jueves, septiembre 15, 2016

German Romanticism at the Sans Souci: Opìtz surprises again


            For decades one of the best features of our musical life has been the Fundación  Música de Cámara under the artistic direction of Guillermo Opitz. The veteran maestro is the last of the great German/Austrian  teachers, organisers and composers in the line of Guillermo Graetzer (founder of the Collegium Musicum), Erwin Leuchter,  Ernesto Epstein, and the Franzes (father and son). They have all brought to us their deep knowledge and have contributed essentially to the cultural maturing of several generations.

            The FMC programmes concerts in embassies and residences of quality, and among them an awaited and yearly venue is the marvelous Sans Souci Palace close to San Fernando, surely one of the most beautiful in Argentina, and surrounded by idyllic gardens and fountains. The place is of course used for special events, particularly marriages; its main hall hosts the FMC,  and for it Opitz presents each season a completely different and variegated programme combining singers and pianists that he has painstakingly trained during the preceding months. Granted, the acoustics are too resonant, but  the hall (including its lateral right wing) is always chockfull of enthusiastic music lovers and the ambience is unique in the warmth of young people giving their best under the impeccable guidance of Opitz.

            The maestro again surprised in the panorama he gave of German Romanticism with both vocal and instrumental pieces. Twelve composers, nineteen scores, seven singers and six players, in choices that not only completely avoid the hackneyed but dig out fascinating pieces probably in local premières, and stress  rare combinations; I have a fifty-year career as a reviewer, but half of what I heard was new to me.

            I don´t have the space to mention everything, but you´ll soon see why these concerts are true events. Louis Spohr is rarely heard nowadays, but his "German songs" for soprano, clarinet and piano are very attractive, and we heard them by fine artists: soprano Carolina Gómez has a brilliant lovely voice well used, Sofía Kujta is a clarinet talent and José Azar proved a fine accompanist throughout the evening. The Weber songs we heard were for voice and guitar, not piano, and revealed the warm timbre of bass Roman Modzelewski, able to sing softly in the high regions.

            The great Romantic Robert Schumann was present with rarely heard material: two pieces from the "Minnespiel" ("Love play") on Rückert texts: the first for mezzo and baritone, the second for vocal quartet. It allowed us to hear the fresh voices of soprano Valentina Merlo, mezzo Anahí Fernández Caballero and tenor Josué Miranda, the expressivity of baritone Gabriel Vacas and the clean articulation of  pianist Miranda Herrera. And a lively Piece for clarinet, viola and piano by Bruch let us meet the assured playing of violist Juan Manuel Castellanos (with Kujta and Azar).

            In the Second Part I enjoyed two Lieder by Strauss in which soprano Gómez was accurate and versatile, accompanied by Herrera with real comprehension of the composer´s innovative way of writing for the piano. One cavil: "Himmelsboten" ("Messengers from Heaven") should be sung by a man according to the text. And then, in the final three composers Opitz observed an old tradition of these concerts: a semistaging, in this case by Lizzie Waisse, due to the theatrical character of the chosen pieces.

            Peter Cornelius wrote a funny parody: "Der Tod des Verräters" ("The death of the traitor") in which three men in turn or combined sing "I die the death of a traitor", "You die...", "He dies...", etc., accusing each other by gestures. Miranda, Vacas and Modzelewski (with Herrera, the very professional pianist for all the final scores) communicated well.

             Carl Loewe is the admirable composer of lengthy ballads that should be better known; he has a personal voice, and the piano writing is difficult. But in this case we heard two charming duets on Goethe poems for soprano, contralto and piano from Op.104: "An Sami" ("To Sami") and "Die Freude" ("Joy"). Merlo and Fernández Caballero did very well in the rippling melismas of the second.

            To end the evening, the girls of Loewe and the boys of Cornelius sang together a "Kinderkonzert" ("Concert for kids") by the almost unknown Hermann Zilcher (1891-1948) in which everyone "plays" a different instrument. And they said goodbye with "For Eternity, amen!". Good clean fun and we went home elated.

For Buenos Aires Herald

Steuerman and Alegre: pianistic maturity and youthful exuberance

             One essential talent if you manage a concert institution is to show quick reflexes in case of an unexpected crisis. The Mozarteum Argentino has always shown that capacity, and the sudden intoxication of Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes , who had arrived to our city for two recitals, gave them just one day to find a suitable replacement; aided by luck and the good disposition of the artist, we had the presence of Brazilian pianist Jean Louis Steuerman, who not only saved the day but gave a quality programme with results that were quite good. The venue was, as usual, the Colón.

