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