jueves, marzo 24, 2016

Harmonies at the Brick: good start of a new project

             Patricia Pouchulu has long been an enterprising organizer of concert cycles, and in recent years has added a new career as a conductress. She did good work at the Museo de Bellas Artes, the Salón de Pasos Perdidos of the Congress, and especially in two activities of the institution she leads, La Bella Música: symphonic and choral-symphonic concerts, and for many years Premium Concerts at the Sofitel (four each season).

            In 2016 the Sofitel experience is replaced by a longer one called Armonías at the Brick Hotel (just where the Caesar Park Hotel was, Posadas in front of Patio Bullrich)  The venue is the First Floor Salón Cabildo, much bigger than those used at the Sofitel. Recently the Herald published the whole season (ten concerts, one each month)). The seats are comfortable and the acoustics satisfactory, just a trifle incisive.  The splendid thing for Pouchulu is that the project has attracted a full house; may it continue in the same way.

            The roof is much higher than at the Sofitel, and as there are many rows, the feeling is less intimate, more like a concert hall. As at Sofitel, champagne is served as you arrive, but the difference is after the concert: Sofitel included a catering and a chance to talk with the interpreters;  here it ends like a normal concert, though you are suggested to try the Brick Ground Floor restaurant.

            At Sofitel, Pouchulu presented the artists and the programme; here she only spoke briefly at the end, to thank the audience and announce the following date. Frankly you go to concerts to hear the music, not a talk, unless it is a didactic one, so this is an  improvement. What hasn´t ameliorated is the hand programme, which offers in a single page the bare facts and with mistakes (they will be mentioned later).

            The concert was billed as a Mozartian gala with Orchestra of La Bella Música conducted by Pouchulu. The programme was very pleasant, though quite short (barely an hour).

            The Divertimento K.138 (three movements, as its companions K.136 and 137) is an amazing proof of early maturity (Mozart was 16). And hearing them together as we did, the ultrafamous  "A Little Night Music" K.525 didn´t seem to be so different in style (it was wrongly listed as Little Night Serenade; it is Serenade Nº 13, called as stated above). Both are very often played and got clean, stylish versions from Pouchulu and the Orchestra, led by concertino Daniel Robuschi.

            But the main interest was that jewel, the Concerto for flute and harp K.299 (it is a double concerto but the composer didn´t call it thus, so the word "Double" shouldn´t be in the programme). Written in 1778, it has strong influence of Mozart´s Parisian period, for at that time the French capital liked this sort of combination, and not only in Concerti but also in the Sinfonia Concertante genre, where there were always at least two soloists of diverse kinds (Mozart wrote two).  It is an exquisite score, one of the most beautiful and serene he ever produced, and not only gives precious material to both flute and harp but also to an orchestra enriched by gratifying moments for oboes and horns.

            Hugo Regis (flute) and Tiziana Todorov (harp) are fine members of different generations of the Teatro Argentino Orchestra. Regis, veteran member, is still a musical and expressive player. And Todorov a tasteful and accurate young artist. Very well accompanied by the Orchestra and with reasonable cadenzas, they all  rounded off a successful evening.


For Buenos Aires Herald 

Gelber´s return plus Respighi´s Roman evocations

            The Buenos Aires Philharmonic´s under Enrique Arturo Diemecke offered its first concert of the fifteen that comprise the subscription series and the Colón was packed, for after many years of absence Bruno Leonardo Gelber played again in this hallowed hall. To boot, in what I believe is a first, the three Roman tone poems by Ottorino Respighi were heard together in BA.

            Gelber is one of the trilogy of illustrious septuagenarian Argentine pianists, and later in the season we will hear the other two: Martha Argerich and Daniel Barenboim. As is common knowledge, Gelber has held a lifelong battle with the consequences of the poliomielitis that struck him when he was a child, but he has shown tremendous constancy in developing his great talent despite this disadvantage. His repertoire, never very big, centered on Beethoven, Schumann, Chopin and Brahms. He had a very long international career and was widely feted for his interpretations of the Beethoven and Brahms concertos.

            His childish appearance always contrasted with the sturdy solidity of his  very orthodox playing. Decade after decade he gave both here and abroad reliable recitals and concertos with the world´s orchestras. However, in more recent years his old problems worsened, and his schedule began to be sparser. Aggravated by overweight, his playing became more effortful and less precise. But last year, even under such conditions, he gave an extensive tour of our provinces, showing an admirable fighting spirit. A recital at the San Isidro Hippodrome during Holy Week (I wrote about it) gave evidence that even  with some shortcomings Gelber still had a lot to offer.

            The same can be said about his Colón performance of Beethoven´s Fourth Concerto. He loves this score and has played it many times before in this city (and in countless other places).  However, his execution was uneven, with passages that sounded confused with others where we recognized the Gelber of yore. His sound was always better in soft passages; the "fortes" were overemphasized and had a metallic tinge. I don´t know if he played in the Colón´s newer Steinway or in the older, but the chunky feeling was there. He was at his best in the dreamy slow movement.

            The Phil wasn´t as helpful as I hoped, there were dirty horn sounds and some uneasy joins. Perhaps, faced with the heavy Respighi challenge, they needed more rehearsal. 

            A mail arrived today and informed me that Darío Lopérfido has promised Gelber a recital this year, date to be announced. Trajectory matters, and although the pianist´s best years are past, he still deserves this opportunity to be applauded by his faithful audience at our best venue.

            In Italy no one has orchestrated better than Respighi, a true disciple of Rimsky-Korsakov. It is generally agreed that in a country where most composers were inclined to write operas, although Respighi did so (his masterpiece is "La Fiamma")  he also created the most imaged and colorful symphonic music. There is general agreement that his highest achievements are the three tone poems he dedicated to his beloved Rome:  "Fountains of Rome" (1917), " Pines of Rome" (1924) and "Roman Festivals" (1928).

            All are divided in four tableaux, blending each one with the following. "Fountains" is the most impressionistic, as it portraits aurally from dawn to dusk Villa Giulia, Triton, Trevi and Villa Medici; it goes from the most subtle "pianissimo" to joyful washes of sound. "Pines" gives us kids playing near Villa Borghese, mournful Christian mementos near the Catacombs, poetic nature impressions (including birds) at the Gianicolo, and the marvelous crescendo of the Roman legions at the Via Appia.

            "Festivals" is by far the most noisy and popular, as befits the subject. "Circus" is the one of the cruel Roman Empire, with Christians sacrificed by lions; the music has brutal impact. "Giubileum" has several moods. "L´Ottobrata" ("Feast of October") is dynamic and joyful. And "La Befana" is an enormous  succession of dances during Epiphany: the cumulative brilliance becomes overwhelming. Although the orchestration is varied and rich in all three, "Festivals" is stunning, with abundant percussion, full brass, mandolin, organ and piano.  In the last tableaux of "Pines" and "La Befana", trumpets strategically placed in a central loge reinforce the excitement of the main orchestra.