            On the one hand I regretted the absence of Andsnes, a distinguished artist who had visited us only once as soloist with the BBC Orchestra, and who promised several pieces of Sibelius, rarely heard here and beautiful; I do hope that he will be back in another season. On the other hand, Steuerman (whose names and surname make me think of an Alsatian rather than a Brazilian) is an artist of important trajectory, and in his sixties his style and technique are in full maturity. Years ago he played with our Philharmonic Rachmaninov´s First Concerto.

            His programme was made up of four masterpìeces of contrasting aesthetics. He started with Johann Sebastian Bach´s First Partita: he has been awarded the Diapason d´Or for his recording of the Six Partitas, and has recently recorded the Goldberg Variations, so he is recognised as an authoritative voice in Bach for piano. Mind you, there will always be two controversies: whether it should be played on the piano, as the originals are for harpsichord; and if they are, should players imitate the harpsichord.

            On the evidence of what we heard, Steuerman believes in the second variant; three examples: the limpid articulation without pedal; some chords played as arpeggios, as harpsichordists do to make the sound less dry; and the ornamentation of repeats, for in the Baroque, both in opera and instrumental music, the first time you play the music straight, but the second is ornamented to avoid monotony. Steuerman played with taste and knowledge, avoiding the full decibels of the modern piano.

            Then, the challenge of Beethoven´s Sonata Nº 30, one of the famous last three where the composer explores new roads constantly. Although I wasn´t quite convinced in the First movement, where the speed contrasts weren´t as natural as they can be and the light cascades of sound should have been more poetic, the Prestissimo was firmly met, and the theme with variations of the last movement was impeccable.

            The Six little pieces for piano, Op.19, by Arnold Schönberg, are little jewels of atonal Expressionism of great historic importance, and Steuerman proved to be in complete empathy with the language (he has recorded the complete Schönberg piano scores). Curiously, Edward Steuermann (two "ns") studied composition with Schönberg and premièred all the composer´s piano works.

            And then, Chopin´s great Third Sonata, tackled by Steuerman with  a sense of form often distorted by colleagues that opt for ultra-Romantic interpretations: he gave us the music as written, with no exaggeration. The First movement had all the necessary emphasis of its varied moods, the Scherzo was airy and light, and if the Largo felt a bit monotonous, it always does: there´s too much repetition; the breathless Finale is a tour de force and in it Steuerman showed his controlled virtuosity.

            More Chopin in the encores: a charming Mazurka, and a "Minute Waltz" where he took the nickname too literally; it benefits by a less hectic tempo.

            Two weeks ago the 2016 cycle of Chopiniana, the piano institution led by Martha Noguera, started its season at the Palacio Paz (Círculo Militar) with a recital by Luis Ascot which unfortunately collided with the Mahler Third Symphony by Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic, but the second concert had no such problem and I was there. The Palacio is undergoing some changes and the first floor hall that was used for the concerts is now a restaurant, so we were back (as some years ago) at the lavish oval hall in the ground floor: attractive visually with its marbles and fine decoration, typical of the early Twentieth-Century, but too resonant.

            Tomás Alegre is only 24 and has been studying with Nelson Goerner at Geneva with a scholarship. His programme was short but difficult: Beethoven´s Sonata Nº 21, "Waldstein", and Rachmaninov´s Second Sonata, presumably in its revised version of 1931. Nº 21 may be the most energetic of Beethoven´s sonatas with a first movement that is relentless in its brilliance and intensity; after the pause of the slow movement, the third starts with serene feeling but soon piles up tremendous problems of coordination, magnified in the long Prestissimo coda. I believe that there is merit in virtuosity, and Alegre certainly has privileged fingers; however, he sometimes relaxed the basic pulse and the marked slowing downs ("ritenuti") were much slower than necessary and with silences that were too long.

            Alegre was in his element in Rachmaninov´s powerhouse of a sonata, with its ample rhetorics; of course the composer was also the best Russian pianist and he wrote it for himself. The young Argentine attacked it fearlessly with total command, showing the solidity of his training.

            The encores were quite good: the splendid Brahms Intermezzo Op.118 Nº1 and a typical Piazzolla in skillful piano transcription.

For Buenos Aires Herald

The Juvenil San Martín sparkles in Benzecry and Sibelius

             As readers know, the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional José de San Martín is having an important season. The concert they offered last Sunday morning at the Blue Whale confirms it.  It had attractive traits on paper, and they became reality at the hands of Venezuelan clarinetist Valdemar Rodríguez and conductor Pablo Boggiano. And the programme was enticing: the première of Esteban Benzecry´s Concerto for clarinet, and Sibelius´ marvelous First Symphony.

