sábado, mayo 28, 2016

​The Argentino plays safe with an old warhorse

             Opera companies should always try to obtain a reasonable balance between the surefire,  the moderately known and the novelty of whatever century. However, the Teatro Argentino has inherited Puccini´s "La Boheme" from the preceding tenure of Valeria Ambrosio; it was cancelled last year due to money restrictions, and the new Director, Martín Bauer, has honored the contracts with the stranded singers reprogramming that opera for this season.

            There was a significant change in this "Boheme": following an inclination of her own, Ambrosio, whose career has been attached to modern musical comedy rather than opera, had announced as producer Ricky Pashkus, a man identified with Cibrián´s projects for decades. But Bauer put the production in the hands of a veteran Argentine with a big operatic career in Europe and the Canary Islands: Mario Pontiggia. In fact, he was the one that presented in 2006 the final Colón Opera before it closed in 2006: the première of Mussorgsky´s complete original version of "Boris Godunov".

            Just two observations on the work itself, for anything else would be redundant in what is one of the five most popular operas. Curiously, Verdi´s "La Traviata" belongs to that select bunch, and both depict the same world of Parisian bohemians and kept women of the 1840s, for that´s when the books of respectively Henri Murger and Alexandre Dumas Fils were written. The other matter concerns the weather: the first three acts happen in crude Winter, but the librettists (otherwise witty and very able) put the action of Act II OUTSIDE the Café Momus, a square in the Latin Quarter, and no one seems aware of the cold in one of the most joyful and carefree acts in all opera...

            Pontiggia showed his professionalism in clever handling of the relationships between the characters and in the case of Act II  of the logistics involving a very intricate mélange of people that change constantly (quite a challenge). But there were faults:

a)      The libretto states very clearly that we are witnessing the times of King Louis Philippe and of his minister François Guizot: the 1840s; but the producer gives an unequivocal proof of how far ahead he moved the action: in Act II we see a poster of a Dietrich-Cooper movie of 1936! Also, the Third Act happens at the Barrière d´Enfer, one of the numerous customs posts that existed in Paris before the reforms of Baron Haussmann, who during the reign of Napoleon III  (1852-70) led a deep modernisation programme that among other things eliminated such posts.

b)      In Act II the big feast with clowns and a man on stilts evokes Carnival but we are in Christmas!

c)      Unnecessary innovations such as a second presence of the owner Benoît in the caper of the bohemians just before the tragic entry of Musetta (Act IV).

There was a curious description of stage and costume design in the hand programme: Pontiggia did the "costumes adaptation" and María José Besozzi the "stage design adaptation", implying that both were based on pre-existing materials at the Argentino. Costumes: well-chosen from the Argentino´s splendid array. Stage designs: completely apposite to the necessities of each act: the two-level garret (Acts I and III), the square with Momus in the background, the Barrière (also two-level). Good lighting from Gabriel Lorenti.

A point worth stressing is the amplitude of the Argentino´s stage, even wider than the Colón´s: this is the ideal for Act II, in which amidst the multitude in the last minutes paraded the  military band (very good players from the orchestra).

 There were two casts; I saw the first and found it as positive as can be assembled locally, plus an interesting debut: the young Chilean Yaritza Véliz as Musetta. Daniela Tabernig grew gradually into her Mimì, well-sung though not very personal in the first two acts, but intensely dramatic in the last two, her lyric soprano expanding at climactic moments.

Gustavo López Manzitti was once again our most reliable resident tenor: his Rodolfo was professional, powerful and personable (three "p" that define him). Young baritone Ricardo Crampton, after some apprentice years, is now ready for a firm career as a lyric baritone, with his fresh timbre, fine line and agreeable presence. And Véliz was a revelation: she has the sweet insinuating required voice for this coquette, she is musically accurate and plays the comedy well.

The other bohemians were  both individually and as partners of a group completely believable: Mario De Salvo, in excellent voice,  as an assertive Schaunard, and Emiliano Bulacios (Colline) confirming that he is our most promising bass. Add Alberto Jáuregui Lorda as a Benoît well versed in the buffo manner and Víctor Castells as a dignified Alcindoro fooled by Musetta.

Carlos Vieu showed again that he is equally at home conducting concerts and opera. With full support from an orchestra that keeps its high standard and from the first-rate two choirs (the adult under Hernán Sánchez Arteaga and the children led by Mónica Dagorret) this was a convincing and enjoyable Puccinian evening.

The Argentino is going through a difficult period of labor demands (a soberly written complaint was read before the audience at the beginning) and also needs reparations in various parts of the huge building: there is a plan to do them in several years.  I wish them well: it´s the most important opera house we have after the Colón.

For Buenos Aires Herald​

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