            All this together amounts to 55 minutes and is very difficult to play and conduct. Diemecke and the Phil gave us a triumphant tour de force. The conductor put "Festivals" first, then "Fountains" and "Pines", but he made no break between the latter two, which seems to me unwarranted. A detail: Respighi asks for "buccine", a revival of ancient trumpets in the shape of a G; they sound savage and fortissimo, but the Colón doesn´t have them. No matter, the sound was tremendous anyway.

            Diemecke was born for this sort of music: sanguine, showman, with a gift for balance of very complicated mixes of instruments,  communicative extroversion and a fantastic memory, he gave us model interpretations. The Phil, with evidence of thorough rehearsal, met the challenge with cohesion, discipline and intensity, along with fine solo playing from all concerned.

            I have to end with bad news: although the Colón has made no announcement, the planned performances (with the Phil) of "Swan Lake" by the Ballet at the Luna Park won´t take place. That leaves the Phil with blank weeks until the next concert, scheduled for April 7th


For Buenos Aires Herald 

“Beatrix Cenci”, perverse Ginastera opera in porn staging

             This is the year of Alberto Ginastera´s hundredth anniversary of his birth. And although nowadays Astor Piazzolla is the most widely played of our composers, Ginastera not only holds the second place in frequency but is considered worldwide as the most significant Argentina has produced. So of course the Colón will pay homage to him throughout the season, especially in the Philharmonic´s subscription series.

            But the Colón is foremost an opera house, and Ginastera wrote three. Unfortunately Darío Lopérfido chose the weakest of them, when pride of place should have gone to his first, "Don Rodrigo", premièred there in 1964 and never revived. It is an ambitious historical opera of considerable demands and huge orchestration, but the challenge must be met for it contains a  deal of fine music in a very complex language of great intensity but also haunting lyricism.

            I won´t rehearse yet again the vexed question of Onganía´s cancellation of "Bomarzo" ; it was finally offered in 1972, 1984 and 2003. I admire certain aspects of the music, especially the expressionistic orchestration, creating mysterious ambiences, and also the arias for the courtesan Pantasilea and for Julia Farnese, but I strongly dislike the story and the abundance of forced spoken passages, as well as the  gloating of both librettist and composer in depicting the unseemly aspects of life with heavy underlining and grotesque effects. The Mujica Láinez original novel is much better, and of course the famous Garden of Monsters has a visual attraction of its own.

            That leaves "Beatrix Cenci", a sordid true story of the very Late Renaissance.  Three well-known writers gave their own views: Percy Shelley wrote a tragedy in five acts in the Romantic period; in the Twentieth Century Antonin Artaud, the often deranged promoter of the Theatre of Cruelty, wrote a play in 1935  in his over-the-top style, and the Italian novelist Alberto Moravia gave his disenchanted focus on the family.

            Well, Count Francesco Cenci was powerful in Rome during the last years of the Seventeenth Century and although his malignity was common knowledge, not even Pope Clement VIII helped his family to be freed of the Count´s tyranny. As Guillermo Scarabino (conductor of this revival) wrote, Francesco was "violent, avaricious, sadist, corrupt and vicious". He evaded jail and death (such was the sentence for sodomy at the time) by wholesale bribing. Finally his family (second wife, two sons and Beatrix) killed him but were condemned to death for the deed (except the youngest son).

            The libretto by William Shand is deplorable in every sense: the language is stilted and unmusical, the events are narrated grossly, the structure is poor. And the characters pile up adjectives about their own condition instead of interacting. Some hermetic poems by Alberto Girri are interspersed and at least allow the composer  isolated lyrical moments.

            I witnessed the Argentine première at the Colón in 1992 and was very disappointed not only by the drama but by the music, to my mind the weakest in Ginastera´s whole production. His technical command of contemporary trends is beyond reproach but it is almost constantly used for cheap effect  There´s some Renaissance pastiche in the Bacchanale. The final minutes (the execution of Beatrix) end with a very complex choral ululation that necessitated the presence of the choir director. The whole thing only lasts 90 minutes, shorter than "Salome" or "Elektra", and the opera was presented without an interval, perhaps wisely (avoiding an exodus?).

            I have only admiration for the singers that solved such ungrateful music. Mónica Ferracani was Beatrix 24 years ago and keeps both her splendid presence and vocal fortitude intact. Víctor Torres (Francesco) is an accomplished professional; however, his soft-grained voice and relative volume aren´t right for this brutal villain. Gustavo López Manzitti (Orsino) again showed his firmness in the constant high range of his part. Alejandra Malvino was ideal as Lucrezia, Francesco´s long-suffering second wife.

            Florencia Machado sang well the trouser role of the adolescent son Bernardo; Alejandro Spies was imposing as the other brother Giacomo. Smaller parts were well done by Mario De Salvo, Sebastián Sorarrain, Iván Maier and Víctor Castells. Scarabino did a brilliant job preparing the Orchestra, and Miguel Martínez managed well the choral fragments (he is uncredited in the hand programme!).

            Alejandro Tantanian was the producer. He tells us in an interview in the programme that this opera is "a ghost tale, a pornographic narrative and a Gothic novel". Well, he put the accent on the porn, with the obsessive presence of men naked from the waist down and fully lighted, in the worst taste of Calixto Bieito or La Fura dels Baus; I haven´t seen the likes at the Colón before and I don´t accept it. I am no prude but I believe in  suggestion; Jaime Kogan didn´t have recourse to such cheap genitality when he staged the opera in 1992. And of course we saw mock sex acts in the Bacchanale.

            Oria Puppo contributes Neo-Greek columns in her stage design; the costumes veer between different centuries, and there are some weird contraptions for the half-naked men. Good lighting by David Seldes and interesting projections by Maxi Vecco don´t save the show. Four well-behaved mastiffs made an ominous contribution.

             Three performances with two casts in non-subscription performances: it´s easy to infer that the non-inclusion in the subscription series was a sign of lack of confidence in this opera. The list of invited audience was huge. 