            Boggiano studied with Mario Benzecry, founder of the Juvenil, and at the Catholic University. He went on to Europe where he had several teachers, especially the Finnish Jorma Panula.  He made an early debut at 18 in BA, and in Europe has had vast activity in Bosnia, Romania, Bulgaria and Ukraine. But Vienna and other Austrian cities are. his principal working ground. He also conducted in Slovakia and with a first-rate orchestra in London: the Royal Philharmonic. And since 2010 he is invited by our National Symphony.

            Esteban Benzecry is Argentine (son of Mario); he has carved a place for himself in Paris with his personal style based on a mixture of Latin-American roots with contemporary procedures, specially emphasizing orchestral variety. The Pasdeloup Orchestra is playing this season no less than eight of his works! But some of his scores have been heard in BA, so we know what to expect.

            A clarinet concerto generally has little to do with the telluric; his is an exception, and the titles of the movements are the evidence: "Ecos del Horizonte", "Danzas Volcánicas", "Baguala Enigmática" and "Toccata caribeña". The orchestra is rather big with lots of percussion featuring typically American instruments. The Concerto starts with an introspective clarinet solo and has a big slow cadenza in the middle of the final hectic Toccata.  There is an influence of the Ginastera of such scores as "Cantata para la América mágica" or "Popol Vuh", but Benzecry has something of his own to say and by now has a thorough command of his craft.  Although there are colorful and loud episodes, the clarinet is never swamped, and the music feels American and modern.

            Rodríguez has an impressive curriculum; among his teachers were no less than Gervase de Peyer and Guy Deplus. Apart from  an intense concert life as First Desk of the famous Simón Bolívar Orchestra and as soloist, plus chamber music, he is also a distinguished teacher (Director General of the Bolívar Conservatory). Here he premièred the original version for clarinet "di bassetto" (lower than the normal one) of Mozart´s Clarinet Concerto.

            Predictably, his playing was impeccable in every sense: a master of his art. And Boggiano (after a correct Overture to Mozart´s "The Marriage of Figaro") showed his mettle with a clear and intense interpretation; the orchestra collaborated with full concentration.

            The Second Part was pure pleasure: Sibelius´ is among the very best First Symphonies in History, along with Brahms, Shostakovich , Prokofiev and Mahler. Written in 1899, the same year of "Finlandia", when at 34 his technical command was quite mature, it is personal from the very beginning and maintains  tension, variety and fresh imagination throughout its almost 40 minutes. I don´t believe in Tchaikovsky´s influence: Sibelius had a style of his own and is a major figure in the evolution of the symphony.

              This is quite a challenge for a conductor, and Boggiano showed he is ready: the speeds were logical, there was contrast and cohesion, admirable playing particularly from the brass and the tympani, and that sense of desolate drama that can only be Nordic, but also energy and excitement. An enthralling trip into a unique sound world.

            A final comment: if you sit around the tenth row the acoustics are much better than farther upstairs, where stridency appears.

For Buenos Aires Herald

The Colón Ballet Gala: renovated repertoire and great dancing

            Every year during recent seasons the Colón does in late August or early September an international Ballet Gala and it always combines it with a ballet of the Colón repertoire. The choices have mostly been very conservative, and it was time for a degree of renovation.

            This time Maximiliano Guerra chose well the Colón Ballet presentation: an attractive Nacho Duato ballet seen in June, "Por vos muero", reviewed for the Herald: Renaissance Spanish music selected by Jordi Savall and played by his group plus texts by Garcilaso de la Vega spoken by Miguel Bosé. Beautiful music and fine stylisation of old Spanish dances with attractive staging. And thirteen Colón dancers, mostly quite young and very able, in a kaleidoscope of groups and duets.

            The basic idea of Maximiliano Guerra, the Colón Ballet´s Director, was to ask famous companies to send couples in representative pieces of their repertoire, instead of calling on dancers picked by Guerra. That was the procedure except in one special case: the return of that magical "étoile", Alessandra Ferri, to the theatre where she danced often in memorable performances, particularly the Prokofiev/MacMillan complete "Romeo and Juliet" with Julio Bocca, certainly a unique experience for any ballet lover. And with her partner since she came back to the stage after a six-year sabbatical: Herman Cornejo; we saw both in the intimate "Chéri" at the Maipo. (You probably read days ago the detailed articles by Cristiana Visan on this fascinating conjunction of artists).    

