Directress, Maricel De Mitri (until last year an exquisite Colón ballerina) will insist on the bread-and-butter big standards ("Giselle" and "Don Quichotte" plus just one programme of modern choreography).
Bauer brings famous contemporary concert musicians, such as the Arditti Quartet and the Ensemble Modern. The Orchestra under the stalwart maestro Carlos Vieu started the season with Mendelssohn´s "Elijah" and will follow with such important scores as Mahler´s Second Symphony, "Resurrection", whilst Christian Baldini will dare to combine Ligeti´s "Atmospheres" with Stravinsky´s "Rite of Spring".
Before I refer to "Elijah", some data on the proposed reforms to the building. The expense will be huge: 490 million pesos. There will be five main areas with different time lapses, starting in November. Perhaps the most relevant: reparation of the stage machinery (six months). Then, waterproofing of terraces and roofs (a year). Renovation of façades and plazas (18 months). Reconditioning of turrets and fire security (18 months). And sprucing up of the great Ginastera Hall and of the microcinema (6 months). With all this, the Argentino will still be unfinished!
Bauer admits that in 2017 (and perhaps 2018?) activities will have to take place elsewhere, and he mentions at La Plata the recently renovated Coliseo Podestá, a fine old theatre through rather small, quite adequate for chamber opera; he will also move the Argentino´s artists to venues in our city: the Auditorium of the Parque Centenario and the Usina del Arte. (At La Plata the Summer possibility of the Auditorium Martín Fierro won´t be available, for it is also undergoing reform).
So it seems that we are in for a long transition period in an overdimensioned institution with 900 employees. As I arrived to the enormous Ground Floor foyer, I was received by sirens and yells, and a leaflet was put in my hands. It said that unless the Government changes the status of a number of employees under contract and incorporates them as members of the permanent staff, they will impede the start of the renovation works! Typical labor brouhaha.
Now to the positive side. Apart from one blot (the lack of hand programmes) Vieu did it again. As you may remember, he closed last year with an impressive performance by the Choir and Orchestra of Haydn´s wonderful oratorio "The Creation". This time he gave us an admirable rendering of the greatest 19th Century oratorio, Mendelssohn´s "Elijah", where he shows his serious side with maximum quality. Marvelous ability in counterpoint from the man who brought Bach´s St Matthew Passion back from oblivion coupled with sensitive melody and contrasting moods.
Old Testament tales are stark, and Elijah smites the Baal priests, brings water to a parched land and finally goes to Heaven in a chariot of fire. All this in music that is a joy to hear and follow with a score.
I find both the Chorus (under Hernán Sánchez Arteaga) and the Orchestra in excellent shape, worthy of comparison with the similar Colón organisms. But if the results are so good it is because of the guiding hand of Vieu, may be our best resident conductor (Alejo Pérez works mainly in Europe). He has admirable technical control and a keen sense of the best tempi and phrasings.
And he had a good quartet of soloists, especially Hernán Iturralde as Elijah, full of authority and command. After the first uneven minutes tenor Carlos Ullán found his best level in the parts of King Ahab and Obadiah. The fresh voice and musicality of Marisú Pavón shone in the soprano parts. And Chilean mezzosoprano María Luisa Merino Ronda, incorporated to the Argentino in recent years, sang well though with less character than needed for Queen Jezabel. A child sang purely the moving part in which she announces the forming clouds that will end the terrible drought.
For Buenos Aires Herald