jueves, marzo 17, 2016

Teatro Argentino: short strange season and renovation plan

            Simultaneously the authorities announced the 2016 season of the Teatro Argentino (La Plata) and an ambitious renovation plan. On the one hand, Martín Bauer replaced Valeria Ambrosio as  General and Artistic Director. He concocted a rather strange short season ending on the last day of October. On the other hand,  November will see the beginning of surprising and expensive ameliorations of the massive brutalist Theatre that replaced the old beautiful Italian horseshoe-shaped Opera House. In just 16 years the building is in need of important reforms, which speaks of evident shortcomings in the construction. (Both the Argentino and the CCK are unfinished!).
            I must say that I was rather bothered by the election of Bauer, for his specialty is contemporary music, not opera, and the Argentino is basically an opera house, even if it also offers ballet and concerts, and  has always been a traditional theatre in a traditional town. Innovations must be introduced with tact. After the Ambrosio seasons, heavily conventional on the instructions of Jorge Telerman ("La Traviata", "Tosca"), Bauer accepts "la Boheme", cancelled last year for lack of money, and only adds Mozart´s chamber "Così fan tutte" to repertoire fare. The other two choices of this mini-season are strictly contemporary: "De materie" (1989) by the Dutch composer Louis Andriessen, and "Written on skin" (2012) by George Benjamin and Martin Crimp. The proportions between repertoire and new works aren´t right.
            Of course, the TACEC (created by Bauer as the Argentino´s counterpart to the Colón´s CETC during the period of Lombardero´s Artistic Direction) is back. But the Ballet, now with a new Directress, Maricel De Mitri (until last year an exquisite Colón ballerina) will insist on the bread-and-butter big standards ("Giselle" and "Don Quichotte" plus just one programme of modern choreography).
            Bauer brings famous contemporary concert musicians, such as the Arditti Quartet and the Ensemble Modern. The Orchestra under the stalwart maestro Carlos Vieu  started the season with Mendelssohn´s "Elijah" and will follow with such important scores as Mahler´s Second Symphony, "Resurrection", whilst Christian Baldini will dare to combine Ligeti´s "Atmospheres" with Stravinsky´s "Rite of Spring".
            Before I refer to "Elijah", some data on the proposed reforms to the building. The expense will be huge: 490 million pesos.  There will be five main areas with different time lapses, starting in November.             Perhaps the most relevant: reparation of the stage machinery (six months). Then, waterproofing of terraces and roofs (a year). Renovation of façades and plazas (18 months). Reconditioning of turrets and fire security (18 months). And sprucing up of the great Ginastera Hall and of the microcinema (6 months). With all this, the Argentino will still be unfinished!
            Bauer admits that in 2017 (and perhaps 2018?) activities will have to take place elsewhere, and he mentions at La Plata the recently renovated Coliseo Podestá, a fine old theatre through rather small, quite adequate for chamber opera; he will also  move the Argentino´s artists to venues in our city: the Auditorium of the Parque Centenario and the Usina del Arte. (At La Plata the Summer possibility of the Auditorium Martín Fierro won´t be available, for it is also undergoing reform).
            So it seems that we are in for a long transition period in an overdimensioned institution with 900 employees. As I arrived to the enormous Ground Floor foyer, I was received by sirens and yells, and a leaflet was put in my hands. It said that unless the Government changes the status of a number of employees under contract and incorporates them as members of the permanent staff, they will impede the start of the renovation works! Typical labor brouhaha.
            Now to the positive side. Apart from one blot (the lack of hand programmes) Vieu did it again. As you may remember, he closed last year with an impressive performance by the Choir and Orchestra   of Haydn´s wonderful oratorio "The Creation". This time he gave us an admirable rendering of the greatest 19th Century oratorio, Mendelssohn´s "Elijah", where he shows his serious side with maximum quality.  Marvelous ability in counterpoint from the man who brought Bach´s St Matthew Passion back from oblivion coupled with sensitive melody and contrasting moods.
            Old Testament tales are stark, and Elijah smites the Baal priests, brings water to a parched land and finally goes to Heaven in a chariot of fire.  All this in music that is a joy to hear and follow with a score.
            I find both the Chorus (under Hernán Sánchez Arteaga) and the Orchestra in excellent shape, worthy of comparison with the similar Colón organisms. But if the results are so good it is because of the guiding hand of Vieu, may be our best resident conductor (Alejo Pérez works mainly in Europe). He has admirable technical control and a keen sense of the best tempi and phrasings.
            And he had a  good quartet of soloists, especially Hernán Iturralde as Elijah, full of authority and command. After the first uneven minutes tenor Carlos Ullán found his best level in the parts of King Ahab and Obadiah. The fresh voice and musicality of Marisú Pavón shone in the soprano parts. And Chilean mezzosoprano María Luisa Merino Ronda, incorporated to the Argentino in recent years, sang well though with less character than needed for  Queen Jezabel. A child sang purely the moving part in which she announces the forming clouds that will end the terrible drought. 

For Buenos Aires Herald


The Met´s “Manon Lescaut” saved by the leading couple

             Prévost´s story about Manon Lescaut is an early Eighteenth Century romance that inspired Nineteenth Century opera composers. The girl is sensual, quite young and beautiful, the Chevalier Des Grieux rescues her both from the convent and an old seducer, but the attraction of  splendor  leads her astray and she will live in a palace with a rich protector. Eventually,  Des Grieux has her back, but she will pay dearly:  she is condemned to prison in the colonies , falls ill and dies in the arms of her lover.

             In his charming opera Daniel Auber accentuates the lightness rather than the drama, but in the much better known "Manon" by Massenet the comedy of the initial acts becomes gradually more dramatic, though never losing its refined Gallic air. In Puccini´s 1893 "Manon Lescaut", his first success, there is less comedy and the drama becomes stark already in the final minutes of the Second Act. And the style of the music is clearly Italian and even verista.

            In Massenet´s version the libretto makes Manon die in Le Havre; in Puccini there is a scene at that port in which he tries to liberate Manon but fails; however, he appeals to the captain to take him on and he goes with her to New Orleans. And the final act takes place in a wasteland, for they are fugitives.  There´s no wasteland near that city in real geography, but no matter, the libretto says so; she dies there, and so will probably be the destiny of Des Grieux, though we are not told.

            No less than four librettists labored on the libretto for Puccini, not a good thing for there are too many styles of writing and it shows. Nevertheless, the composer made a giant jump from his "Edgar", very uneven and with a truly bad libretto. Here the passionate melody, the feel for character and the skillful harmony, plus the colorful orchestration, make "Manon Lescaut" the first Puccini opera that has remained in the repertoire. In fact, this year we will see it at the Avenida in the season of Buenos Aires Lírica.

            The Metropolitan Opera´s HD Live performances are seen at the Teatro El Nacional and presented by the Fundación Beethoven, and by now they are a yearly and very welcome feature, for we see many artists that don´t visit the Colón with good sound and image.

            The protagonists dominate "Manon Lescaut", for she and even more Des Grieux have long parts with several arias and duets, and the flank roles add little. When it was announced, Jonas Kaufmann was supposed to sing the Chevalier, and as he has recorded it with Kristine Opalais (the Met´s Manon) I was looking forward to their joint interpretation.  Unfortunately, Kaufmann fell ill; fortunately, Roberto Alagna learnt the role in record time and partnered the soprano. And although I deeply admire Kaufmann, truly Alagna was a splendid Des Grieux. In excellent voice, he showed a complete command of the part and acted with conviction. A veteran of a hundred Met performances, he is a stalwart tenor.

            This was the first time I had a chance to appreciate the art of Latvian soprano Kristine Opalais. Born in 1979, at 37 she looks gorgeous, with as fine legs as any model, and although both artists are far from  the age of their characters (Manon only 18, Des Grieux in his early Twenties)  they prove to be quite believable. She has made a specialty of Puccini roles, and in fact the next date of this series couples them in "Madama Butterfly".       