            The guests started with two artists from the Hamburg Ballet, ruled for decades by John Neumeier, a prolific choreographer born in 1942 and author of more than a hundred ballets. Anna Laudere, born 1983 in Latvia, and Edvin Revazov, an Ucranian of the same age, gave us two samples of Neumeier´s creativity. First, a rather disconcerting updating of "Hamlet" premièred in 1985 and revised in 1997, using music by Michael Tippett (two "ts", not one as in the hand programme). What we saw was Ophelia´s goodbye to Hamlet, for he is going away to study. But frankly, I would never have guessed that the awkward encounter was between these characters unless I was told.

            By the way, Tippett´s music is unfortunately rarely played here; the piece we heard was the 1954 "Divertimento on Sellinger´s Round" for chamber orchestra. Two points: all the music of the gala was recorded ; some with good sound, others with gritty, noisy reproduction. And no information was given about the works; biographies of the artists, yes.

            Laudere and Revazov were equally at home in this curious "Hamlet" and in the expressive view of the choreographer on "The Lady of the Camelias"; the "Pas de Deux Blanc" from Act II has Chopin´s Largo from Piano Sonata Nº3 as the meditative background. Laudere showed flexibility in portraying that declining moment of the protagonist´s life, with her whole body seeming to lose all strength. And Revazov supported her with sensibility and dramatic presence.

            Marianela Núñez is the Argentine  "prima ballerina" of the London Royal Ballet and will shortly be Tatiana in "Onieguin". Partnered by the Colón´s Alejandro Parente, she danced the Pas de deux of the  White Swan (Odette) from Tchaikovsky´s "Swan Lake", changing the announced "Black Swan" Pas de deux, certainly because in the Second Part she danced the "Tchaikovsky Pas de deux" by Balanchine, which uses music for the Black Swan (Odile) that wasn´t used in the 1877 première; discovered in the Bolshoi archives in 1953, Balanchine asked permission to do a ballet on it, and it was granted.  She was admirable in both, her pure classical technique and noble demeanor ideal for Odette  and the added variety on the Black Swan interpretation distinguishing Odile´s character. Parente´s Prince is basically a porteur, but the Prince is much more active in Act III, in which we appreciated the command and style of the Italian Federico Bonelli, also from the Royal Ballet.

            Elisa Badenes, Spanish, and Pablo von Sternenfels (Mexican of German descent) were brilliant interpreters of a Pas de deux from the funny and energetic ballet concocted by John Cranko on Shakespeare´s "The Taming of the Shrew" (Domenico Scarlatti sonatas much altered by Kurt-Heinz Stolze). Both have the humor and command of their body to solve the pirouettes of their amorous duel. They come from the Stuttgart Ballet, ruled by Cranko for decades until his early death.

            The Paris Opera Ballet sent the Pas de Deux from Nureyev´s vision of Prokofiev´s "Cinderella" danced by Laura Hecquet and Mathieu Ganio. They are accomplished dancers but –dare I say it- I found the choreography rather pale, and the music sounded harsh in a bad recording, when it is in fact very poetic.

            Ending both  parts, Ferri and Cornejo did two contrasting pieces. "Rhapsody" is an Ashton ballet on Rachmaninov´s "Rhapsody on a theme by Paganini"; we saw a solo by Cornejo showing his splendid technique (he is First Dancer at the American Ballet Theatre) and then a duet with Ferri, in which the 53-year-old ballerina showed the same remarkable resilience of Fonteyn or Plisetskaya at similar ages. Finally, "Le Parc", on Mozart´s marvelous Adagio from Piano concerto Nº 23, is Angelin Preljocaj´s body contact duet, almost without formal steps, culminating in a kiss in which Ferri girated wildly until she seemed to be flying. Her plasticity and expressiveness found an ideal partner in Cornejo.

For Buenos Aires Herald

Mozart´s controversial comedy “Così fan tutte” at the Argentino


            The quirky opera season at the Argentino offers only four titles and just two are repertoire: Puccini´s "La Boheme" and Mozart´s "Così fan tutte", currently on stage. The other two are Andriessen´s "De materie", not an opera (reviewed on the Herald), and Benjamin and Crimp´s "Written on skin", to be premièred in October. This reflects the tastes of Martín Bauer, the new Director (who programmes Colón Contemporáneo), but has little to do with the Argentino´s tradition.

            "Così fan tutte" was presented with two valuable casts; though I had to choose the second due to collisions with important events in Buenos Aires, I feel that both are on a very professional level. But before I go on to analyze this latest revival, it is important to know that, unlike the other Da Ponte librettos made into operas, "Le Nozze di Figaro" and "Don Giovanni", "Così fan tutte" was strongly controversial for more than a century and was gradually appreciated only in the Twentieth Century, thanks to Mahler, Richard Strauss (both as conductors) and Fritz Busch, who with his Glyndebourne Festival revival produced by Carl Ebert finally launched the success that had been elusive for so long. And it was this combination (Busch-Ebert) that finally brought it to the Colón in 1934. 

