miércoles, agosto 03, 2016

Saariaho´s Shakespeare, Henze´s Cervantes: intriguing mixtures


            The Colón´s Chamber Opera had a brilliant first lease of life in the Sixties, when Valenti Ferro programmed beautiful pieces such as Mozart´s "La Finta Giardiniera", recorded and for a while the only available one in the world.  Later this fine project was destroyed, until it was revived with a group led by Marcelo Lombardero; it too was scrapped, in this case by García Caffi. Lopérfido has revived it, again with Lombardero.

            The initial offering has just been premièred at the chamber hall of the Usina del Arte and it makes a double homage in the fifth centenary of their deaths: Shakespeare as seen by Kaija Saariaho in "The Tempest Songbook", and Cervantes, by Hans Werner Henze´s "El teatro de los milagros" ("Das Wundertheater", an adaptation of "El Retablo de las Maravillas"). A brief but substantial evening, well worth attending.

            Saariaho was born in 1952 in Helsinki and now lives in Paris with her husband Jean-Baptiste Barrière. In recent years an intimate opera, "L´amour de loin", has had several stagings (it will shortly be given by the Met). She studied at Paris´ IRCAM and was influenced by the spectralists, who explore the harmonic potential of the overtone series.

            I have heard her opera, and now these songs on "The Tempest" confirm that she is a sensitive composer who believes in modern melody, timbric variety and psychologic insight. She creates poetic ambiences that connect with the characters. These are songs and can be done without a staging, it´s not an opera; but it gains in suggestion with Lombardero´s visuals.

            "The Tempest" is one of the richest Shakespeare plays. Saariaho took her sweet time to write these songs and after imagining them from 1992 to 2002, she finally joined them as a songbook in 2004. Each one is about a different character, and the instrumental accompaniment varies from piece to piece; only seven players but in various combinations.

            In "Ariel´s Hail" this airy spirit (soprano) sings expressive phrases behind a transparent white curtain (the instrumental group is also stationed there, on the left); cunning lighting by Horacio Efron helps a lot. Then, "Caliban´s Dream" (baritone) stresses the pathetic side of the brutish creature that possessed the island; the producer wisely avoids deforming makeup. "Miranda´s lament" (soprano) is intense without melodrama; she steps out of the curtain. "Ferdinand´s comfort"  is sung by baritone and soprano. Finally, "Prospero´s vision" (baritone) gives us the most powerful character of the play in meaningful musical phrases.

            Graciela Oddone was in splendid voice and showed strong dramatic sense. Sebastián Angulegui sang firmly and gave relief to his three impersonations. The players, led clearly by Martín Sotelo, were a good group capable of subtlety.

            And now to Henze, the most important German opera composer after WWII. He lived between 1926 and 2012 and his variegated production included many operas. Shamefully the Colón has never staged any of them in the big hall, though the CETC presented "El Cimarrón", a short chamber opera about a Cuban slave in the XIXth century, sung by Lombardero when he was a character baritone. But at least three Henze operas must be premièred: the brilliant satire "Der Junge Lord", the stark Greek tragedy "Die Bassariden" and the sensitive "Elegie für junge Liebende" ("Elegy for young lovers").  (Even worse, the Colón has ignored Hindemith: "Cardillac" and "Mathis der Maler" are musts).

            "Das Wundertheater" is Henze´s first opera, written when he was 25. It was premièred at Heidelberg in 1949, but that initial version wasn´t really an opera for it was meant for actors; he revised it in 1965 as a real opera, premièred in Frankfurt under Wolfgang Rennert. There´s a recording by the Osnabrück Opera, 2005, Ars label. And it was staged at the Vienna Volksoper in 2012.

            "El retablo de las maravillas" is one of the eight "entremeses" ("intermezzos") written by Cervantes to be intercalated between acts of dramas and thus provide comic relief (in opera the idea led to Pergolesi´s "La serva padrona"). It is an adaptation of the same oriental tale transformed by Andersen into "The Emperor´s New Suit". There the emperor is naked but nobody dares to say so; in Cervantes a charlatan tells a group that they will see wonders only if they are true Christians and are not bastards: all say that they see them though they are nonexistent, until a soldier comes and tells the truth; he is rewarded by being attacked by the whole group... The political and social connotations were valid then and still are.

            The orchestra still behind the curtain was bigger: 17 players. The composer follows old forms: prelude, ballade, rondo, etc. But his music sounds quite modern, alert and to the point. The adapted German text was retranslated into Spanish by Cecilia Bassano retaining many of Cervantes´ words.

            The production by Lombardero was convincing, colorful and agile, with costumes by Luciana Gutman. A very professional group of singers functioned as a team and both sang and acted admirably. Santiago Bürgi and Graciela Oddone led the game. The fun is even in their surnames: the Repollos (Angulegui, María Victoria Gaeta), the Castrados (Mariano Fernández Bustinza, Cecilia Pastawski). Then there was the Governor (Juan Pablo Labourdette), Pedro Capacho (Pablo Pollitzer), the Musician (Pablo Scaiola) and the Furrier (Officer), with Lombardero himself. The Orchestra under Sotelo was quite effective.

            Bad blot: the information in the hand programme was almost nil.

For Buenos Aires Herald

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