            In Manon looks certainly help, but Opalais is also a gifted actress and sings with a fine expansive voice; she has  a natural feeling for Puccini´s long lines and a communicative warmth that is crucial in these parts. The timbre isn´t particularly individual, and sometimes she is slightly under the note in her high range, but she remains quite a find and is having an important career.

            Manon's brother, Lescaut, was sung correctly but with too much vibrato by Massimo Cavalletti. Geronte, the old seducer, was perfectly sung and acted by bass Brindley Sherratt. The others were in the picture.

            Fabio Luisi is the Met´s Principal Conductor and he has just been named to very important posts, for he will be Zurich Opera's Musical Director and has also taken over the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. He deserves them for he combines fine technical control with a sense of color and phrasing that makes his conducting dynamic and expressive. And of course the Met's Orchestra is admirable. So is the Choir.

            Alas, the Met is cutting corners with coproductions with Europe, in this case the Festival Hall Baden/Baden, and that comes with the distortion that nowadays pervades opera in that continent. Producer Richard Eyre has had the absurd idea of moving this staging to 1941 occupied France, thus ruining a lot of what happens, mixing the  German soldiers with the joyful crowd of the First Act or the prisoners at Le Havre. Curiously, the Spanish translation of the libretto had distortions of its own, the stagecoach becoming a train!

            The stage designs (Rob Howell) had their faults in the three initial acts, but became ridiculous in the Fourth, where the "wasteland" was replaced by the uncomfortable ruins of a city. The costumes (Fotini Dimou) at least allowed Manon to be sexy.


For Buenos Aires Herald

The complete Tchaikovsky symphonies in a week (II)

 

            Some days ago I covered the initial three Tchaikovsky symphonies at the Colón played by the Buenos Aires Philharmonic conducted by Enrique Arturo Diemecke starting the astonishing marathon of the complete creations of the composer in this important and difficult genre. As you may remember, this special series of concerts also includes other symphonic works.

            Thus, the Fourth was preceded by the Italian Capriccio; the Fifth, by the tone poem "Francesca da Rimini"; and Nº6, absurdly followed by "Romeo and Juliet", when that symphony is Tchaikovsky´s supreme masterpiece and his swan song. I was sorry to miss the Friday date (the one with the Fifth) but that was the day of the National Symphony´s first pre-season concert, and both the artists and the programme were very enticing: the NS merits full support. I will write shortly about this event.

            Probably the lowest point of the Colón series came with the Italian Capriccio, a typical "light classic" without the quality of Rimsky-Korsakov´s "Spanish Capriccio". Pleasant enough, especially in the final fast dance, but also with excessive percussion and square rhythms, it was the victim of a second-rate interpretation in two basic senses: far too noisy on the one hand; on the other,  in the main slow melody, a wrong distortion of phrasing gave us a huge slowdown in the first three notes of the melody each time it appears.

            Things picked up sharply with the Fourth Symphony. Written in 1877, it shows great command of orchestration and a powerful handling of rhetorics in the dramatic  First movement, dominated by the Destiny theme of the very beginning. The Second is elegiac and imbued with lovely melody. But the pearl is the Third, with its impish long pizzicato and then the contrast with flighty woodwinds and humoristic brass. The Fourth movement is a brilliant popular feast...but near the end it is interrupted by the Destiny fanfare; to no avail, for the joyous mood goes on with ever increasing speed until the final chord.

            There were small flaws in the First movement (some unclean trumpet sounds) but the phrasing was right and the impact of this dense music reached the audience. From then on the level was consistently high, especially in the impeccable playing of the pizzicati and the dynamic rushes of the feast.

            Reliable people told me that the concert with the Fifth was very good, but of course that´s as far as I can go as I was hearing Elgar and Reger at the time.

            Apart from my total rejection about putting initially on programme the Sixth Symphony instead of giving it the lion´s part, I found both interpretations very convincing. Apart from a glaring horn mistake and a small misadjustment in the First movement, everything in the Symphony was as it should be, with fine control of phrasing and different tempi from the conductor and intense, accurate playing. I particularly admired the refined pianissimo execution by clarinet soloist Mariano Rey.

            I have long been amazed by the sleight-of-hand of the composer, who somehow contrives to give the feeling of a waltz in the Second movement, although the typical pulse of three beats is converted to five (two plus three) in every measure. And even more in the Third movement, where what is probably the greatest symphonic March ever written is marked in four beats instead of two! But the ending dispels the triumphant and massive moods, with what may be the most moving of all symphonic laments.

            I find "Romeo and Juliet", called by the composer Fantasy overture, Tchaikovsky´s most accomplished tone poem. Both the slow melodic parts and the vivid evocation  of the fights, with its dislocated and imaginative rhythms, give us the gist of the Shakespearian drama. The splendid discipline of the orchestra under the firm and intelligent command of the conductor gave us a model interpretation.

            With so much that was positive, I´m sorry to have to mention two matters that bothered me. One: in recent years (not before) Diemecke has been increasingly showman, and always addresses the audience with remarks upon the scores that are often kitschy, infantile and superficial. As you know, the Colón´s hand programmes always carry comments on the works, so even if what the conductor says were relevant, the job has already been done, and much better. One good thing about Diemecke is that he has always asked the public not to applaud between movements, so I was astonished when he mentioned that at the end of the third movement of the Sixth the music is so brilliant that many people applaud, but this time he did NOT ask them to refrain from doing so,  and so they did...

            Two: a healthy and ingrained custom is that home orchestras don´t give encores (visiting orchestras do) but this time Diemecke, prompted by an undiscerning section of the audience,       ceded, and in a bad way, providing a chunk of "Romeo and Juliet". This was unmusical and wrong.

            But I want to finish on a positive note: this integral series was a real treat for Tchaikovski fans and proof of the stamina and knowledge of conductor and orchestra. It was only possible because the players came from their Summer holidays  two weeks before the start on March 1, but for many of them the first three symphonies were new scores, and they learned fast and well.