            The story of why this opera came into being is paradoxical, for it was the Emperor Josef II who indicated the subject to Da Ponte, hoping that the cynical comedy would have some influence on what he considered to be the promiscuous Viennese girls. It wasn´t Mozart´s choice, but the music he composed is wonderful and its sharp characterisation completely agrees with the details of the plot. Unfortunately, the opera was premièred in January 1790 just a week before the Emperor´s death; the ensuing Court Mourning cut off all performances.

            This is still a Rococo entertainment, but six months before the French Revolution had begun when the Bastille was taken: as Hans Redlich wrote, "audiences began to crave for lofty sentiments, political ideals and romantic moods". The key character is Don Alfonso, an old skeptical philosopher who doesn´t believe in fidelity and challenges two officers (Ferrando and Guglielmo) that in just 24 hours their paramours Fiordiligi and Dorabella will be unfaithful: the officers must maskerade as Albanian gentlemen who, seconded by Don Alfonso and the libertine maid Despina, will try to seduce the ladies (who are Ferrarese but live in Naples). Sure enough, it eventually happens, the masks fall down, the ladies repent and all ends happily.

            The main problem of the staging is the suspension of disbelief: the officers must be made up in such a way that they won´t be recognisable; and the most buffo problem is that Despina disguises herself as a Doctor and a Notary, and there´s no way to make it believable. So this opera must be taken  by the audience as an unrealistic farce and a strong attack on fidelity. As our society has plenty of free love practitioners, "Così fan tutte" is even mild nowadays.

            It tollerates much better than the two other Mozart-Da Ponte works the transposition to another time, though it can be done very well according to the original libretto: I have seen about 17 different stagings and most of them respected the late 18th century indications. For even in cynical terms, some aspects can´t be changed. But at least, a coffee bar, a room and a garden are easily modernised.

            Producer Rubén Schuchmacher put the action in the 1950s. The best thing was the stage design of Jorge Ferrari; functional and pleasant, in seconds it changed from room to garden.  He also did the costumes: the girls´  were alright, but the presumed Albanian gentlemen looked like punks. The disguised men were very recognisable, their faces hardly changed. Schuchmacher did a grievous mistake: he added ridiculous lateral hip movements in many scenes, not only gross but completely crashing with Mozart´s refinement. But the singers were agilely moved. Reasonable lighting by Gonzalo Córdova.

            The musical side was very good. Rubén Dubrovsky is an Argentine that is having a brilliant career in Vienna, particularly in the Baroque repertoire, though he is equally at home in Classicism. It was a positive decision to bring him over as conductor of this "Così...". He showed positive command, good tempi and taste; the Orchestra played well for him, except some horn mistakes in Fiordiligi´s Rondo "Per pietà". However, I question the total inclusion of the recitatives; I have always heard them with some cuts, even in recordings, for some of the stuff isn´t necessary for the narration and it lengthens the opera with uninteresting music. On the other hand, he included for the first time in my experience the charming "duettino" of the officers "Al fato dan legge".

            The two sisters were admirable: Daniela Tabernig (Fiordiligi) and Florencia Machado (Dorabella) sang their duets in perfect blend and their arias with fine vocality and style. Cecilia Pastawski was a pert and accurate Despina. The men were also satisfactory. Santiago Bürgi sang Ferrando with a firm line, including the rarely done "Tradito, schernito". Alejandro Spies, who has generally sung premières of old and new operas, this time was given the chance to do Mozart, and he did so with accomplishment. And Luciano Miotto again proved to be a master of buffo style. All acted well.

For Buenos Aires Herald

Triumphant return of Krzysztof Penderecki at the Blue Whale

            An old friend of our city came back after a long period and got an ovation at the packed Blue Whale of the CCK: Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, aged 82. In the Seventies two scores of his made a vivid impression here: the Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima, and the St.Luke Passion (conducted by Henryk Czyz, and unfortunately not played since). Later Penderecki came here in several seasons conducting his own works, and in one visit with a Hamburg orchestra, the standard repertoire. He became a respected and admired artist in Buenos Aires.

             Along with Witold Lutoslawski, Penderecki was clearly at the head of the astonishing Polish composers of the period after World War II. Having gone through terrible experiences during the war, they and many others found the sounds for a new era. They did it in parallel to the great film makers led by Andrzej Wajda, Jerzy Kawalerowicz and Roman Polanski,  who  communicated the transformation of an injured society in unforgettable images.

