sábado, mayo 28, 2016

Juventus Lyrica´s “Merry Widow” suffers from wrong casting

            The fathers of operetta are Jacques Offenbach and Franz Von Suppé: in the 1850s they set the rules of a genre that would be immensely popular until WWI and would decline later, for cosmovisions and music history changed enormously. The ftivolous wit of the libretti, the charming music based on contagious melodies and dances, the very consonant harmony and the basic desire to please mainstream audiences made a concoction that was easily swallowed.

            Many hundreds were composed (and there was a similar trend in Spain: the zarzuela). Some were French (Messager, Lecocq), others Viennese or Hungarian (Johann Strauss II, Millöcker, Kálman, Lehár); there was also the special British case of Gilbert and Sullivan, or a tendency to picaresque vaudeville in Italy. And in the USA it thrived both with expatriates (Romberg, Friml) and Americans such as Herbert, until in the Thirties it was supplanted by musicals.

            As happens with opéra-comique and German Singspiel, operettas alternate between sung and spoken passages (and also what is technically known as melodrama: spoken words accompanied by music). But the problem with operettas is that they only sound authentic in their original language: translations ruin them (if you are not convinced, think of a Spaniard visiting Vienna and hearing "La Verbena de la Paloma" in German...).

            During the second half of the Nineteenth Century many operetta companies visited our city and offered many interesting pieces that were never heard again, but in the Twentieth Century such enterprises dwindled (in fact, the last time I can recall was an Italian company in 1966).  In my experience (since the Fifties) the Avenida mainly offered zarzuelas, few operettas. And the Colón a few times included them at the big house but generally gave them translated and in the Summer season, either in open air or in other theatres.

            In Viennese operetta two names dominate: Johann Strauss II and Franz Lehár. Of course, the King is Strauss´ "Die Fledermaus" ("The Bat"), the only operetta that the Wiener Staatsoper includes in its programming: the others are offered by the Volksoper.

 From Strauss the Colón has presented "The Bat", "The Gypsy Baron" ("Der Zigeunerbaron") and "A Night in Venice" ("Eine Nacht in Venedig"). Apart from Lehár, the only other operetta done with the auspices of the Colón is Kálman´s "Gräfin Maritza" ("Countess Maritza").

            The Colón has  put on stage Lehár´s "Die Lustige Witwe" ("The Merry Widow") in 1955 (in Spanish) and in 2001 (in German). (There was also "The Count of Luxembourg" –"Der Graf von Luxemburg"-  in Spanish but at the San Martín).  The latter will remain as an indispensable reference for it was an admirable production by Lotfi Mansouri, beautifully conducted by Julius Rudel and it had a wonderful cast that could give us refinement in droves: Frederica Von Stade, Thomas Allen, Elisabeth Norberg-Schulz and Paul Groves.

            Against such a precedent to programme "The Merry Widow" is quite a challenge, and I feel Juventus Lyrica was wrong to start the season with it, for they didn´t have a protagonist that was up to the requirements. And also because they had given it in 2009 with a better main singer and production. If they wanted to start with an operetta, why not Lehár´s "The Count of Luxembourg" or particularly "The Land of Smiles" ("Das Land des Lächelns")?

            But there was one great merit: they did it in German, no mean problem for an Argentine cast. And the singers managed acceptably the risk, for mainly they were intelligible, though not idiomatic.

            And André Dos Santos, the Brazilian conductor, proved an expert in the genre: he obtained from a good orchestra the lightness, flexibility, charm and accuracy that the music requires. The Choir under Hernán Sánchez Ortega responded with characteristic enthusiasm.

            Ana D´Anna produced with care and dynamism in stage designs of her own and Constanza Pérez Maurice and costumes also by D´Anna but with her daughter María Jaunarena. The costumes were quite adequate to the pre-WWI ambience. As to the stage designs, the rather abstract Act I was quite attractive; Act II, at Hanna Glawari´s (the Widow´s) house, was functional; but Act III at Maxim´s lacked the appropriate atmosphere. The traditional lighting was by Gonzalo Córdova.

            Unfortunately the vocal means of María Goso (I saw the first cast) have a basic liability: a harsh, metallic upper range, in a part that needs above all beauty of tone. As her appearance doesn´t help (nor does that of the tenor Duilio Smiriglia, as Camille de Rosillon, but he sings agreeably), the theatrical aspect suffers.

            This operetta is a spoof on the Balkan countries (Pontevedro is clearly Montenegro) and on greed: Hanna´s pretenders want her millions, and only Danilo (an old flame) loves her although he leads a dissolute life with Maxim´s midinettes. And Valencienne, Baron Mirko Zeta´s wife (he is Pontevedro´s ambassador) flirts with Camille.

            Danilo was well taken by baritone Ernesto Bauer, who looked, sung and acted with considerable efficiency. Ivana Ledesma as Valencienne showed a sufficient though rather incisive voice for a part that admits lighter vocality, and she moved with the proper spirit.

            Carlos Kaspar (Zeta) is an experienced actor, and along with Norberto Lara as Njegus (his secretary) they provided some fun. The five suitors were an uneven bunch.  The choreography by Igor Gopkalo was better in the Pontevedran dances than  in the Maxim´s cancan; the girl dancers were correct.

For Buenos Aires Herald

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