For Buenos Aires Herald 

lunes, marzo 07, 2016

The complete Tchaikovsky symphonies in a week (I)


            Last March Enrique Arturo Diemecke inaugurated his tenth year as Principal Conductor of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic with a tour de force: the nine symphonies by Beethoven in a special subscription series. It had an enormous success. So, in what seems to be a trend (the artist has in mind for 2017 the four Brahms symphonies), this March he is presenting the integral Tchaikovsky symphonies at the Colón: not just the popular ones (fourth to sixth) but also the neglected initial three.
            Diemecke has programmed  in an intelligent way, combining them with tone poems and  other orchestral pieces. To judge from the first two sessions, this will be a cycle to remember.
            Back in the Fifties Fabien Sevitzky was the first conductor to do here the integral Tchaikovsky symphonies; I don´t recall another series, though I may be wrong. Anyway the special interest for me or other seasoned concertgoers that keep their curiosity alive is the possibility of hearing the first three. As a kid I knew and liked the Third, Polish, in 78 rpms recorded by Kindler with Washington´s National Symphony.  I met the First and the Second much later and I also enjoyed them, and of course I eventually had the complete series by Svetlanov and the USSR Symphony Orchestra  and Maazel with the Vienna Philharmonic in the vinyl era. 
            I drew a conclusion: for every ten times one hears the  last Tchaikovsky symphonies, proper programming should let us have twice the initial ones. In fact their presence is much more spaced, so I especially welcome the Diemecke initiative. Just one blot: in the Third he made cuts in movements one and five, and I am adamant on this matter: if the composer goes on too long for the conductor´s taste, it doesn´t give him the right to emasculate the original.
             He had done it with with the early Dvorák symphonies: Diemecke conducted all nine for the first time here, and he premièred then  the First, Second and Fourth, as well as revived the Third (premièred by Smetácek in 1973); I felt then that he did a disservice to the music lover by cutting huge chunks in all four, especially as they had never been done. We have the right to hear them as the composer wanted.
            The First Symphony is rightly called "Winter Dreams" due to the wistful character of its first movement. Written in 1865 when he was only 25,  he later revised it  in 1874. Bear in mind that at the time the only Russian composer of some renown that had written symphonies was Anton Rubinstein, who wrote six but kept to a rather Germanic style; three of them were created between 1850 and 1855. Balakirev finished his First in 1866, Borodin in 1867, Rimsky-Korsakov in  the same year as Tchaikovsky. They were exploring new territory and they did it with great talent.
            Whenever I hear the First I am astonished that the Tchaikovskian imprint is already there, although it´s true that we hear the revision (but in fact all of the above revised their symphonies ). There´s the melancholy, the gift for melody, the rich harmony, the love for give-and-take between orchestral groups, the exuberance in the fast joyful music and, yes, his rhetorical exaggeration. It´s silly to denigrate it because it isn´t as important as the Sixth, what we have is an admirable first step in a difficult genre.
            The Overture 1812 is well-known but rarely programmed in subscription series: its bombastic final minutes seem to relegate it to the category of Light Classic Concerts, and they are few and far between in BA. It´s a shame, every March we should have a whole series for there´s plenty of worthwhile stuff to play. In fact, the Overture, which of course concerns the victory of Russian troops over Napoleon, mixes the Marseillaise with the Russian hymn "God save the Czar" with cunning ability and plenty of counterpoint.
            I haven´t seen a score but several recorded performances add canons in the final minutes, and I heard at River Plate Stadium decades ago such a version. I don´t know what instrument gave the effect of canons in the Phil´s execution but it was pretty realistic.
            As is his style, Diemecke was in both Overture and Symphony his dynamic, charismatic self, with well-chosen tempi and reasonably good playing considering that it´s the first concert of the season.
            The following night gave us the Second and the Third Symphonies. The Second (1872, revised 1879) is called "Little Russian" ("Ukrainian") due to the folk melodies of the last movement. It shows a growing maturity especially in the First movement, where the sad music of the Introduction is an omen of what we will hear in the Fifth and Sixth, and then we have the splendid main fast part, admirably handled.
            The Third is rather curious for it has five movements. Again, its nickname "Polish" is given due to the last movement, "alla Polacca". Written in 1875, it wasn´t revised. I particularly enjoy the humor and charm of the Second movement ("alla Tedesca"), and the flighty Scherzo (Fourth movement).
            With considerable changes in its personnel, this second team of the Phil showed flexibility and good training to assimilate music that for many was new. The audience responded with cheers to Diemecke´s vehement but controlled interpretations.

For Buenos Aires Herald 

Unexpected chamber music surprise at Museo de Arte Decorativo

            "Wonderful", was my reaction as the first movement of Brahms´  First Sextet ended. And after the final chord of  Tchaikovsky´s Sextet "Souvenir de Florence" sounded out, an amazed "wonderful throughout" was my feeling. For I had heard what will remain as an occasion worthy of grateful remembrance.
            It was last Saturday at 7,30 pm at the lovely Museo de Arte Decorativo. An immense queue tried to get in but many couldn´t make it; the concert was free and it had a banner name much admired here: violinist Nicolás Chumachenco. The session was organised by the Dirección Nacional de Gestión y Programación of the Culture Ministry.
              Those of us who went last year to several concerts at the Museum (Saturday after Saturday) knew that the programming quality of the cycle had been high and hoped that this  project would continue this year.  I learned about this concert just three days before it occurred and I changed my plans to be able to attend, for Chumachenco has for decades been a guarantee of musicianship. The result was even better than my expectations.
            The lean hand programme had no biographies, so I decided to Google and I reaped a fine harvest that explained what had happened, if you crisscrossed the information.  I was intrigued by a fact: four players were the nucleus and three were invited, so this was an ad-hoc situation that implied a relationship between the four principals: and it was so.
            The four: Chumachenco; Stanimir Todorov and Marcelo Montes, celli; and Rolando Prusak, viola. Both Nicolás and his sister Ana were born in Poland of Ukrainian parents, but came to Argentina at an early age and studied with Ljerko Spiller. Nicolás went on to study with two luminaries: Jascha Heifetz in California, Efrem Zimbalist at Philadelphia´s Curtis Institute; and he afterwards won the Queen Elizabeth Competition (Belgium). He led the Zurich Quartet for many years, and currently he is the Director of the Orquesta de Cámara Reina Sofía de Madrid and professor at Freiburg (Germany). He is now almost 72.
            Todorov is Bulgarian, born at Sophia in 1967. His  career connected him with Gstaad (Switzerland) where he studied at the International Menuhin Music Academy, and then at the Paris Conservatory. He went on to be first desk at various orchestras: Danish National Radio, Suisse Romande, Montecarlo Philharmonic. He has been living in Argentina during the last decade and is a great player.
            Montes is young and Chilean, but he studied in Freiburg (connection with Chumachenco) and has worked with such aces as Walevska, Gabetta and Meneses. He is now first desk of the Córdoba Symphony.
            Rolando Prusak also studied with Spiller and at Gstaad (with Menuhin, Lysy and Vegh); and with Ana Chumachenco at Munich and Nicolás at Freiburg! He held a post at Aragón and is now back in Argentina.
            And now the invited players: Sebastián Prusak (violin) is Rolando´s son and has played both classic (at the National Symphony) and tango (now at the Orquesta Filiberto). Pablo Sangiorgio is a gifted violinist of the Camerata Bariloche. And Juan Castellanos (viola) is from Córdoba and at the present time a member of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic. The latter two are quite young.
            With this information you see why this sextet jelled and seemed a seasoned stable group playing at its best. But obviously apart from the individual professionalism there was a guiding hand of deep knowledge and taste: Nicolás Chumachenco returned after eight years to give seminars and concerts at Buenos Aires and Córdoba and showed that he is a past master of chamber music. Also, he chose a blinding masterpiece, for that's what Brahms'  early First Sextet is, and Tchaikovsky's lighter but beautiful and charming Sextet, quite Russian in character (the reference to Florence is simply because he wrote part of it there).
            I was astonished by the homogeneity and mutual ensemble; in both works there´s constant give-and-take and all six instruments are active almost throughout; the cues were always taken at the precise moment, all phrased as one. Todorov was first cellist in Brahms but Montes took over in Tchaikovsky: the quality remained impeccable. Sangiorgio was second violin in Brahms, Sebastián Prusak in Tchaikovsky, and again the ensemble was beyond reproach.
            What a way to start the chamber music year. Long life to these Saturday concerts!