            Unfortunately the hand programmes of the National Symphony contain no information on the scores, which is unfair to both the audience and the composer. So I did some research. Picture the young years of Penderecki after his musical studies at Cracovia (Poland´s most lovely city) during the Iron Curtain. Even in those years the Occidental avantgarde creeped in, and Penderecki knew Stockhausen, Nono and Boulez. After having a traditional musical education, he decided to experiment with sound and soon he was producing some of the most radical and imaginative works of what an analyst called "Sonorism":  "Fluorescences", "Polymorphia", "De Natura Sonoris" I and II, represented his position at the time; he wrote in 1962: "all I´m interested is liberating sound beyond all tradition".

            But by the time he was forty he felt differently, and when he was a professor at the Yale School of Music (the same institution that was illustrated decades before by the presence of no less than Hindemith) he said: "This experimentation and formal speculation is more destructive than constructive. I was saved from the avantgarde snare of formalism by a return to tradition". How curious that he should attack Occident for formalism, the same grave fault according to the Soviets of  composers that were very different indeed from the avantgardists: Prokofiev and Shostakovich.

            My own idea is that, after being genuinely innovative, he didn´t burn the past as others did but incorporated it, for our present is the summing up of all our pasts. And he felt, as others did, that you can give a personal stamp to tonal music. Indeed, Penderecki´s music of all his styles is intense, dramatic and searching. When tonal it has  plenty of dissonant climaxes, and  dense, complicated textures.

            But his experimental music obviously touched a nerve, for such film makers as Kubrick, Lynch and Scorsese used it. And the later Penderecki wrote the music for the tremendous Wajda film on Katyn, the Soviet massacre of Polish officers. The composer´s ability to create dramatic music shows in his operas "The Devils of Loudun" (on witchcraft) and "Ubu Rex" (premièred at the Colón in 2004), an antecedent of surrealism and the theater of the absurd.

            The results of his new views on music showed on many fields. Penderecki is a devout Catholic and has written many important works apart from the mentioned Passion (Magnificat, Stabat Mater, etc.). But he has been equally prolific in writing concerti and symphonies, and that´s the field he showed in this visit.

            He started with the Adagio movement from his Third Symphony, in the arrangement he made for strings. The score has several other movements. The Adagio is very tonal and shows a perfect command of textures. It lasts ten minutes and grows gradually to a potent climax before subsiding into calmer fields.

            The Concerto grosso is  a sui generis work written for three cellos and big orchestra, a combination I´ve never heard before. Baroque Concerti grossi are generally for two violins, cello and string ensemble, and Stravinsky´s Neoclassic one is for strings and short. Instead,  Penderecki wrote six movements all joined to each other and in contrasting speeds, where the three cellos combine their phrases but find themselves in dialogue with multiple soloists from the orchestra: violin, viola, cello, bass, winds. The contrapunctal writing is masterly and the variety of colors fascinates. It was admirably played by Eduardo Vasallo, Jorge Pérez Tedesco and José Araujo. Vasallo was a guest for although he is Argentine he has been first cello of the Birmingham Symphony since 1989.  The National Symphony collaborated with great concentration and good solos and Penderecki showed that at 82 he maintains his fine control as conductor.

             He has written eight symphonies by now, although the Sixth is still in progress. The Fourth is named "Adagio", for that is the principal tempo, but it contrasts with two long faster movements (II, Più animato; IV, Allegro). The five movements again form a continuous block, 35 minutes of coherent and powerful music in which I felt a Shostakovich influence though with Penderecki´s personal character. Three trumpets were placed far from the orchestra at the entrance of the hall and gave intense interventions with the main orchestra, of continuous variety of moods and colors.

            The orchestra responded well to the composer´s firm indications. Welcome back, Krysztof Penderecki premièring his own creations.

For Buenos Aires Herald

Première of operas on Puss-in-Boots and the nymph Calisto


            The variegated and enormous history of opera provided two very different premières last week-end. In the context of the Colón´s project "My first opera" (Mi primera ópera) within the wider idea of "Let´s go to the Colón" (Vamos al Colón) there was a  performance of "El gato con botas" ("Puss-in-boots"), an hour-long creation of Xavier Montsalvatge on the Charles Perrault tale. And La Plata´s Argentino recuperated an interesting project that was interrupted several years ago, the Ópera Estudio, and chose a very interesting item by Francesco Cavalli, "La Calisto".

            "El gato con botas" started badly: the 4 p.m. show started an hour late, with families getting wet in a rainy day and many fleeing to the Petit Colón café to pass the time in pleasanter ambience.  As an elderly reviewer I was a fly in the ointment for I was surrounded by kids and parents, and of course the normal code of behavior in opera had changed...a lot. For we are in the age of permissiveness and there was plenty of uncomfortable behavior,

             This undisciplined crowd, to be fair, was enthusiast with the singers and gave them quite an ovation at the end. The experienced artists generally sing adult opera, but they got into the spirit of the story and communicated easily with the crowd. Will they go to the opera when they grow up? That´s a moot question: opera for kids has been offered during decades, especially by Konex, but the audiences still have a great majority of grey heads. 

             "El gato con botas" is agreeable but it has some flaws. First, the libretto by Néstor Luján is written in rather complex Spanish and with too many metaphors. Second, the Perrault story has some bad values hardly edifying for kids: the cat steals, the King extols war, the ogre praises drunkenness, and the Miller´s conversion into the Marquis of Carabas is a hoax. In fact, the cat is a good example of the "piola porteño".  And the music isn´t always as bubbly as the action requires; particularly the interludes are mostly slow and quiet.   

             It got an impressive production presented once at the Colón but twice in other theatres for school children.. The stage design by Verónica Cámara was colorful and imaginative, with witty technical effects and perfect aesthetics for kids. And it was certainly well complemented by the video animation of Natalio Ríos. The stage movements by María Armanini were generally adequate although the mouse transformation of the Ogre was botched. Good costumes by Estella Maris López and lighting by Rubén Conde.

            The cast was dominated by the splendid voice and funny acting of Guadalupe Barrientos, a convincing cat although without the "physique du rôle". The doddering  King of Salvador Trupía was paradoxically  sung with great power. The Ogre of Cristian De Marco wasn´t helped by poor makeup but he sang well. Laura Polverini was a nice Princess; Nazareth Aufe (Miller-Marquis-Prince) was weak in the low range but good in the highs; his acting needed more pep.  Five lady dancers from the Colón did their own charming choreography as Rabbits and helpers of the Chamberlain (Mike Amigorena, mimed role). And César Bustamante got correct results out of the 16 practiced players.

            Back in 1970 the Colón presented for the first time in BA an opera by Francesco Cavalli (1602-76), the best Italian opera composer after Monteverdi´s death (1643). From 1639 to 1669 he wrote 42 operas; 28 are extant. "L´Ormindo" (1644) proved to be a beautiful opera, fresh, fast and ingenious, in the Leppard version. But as far as I know, that was that: no more Cavalli since then!  I saw a very funny DVD of "La Calisto". The latter was the choice at La Plata.

            The librettist is the same as in "L´Ormindo": Giovanni Faustini. Venice was a very liberal city, and that´s why the plot of "La Calisto" was accepted by a society that was licentious. It is based on Ovid´s "Metamorphoses" and its mythological Roman-Greek story has sex of all kinds to the fore: hetero, homo, lesbian, bisexual. Jupiter-Zeus made Juno-Hera the most cuckolded wife on earth; but being a god he could impregnate earthly women in the most fantastic ways: as golden rain with Danae, as a swan with Leda, or giving himself the looks of another goddess, Diana, and seducing the nymph Calisto. There are subplots involving Endymion, Mercury, Pan, Linfea (servant of Diana), Satirino and Silvano (Pan´s acolytes and lovers).

            The music flows irresistibly, full of character and melody. The best thing was the historicist ten-member ensemble led admirably by Manuel de Olaso. Both Rocío Arbizu (Diana) and Constanza Díaz Falú (Calisto) were fully in command, and the young voices of Felipe Carelli (Mercury) and Mauricio Meren (Silvano) are quite promising. Gabriel Carasso (Jupiter) sang well in his normal baritone range, but went over the top as "Diana". The others were on a lower level: Esteban Manzano, Lucas Villalba, Cintia Verna , Fernando Ursino and Stefania Cap.

            "La Calisto" was offered in the Sala Piazzolla, which has a small stage. Pablo Foladori´s production was irritating due to basic mistakes: supertitles that could hardly be read; Jupiter and Mercury very ungodly in modern uniforms; silly typewriters and constant pointing of guns. However, apart from a profusion of kisses, the rhythm of the action was fast and at least spared us the exhibition of bottoms and breasts.

For Buenos Aires Herald

Sixth Ars Ballet Gala brought stunning Momix dancers

            By now the annual Ars Ballet Galas at the Coliseo are as much a fixture as the rival Gala of the Colón, which will be seen eight days later. Ars is a society formed by Martín Boschet, Liana Vinacur and Diego Radivoy. From the start they have striven to give a balance between the traditional ballets and the contemporary dances, and have invited for the first time many artists of value coming from widely spread companies and aesthetics. And they have always included some Argentine dancers either living here or abroad.