For Buenos Aires Herald

LA TEMPORADA OPERÍSTICA 2017 DEL COLÓN: UNA MIRADA HACIA EL FUTURO

    A principios de Diciembre envié al Buenos Aires Herald un artículo llamado "Directores de casas de ópera se unen para proyectos musicales", cuya sustancia era la reunión de directores de casas de ópera iberoamericanos  con la intención de complementarse en el planeamiento operístico.  Lo concluí con una advertencia: cada teatro tiene su historia y las temporadas deben programarse con sólidas razones históricas: poner en escena las óperas que son realmente necesarias; si se puede encontrar la manera de compartirlas, de acuerdo, pero sino, hacer la ópera que corresponde sin compartir.
    Antes en ese artículo cité cinco óperas que fueron mencionadas por Darío Lopérfido como posibles candidatas para 2017. De acuerdo a una fuente confiable, tuve dos títulos más. El artículo presente se basa en ambas informaciones y aventura una teoría propia con algo de esperanza.
    Empezaré con la esperanza: tener para 2017 el mínimo de títulos que un  año de Colón debería ofrecer. Como saben, este año veremos diez óperas pero en nueve funciones (ya que una de ellas es el doble Dallapiccola). Esto es sin duda mejor que los siete títulos del año pasado, pero creo que con buena administración y presupuesto adecuado debería ser perfectamente posible llegar a los diez títulos. Las condiciones imperantes parecen hacer utópico llegar al nivel de los años Sesenta: catorce títulos de Abril a Diciembre más tres en Verano. (Agregado: el mal arreglo del teatro después de su cierre en 2006 ha limitado fuertemente la capacidad productiva y además las absurdas régies actuales son más complicadas y lentas; si ambos temas se atacasen fuertemente podríamos volver a esa época de oro, pero dudo mucho que eso ocurra).
    Ahora les comunico mi teoría. Resulta un hecho indiscutible que Verdi es el campeón entre los compositores operísticos. Creo que una casa de ópera como el Colón está históricamente entre las diez más importantes del mundo incluso con sus enormes vaivenes, y que cualquier planificación requiere un conocimiento profundo de su historia pero también del repertorio: si se va a hacer un buen trabajo hay que ver más allá de 2017 e imaginar al menos hasta 2020.
    Creo que una buena manera es imaginar franjas de diez años y tener en cuenta con qué frecuencia ciertas óperas deben retomarse: algunas merecerán verse dentro de los diez años, otras entre diez y quince, otros grupos en hasta 20, 30 y 60.  Otro factor que sirve de guía es el estreno de óperas injustamente relegadas de cualquier época que deben ser incorporadas si queremos llamar al Colón un teatro serio...y  espero que volverá a ser considerado así. Y por supuesto óperas nuevas que presenten razonables garantías de calidad, argentinas o extranjeras.
    Hay sólo dos compositores que nos dieron diez óperas merecedoras de estar en la franja de los diez años: Verdi y Wagner. Verdi tiene muchas más a las que les corresponde el rango de los 15 años; en cambio en el caso de Wagner son precisamente diez. Wagner es un caso especial porque cuatro de sus óperas forman "El anillo de los Nibelungos" y la manera ideal es dar las cuatro en un mismo año. El Colón no lo ha logrado desde 1967 y creo que repetir esa proeza está muy lejano. Pero debería ser factible dos por año.
    Vayamos a las óperas mencionadas por Lopérfido. Estoy plenamente de acuerdo con "Aida", que en versión escenificada falta desde 1996 (la de Barenboim/Scala fue de concierto). Y con "Der Rosenkavalier" de Richard Strauss, obra esencial ausente desde 1998. Vamos a tener un estreno wagneriano; parece una buena idea, pero "Das Liebesverbot" ("La prohibición de amar"), basada en "Measure for measure" de Shakespeare, es una obra de cierto encanto aunque sin atisbos del futuro estilo wagneriano; es lógico que el venerable Covent Garden lo incluya puesto que ellos atienden convenientemente el repertorio wagneriano habitual, pero el Colón no lo hace: sería vastamente más necesario darnos "Los Maestros Cantores de Nuremberg", que se vio por última vez, créase o no, en 1980.   Y como "Porgy and Bess", la última ópera de este año, se hace con un coro importado, sería ideal programar "Los Maestros Cantores" a principios de 2017.
    "Grandeza y decadencia de la ciudad de Mahagonny" de Weill es un amargo panfleto muy adecuado para períodos de reconstrucción como el que estamos viviendo, como ocurrió en su última reposición en 1992. Se mencionó la posibilidad de un estreno interesante:  "Yerma" de Villalobos, sobre García Lorca. De modo que estamos en cinco óperas.
    Sin embargo, se agregarían otras dos. Una es la mejor ópera de Händel, "Giulio Cesare", sólo ofrecida en 1968; quisiera una versión historicista en lo musical y lo escénico. La otra sería "Adriana Lecouvreur" de Cilea, bella ópera que se vio en el Avenida hace unos años pero en el Colón en 1994; tendríamos la presencia de una cantante valiosa, Angela Gheorghiu.
    Con tres más llegamos al número mágico. Mis elecciones: para finalizar la temporada, el estreno que García Caffi quería hacer: la versión completa de "Los Troyanos" de Berlioz.  Una ópera de bel canto largamente esperada: "Anna Bolena" de Donizetti (sólo se vio en 1970). Y el estreno de la ópera de Britten más esperada, "Billy Budd". Sólo lamento no tener espacio para una ópera eslava: a ver si en 2018 tenemos un Janácek o un Rimsky-Korsakov.