             Each Gala has left some outstanding  memories. This year two Momix dancers and a free-lance artist with the pseudonym of Lil Buck were the most stimulating, plus the inventive multimedia choreographies of David Middendorp.

            Decades ago our city received visits of a fascinating group called Pilobolus. Its founder and choreographer was Moses Pendleton, and he concocted exhilarating shows of great speed and precision as well as healthy humor. In 1980 he created Momix, a company of illusionist dance (it is thus defined in the hand programme), and it is still going strong.

            Apparently Momix holds a special attraction for its dancers, as they tend to stay for many years. Such is the case of the two that came here: Steven Ezra Marshall entered the company at 18 in 2003; and Rebecca Joy Rasmussen is there since 2006. Both are exceptional artists, as they revealed in duets from"Tuu" and "Dream Catcher". Pendleton works with other choreographers: Tin Acito and Solveig Olsen in the first, Craig Berman and Brian Sanders in the second. Pop music accompanies both.

            In "Tuu" both bodies are in close contact for several minutes and assume different shapes giving the illusion of abstract forms; the millimetric coordination and physical condition were astonishing. In "Dream Catcher" they mimetize with a geometrically complex sculpture (by Alan Boeding); they constantly interact with it with perilous climbs, at the end throwing it from one end of the stage to another with uncanny exactitude. Beautiful and intriguing.

            Lil Buck is really Charles Riley, a 28-year-old Chicagoan who has created a sui generis sort of street dancing. He doesn´t belong to any group. He has an incredible muscular control and his whole body seems to ripple. And he uses big white sneakers with which he performs prodigies of feet elasticity. Naturally he is his own choreographer (no one else does what he does). I don´t know what "Brostjour" means but that´s the name of his solo in the First Part, with completely monotonous cello music by Olafur Arnalds.

            In  the Second Part we saw a strange hybrid: the famous Saint-Saëns "Death of the Swan" where one sees the (uncredited) Fokin choreography (with some changes) by Carolina Basualdo (from Bahía Blanca´s Ballet del Sur) interspersed with Lil Buck´s own version; the final thirty seconds are danced by both, each with a different choreography. I felt it was more a curiosity than a viable alternative, but it isn´t a parody, like last year´s Trockadero spoof. Good dancing by Basualdo, and in the only live performance of the evening, fine playing by cellist Lucas Caballero, accompanied by pianist Joaquín Panisse.

            And now, the Middendorp choreographies, both danced well by Violet Broersma and Antonino Milazzo: on  unattractive pop music, the intense duets "Blue Journey" and "Flyland 2" got an extra dimension with admirable multimedia projections combining aerial dancing  with imaginative elements from nature or geometrical forms , giving dynamism  to the images.

            Lucio Vidal is an Argentine dancer who worked with Nacho Duato in Madrid, and now the choreographer has invited him to be a member of Duato´s new post, the Staatsballett Berlin. Vidal´s personality has no affinity with traditional ballet, as he showed in Duato´s "Herrumbre" ("Rust"), a tense duet with Japanese dancer Kayoko Everhart (from the Compañía Nacional de España, run by Duato during a long period, 1990 to 2010). Although I disliked the music (Pedro Alcalde, Sergio Caballero and David Darling), the piece has impact and the dancers responded with solid command and contemporary awareness (though the presumed connexion with the Atocha massacre escaped me).

            Vidal is his own choreographer on a solo, "Alien", on grating music by Mikey Woodbridge, with video projections. Unremittingly harsh, the dancer is strongly expressive and reflects  the current disconcerted Europe.

            Two Colón artists, Gabriela Alberti, danced (in inverted order of what the hand programme said; no one announced it) the adagio Pas de Deux from Tchaikovsky´s "Swan Lake" (the Prince merely assists the Swan, interpreted with excellent technique) and a curious tango by Piazzolla, "Quicho", where the star is the bass (homage to Quicho Díaz); the artists did well in the adequate Julio López choreography.

            The "Carmen" Pas de Deux (Bizet arranged by Shchedrin) comes from the famous Alberto Alonso choreography in which Plisetskaya shone; based on the Flower Aria, it isn´t the best fragment and was routinely danced by Adiarys Almeida (from the Cuban Alicia Alonso technique) and Joseph Gatti (from the Orlando Ballet).

            Finally, two hoary and celebrated Petipa items: the lovely Second Act Pas de Deux from Adam´s "Giselle", poetically danced by Julieta Paul (of the Teatro Argentino) and Matthew Golding, a tall Canadian of the Royal Ballet. And the spectacular Trio from "The Corsair" (music by Adam and Drigo), where Almeida and Gatti were very good and Golding a bit less.  

            A  Gala with plenty of renovation.

For Buenos Aires Herald