“Matinée Fantômas”, Argentine variation on a Weill-Desnos partnership

             From the hand programme of « Matinée Fantômas":  "he was known as the genius of evil, the Emperor of crime, the master of horror. He was the protagonist of dozens of feuilletons by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre in the early years of the Twentieth Century. Bloodthirsty mock-dandy and matchless robber, Fantômas was the antihero of five pictures by Louis Feuillade". Well, that strikes a chord in my memories, for I saw decades ago one of these silent films and it was huge fun.
            In a way, the outrageous exaggerations of Fantômas´ adventures make him a successor of another feuilleton character, Rocambole; a couple of years ago I belatedly read the Ponson du Terrail account of his exploits, and I could understand why the French say "Rocambolesque" referring to improbable adventures; but again, as I had seen the Fantômas picture with pleasure,  I avidly read the wildly diverting course of a larger-than-life character.
            November 3, 1933, Radio-Paris and other broadcasting stations emitted "La Grande Complainte de Fantômas" ("The Great Lamentation of Fantômas"), dramatic suite in 12 tableaux by Robert Desnos on a melody by Kurt Weill, directed by Antonin Artaud (yes, the famous practitioner of the "théâtre de la cruauté"- the theatre of cruelty) and musical direction of no less than  Alejo Carpentier, the great Cuban writer who was also a musician. That same day Allain published in Le Petit Journal the first of a new series of feuilletons, "Si c'était Fantômas", "great novel of unpublished adventures", so the broadcasting officiated as publicity for the new printed series. 
            The broadcasting was called "Soirée Fantômas" (not "matinée", an appellation that  is very nostalgic for veterans like me, for the term has little sense or use nowadays).  The Studios Foniric were the venue for this emission, and Desnos and Carpentier went on to work together at the radio until the war.
            One thing in this account (which I found in Google) intrigues me: it mentions ONE melody by Weill. And that brings me  to "Matinée Fantômas" (although the two shows were at 8 pm). It is billed as an "open-air radiophonic operetta", idea, dramaturgy and translation by Ricardo Ibarlucía, direction by Walter Jakob and Agustín Mendilaharzu, conducting and composition by Gabriel Chwojnik.
            In fact, it was a commission of the CETC (the Colón Center for Experimentation, a cellar, not open-air) for the 2014 season (I didn´t see it then) and was incongruously (nothing is filmed) part of the BAFICI that same year.  So, as happened with "L´histoire du soldat" and with "Mahagonny Songspiel", this was a revival of an earlier production. It´s easy to concoct a Summer season this way...
            But does it work? Well, it´s emphatically NOT radiophonic: what we see is a vertiginous succession of Fantômas´ exploits wirh two actors that bear the brunt of the show: the Inspector of Police and Fantômas       . They are assisted by two other actors in multiple parts, one a young man and the other a girl, though she sometimes takes on men´s parts.  And four other actors are seated like statues in front of microphones on the right side of the stage and do nothing for most of the 52 minutes the whole thing lasts. Plus a singer-emcee, who serves as fast interval between brief sketches of the actors. And at the end all eight sing together the final march-like tune (Weill´s?).
            The whole thing was rather diverting but I grew tired of the very numerous interruptions by the emcee, always singing the same basic tune with some changes. One bad thing is that the hand programme only identified the singer, Gabriel Carasso, but the actors´ parts weren´t specified; and as they are in alphabetical order I don´t know who did the main parts, which is unfair to the artists and the audience. Well, the Inspector and Fantômas took their gestures from silent movies, and the directors are right in that decision. The singer was portrayed as a mannered fop; he sang correctly.
            As to the musical side, I surmise that the interludes, rather shrill, are by Chwojnik imitating Weill.  There were only four players and again the artists weren´t related to their "parts" (instruments) in the hand-programme.  I recognised the player of clarinet and bass clarinet, Griselda Giannini, but I can only mention the other three: Matías Cadoni, Gonzalo Terranova and Martín Mengel. The other instruments were a trumpet, a bass and various percussions, plus a distorted Glockenspiel played by the director. Frankly I didn´t find Weill´s tune one of his best (and failed to find a recording in my R.E.R. catalogue of CDs). The sound had its problems, sometimes the music covered the actors.
            The basic stage props (by Ariel Vaccaro), especially the central one, were moved repetitiously and tiringly.  The lighting by Eduardo Pérez Winter was adequate and the costumes by María Emilia Tambutti were imaginative.
            It´s not an operetta nor is it radiophonic, but  I have a reminiscent side and I appreciate the attempt to bring back the feuilleton era.

For Buenos Aires Herald


“The Great Waltz”, a tribute to the world´s most refined society dance

            Think of marriage parties nowadays. They usually start with a Johann Strauss II waltz, danced initially by the father and the bride (I did this ceremony twice with my daughters), followed by Sinatra (habitually "New York, New York") and then the senior citizens leave the "stage" to the younger crowd and their music. So in 2016 the waltz is still a symbol of elegance and beauty in social occasions.

            With good reason: the waltz is such a beautiful dance that the most "waltzy" city, Vienna, made both Johann  Strauss I and Joseph Lanner the heroes of both the common people and the nobility before passing the scepter to Johann II, phenomenally popular and admired by all the great composers of the time.  But apart from the balls, the waltz also had a place in opera (Richard Strauss), of course operetta, in symphony and ballet (Tchaikovsky) or even as a sui generis tone poem (Liszt).

            And it still draws vast amounts of people, as demonstrated by the five thousand that attended "The Great Waltz", the fine selection imagined by veteran maestro Mario Perusso for his concert with the Colón´s Resident Orchestra ("Estable") at the Plaza Vaticano. It was the only "traditional" instance of the current Colón Summer Festival, heavily biased towards the 20th-21st Centuries.

            I am not an enthusiast of the Plaza Vaticano, I prefer my music in theatres and concert halls; the open air means city noise and amplification and I can do without both. So I would have enjoyed this concert much more at the Colón. Also that night was windy, and the poor musicians spent part of their time keeping their scores in place with brooches.

            The particular feeling for give-and-take of the waltz is quite tricky, and the sort of rigid beat of chains of waltzes -bits from several glued together- in marriage parties goes against the grain. Naturally such a distortion didn´t happen in this concert, but to be frank the particular "rubato" flexibility of the best practitioners wasn´t there: we had good, honest music-making,  not the unmistakeable lilt of such references as Boskovsky, Krauss or Jansons.

            The start came from a great composer, Carl Maria von Weber, famous for his Romantic opera (the first so-called) "Der Freischütz", but also for a lovely piano piece, "Invitation to the dance": slow introduction, waltz and slow coda; it became famous in its inspired orchestration by Hector Berlioz, and many decades later it was the basis of Fokin´s gorgeous ballet "The spectre of the rose", danced by the likes of Nijinsky and Nureyev. The reading was rather tame, but from then on things picked up.

            I would have preferred a more imaginative choice than Johann Strauss II´s "Blue Danube" (or if you prefer the whole appellation, "On the strands of the beautiful blue Danube"); well, these days the river is hardly blue, but no matter: the waltz is still the most famous. But not necessarily the best; my own favorite is the "Emperor Waltz". By the way, it may interest you to know that originally the "Blue Danube" wasn´t written for orchestra but for male choir!  The performance was nice enough.

            Another piece that was originally for piano is Franz Liszt´s "Mephisto Waltz Nº 1 " and as such it is a stunning tour de force for virtuosi; I like it it very much in that form, but also in what feels in fact as a tone poem, the orchestration that converts it in the second episode for Lenau´s "Faust": "The dance in the village´s tavern". As suits the character evoked, the waltz is interspersed with rather sinister slow fragments. Perusso gave it some character and I enjoyed the version, although the amplification wasn´t good enough to appreciate the subtler details.

            My way of feeling and thinking is completely un-fan-like: I believe fanaticism blurs the mind and the senses. But whenever that malady tempts me, Richard Strauss´ "Der Rosenkavalier" is never far: for me it is the greatest of German-Austrian dramatic comedies, and the composer had an intuition that proved pure genius: the action happens during the years of Marie Therese´s Eighteenth Century reign when the waltz was non-existent, for that was the age of the minuet, but the waltz permeates large patches of the whole opera and is one of the things that make it unforgettable.

            After the enormous success of his opera, Strauss made a Suite which included waltzes but also such sublime pieces as the great Trio; eventually he made three sequences : one with waltzes of Acts 2 and 3; the second with those of only Act 2 (in which he corrected what he felt were ugly transitions); and one with Act 3. As I have no score I can´t be sure, but probably Perusso did the third of these sequences for he started with a waltz of the very beginning of Act 3 (after the Prelude).  He did a pretty good job.

            A charming Waltz from Shostakovich´s curiously named Jazz Suite Nº 2 (I see nothing jazzy except the presence of a saxophone solo)  preceded that marvelous blend of Impressionism and Expressionism, Ravel´s "La Valse"; Perusso managed a decent version; however, comparisons with fantastic previous interpretations kept intruding in my mind (e.g., Abbado with the Berlin Philharmonic). The encore wasn´t a waltz but a famous polka by Johann II: "Tritsch-Tratsch".


For Buenos Aires Herald 



Weill-Brecht and Stravinsky, witnesses of a troubled era

            1927, Baden-Baden: première of "Mahagonny-Gesänge", "Songspiel"; in three parts, 23 minutes. Music by Kurt Weill, texts by Bertolt Brecht. Born in the declining years of the ill-fated Weimar Republic, after the disastrous hyperinflation of 1923, this small masterpìece shows in a nutshell the tremendous nihilism of a shaken society seen with a Communist bias. In 1925 Berg´s "Wozzeck" gave us the most finished portrait of anguish and misery in operatic history. By 1929 the  rise of the  Nazis was uncontrollable, though four years ealpsed before Hitler was named Chancellor.

            Weill and Brecht expanded the short piece into a full-length Singspiel (spoken and sung) in that same year 1927 : "Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny" ("Rise and Fall of the City Mahagonny") and converted it into a bona fide opera in 1930. I bought  in 1956 the first integral recording (conductor Brückner-Rüggeberg) and was stunned: a  revelation. So I was happy when it was premièred at the Colón in 1987 and revived in 2002. And now it is announced for 2017. It figures: Argentina is prone to recurrent major problems and this is the ideal crisis opera.

            1917, Stravinsky´s "L´histoire du soldat" ("The soldier´s tale" ) is premièred in

Switzerland, where the composer is living poorly due to WWI and the confiscation of her family´s patrimony by the Bolsheviks. This was four years after his "Rite of Spring" changed the History of Music. The text by the Swiss writer Charles Ferdinand Ramuz is based on a Russian folk tale about a soldier  on leave tempted by the Devil; the Soldier gives him a violin and receives in exchange a book that reads by itself and shows the future.  In the end, the Devil  wins...

            This piece for a Narrator, actors playing the Soldier and the Devil and a dancer (the Princess) has wonderfully inventive music for seven instruments (the composer extracted later a Suite from it).  The folk tale is ingenuous rather than ingenious but it has charm if properly done.  It was often staged in BA and I saw my first in the early Fifties. During the last two years four different productions were seen; I wrote about one of them, with Les Luthiers and Barenboim.

            This year the Colón has launched a Summer Season and of course, in principle it should be a good thing. But obviously venues matter, and so do choices of repertoire.  Well, the venue chosen for most of it is open air with amplification: the Plaza Vaticano next to the Colón.  "Mahagonny" cries out for a small theatre or a big tavern and amplification is quite wrong for it. On the other hand, "Histoire" was designed to be ambulatory, so it can be accepted in the open air.

            As to the choice, the moot point is that both productions are presented by the Colón but have been seen elsewhere in recent years without that theatre´s auspices, so it was a matter of simply taking advantage of ready-made productions.

            Weill-Brecht and this particular piece  have been close to Marcelo Lombardero´s preferences since the start of his career as a producer and he has presented it in several occasions: the seedy, scurvy ambience, the social criticism, its angry attacks on capitalism, its mix of realism and surrealism, suit his instincts; and the cast, practically identical I believe to the one seen at the Usina del Arte a couple of years ago, is wonderful both acting and singing. The two whores are  done with plenty of insight by soprano María Victoria Gaeta and mezzosoprano Cecilia Pastawski: in their voices the "Alabama Song" and "Benares Song", bittersweet jewels, have near-ideal versions. And the four men who have gone to Mahagonny for easy money, booze and women, are sung and acted with great dramatic presence by tenors Pablo Pollitzer (in very good voice) and Santiago Burgi, whilst baritone Mariano Fernández Bustinza and bass Juan Pablo Labourdette sang with powerful delivery and splendid material.

            The very good small orchestra was perfectly handled by Pedro Pablo Prudencio, giving Weill´s music the cutting edge it needs. Lombardero´s team saw eye to eye with him: Noelia González Svoboda (stage design), Luciana Gutman (costumes) and Horacio Efron (lighting).

            As "Mahagonny" is short we were offered a fine selection of fragments from other Weill-Brecht collaborations: "Die Dreigroschenoper" and "Happy End" (from it, the haunting "Surabaya Johnny") with the same admirable singers and players.

            The translation  and adaptation by Beatriz Sarlo of "L´Histoire du Soldat" seems to me misguided: it doesn´t respect the original: here the Narrator does not only his part but also the Devil and the Soldier; and there isn´t one dancer but three, for both the Soldier and the Devil dance. Listen in their marvelous 1962 recording what Jean Cocteau as the Narrator and Peter Ustinov do as the Devil to feel the enormous difference with the exaggerated and shouty interpretation of Pompeyo Audivert.

            The instrumental side was decently done, with violinist Daniel Robuschi especially good but trumpet player Osvaldo Lacunza below his best level, perhaps because he didn´t play the part in a cornet, as in the original. Correct conducting by Santiago Santero. Paradoxically the added choreography and dancing was a plus factor: fine dancers (Ramiro Cortez, Juan González, Paula Almirón) in dramatically well-imagined steps by Edgardo Mercado. I fail to understand what was the contribution of Martín Bauer as Stage Director.


For Buenos Aires Herald