miércoles, junio 15, 2016

Grupo Corpo and Lindberg´s “Kraft” impact the audience


            Forty years ago Oscar Araiz choreographed "Maria Maria" for the recently born Grupo Corpo and it was a deserved success, for the blend of attractive Brazilian popular music with inventive steps and splendid dancing was irresistible. The GC was founded by the brothers Pederneiras at Belo Horizonte, the beautiful capital of Minas Gerais.

            The Pederneiras are still in charge. During this prolonged lapse the group has visited us repeatedly; the last was nine years ago and is still fresh in the audience´s perception, so in their presentation at the Coliseo for the Grupo Ars they were received with enthusiasm.  There are reasons for it: what they bring is truly Brazilian, a country of intense personality and ethnic diversity. What they present is authentic and accomplished with vigorous dynamism from both sexes.

            It is a chamber group and although there are occasional duets but mostly there are ensembles.  The music they brought is specific for the choreographies. Of the Pederneiras Paulo is the Artistic Director, Rodrigo the choreographer, Pedro the Technical Director, and three others occupy flank posts.  They have been wholly dedicated to their company. The current GC has come with 21 dancers and, typical of this company, the hand programme identifies no soloists in the chosen pieces.

            Two ample works, about 35 minutes each, made up the evening. In both the moments of relaxation are few, for this is basically athletic, gymnastic dancing, with little time for poetry, where one mostly admires their stamina and perfect adjustment. Of course, it´s modern dancing, with little recourse to classic staples such as points. They dress soberly, the women often showing their bare legs, the men completely covered.

            The night started with "Suíte branca" ("White suite") by the young choreographer Cassi Abranches with music by Samuel Rosa. Indeed, all are dressed by Freusa Zechmeister in immaculate white, with a wall imagined by Paulo Pederneiras that changed color according to the lighting of Paulo and Gabriel Pederneiras from an earthy tint to white. The description in the hand programme is accurate: "between undulating hips and arms, suspensions and considerable floor work, this creation suggests an interaction with the gravity force". One of the girls was amazingly flexible, even when dropped onto the floor unceremoniously.

            I felt that Abranches insisted too much on similar movements, more variety was needed. And the music bends to the current noisy electronic trend; less decibels and more music! True Brazilian popular music, rhythmic but lighter!

            "Dança Sinfônica", choreography by Rodrigo Pederneiras, music by Marco Antônio Guimaraes, and the same technical team as the preceding work, seemed altogether richer.  The idea is based on reminiscence, a mosaic taken from the best pieces of the group, and Guimaraes has composed for them decades ago, so the whole thing holds together. The music is much better, played by the Minas Gerais Philharmonic and bridges by the group Uakti; there´s even a clever mix of a Bach cello suite with Brazilian music.

            This time the dominant color was burgundy except one fragile slim girl in white. She did (with a sturdy manipulator) a stunning duet in which she didn´t touch ground, moved about as if she was boneless; it was a moment of strange poetry in an almost relentless display of team bustle executed with virtuosity. I missed elegance and charm, but there´s no question about the discipline and joyful exuberance of this troupe.

            Colón Contemporáneo presented a combination of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic and the Ensemble Modern centered on an important score by Magnus Lindberg: "Kraft" ("Strength"). The EM is a fearless group of players without Artistic Director founded at Frankfurt in 1980, and naturally its personnel has changed over the years. They were here twenty years ago, so for many it was their first visit to BA. Currently it is integrated by 22 players from 10 countries; 11 came on this tour.

            "Kraft" is an early creation of the Finnish composer, finished in 1985, for a quintet of soloists and orchestra. It lasts half an hour; its basic parameter is simply sound and he wrote it with a computer, Apple II. The relegation of melody, harmony and rhythm to a distant second category was already done much earlier by Krzysztof Penderecki in his experimental "De natura sonoris", I and II (1966 and 1971) but Lindberg adds spacialisation and amplification.

            We had no time to get bored, audience nor players: not only the soloists but several members of the Phil went from the stage to several posts in the loges or in the central corridor of the stalls (there, an enormous tam-tam) and the multiphonic amplified music they played blended with that of the equally busy artists that were on stage. It was quite an exercise of logistics and for some a display of agility and timing (particularly the clarinettist), and under the sure hand of conductor Pablo Rus Broseta it brilliantly arrived to port.

            In the First Part we heard "Expo" for orchestra, also by Lindberg, paradoxically much later (2009) but very tonal; Madrigal Nº3 (The hands) by the Argentine Marcos Franciosi, freshly composed and a joint commission of the Colón and the EM, of colorful timbres but disappointing substance; and "Runaround" (2014) by the Slovene Vito Zuraj, for brass quartet and ensemble (including seven local musicians), a wild piece vaguely based on a jazzy walking bass. All were premières. 


For Buenos Aires Herald

From America and Germany two choirs and an orchestra

            In our ample and variegated musical life sometimes we get interesting visitors from places little known here and we get agreeable surprises. Such was the case recently, as  I had the acquaintance of the Capella Vocalis Reutlingen, The Memphis Second Presbyterian Church Choir and the St. Olaf Orchestra.

            The Bach Academy organized the presentation of the Reutlingen group as a non-subscription concert on Monday (not Saturday, their usual day) at the Central Methodist Church, the Academy´s venue for decades, with warm acoustics.  Reutlingen is a charming city at the Black Forest, south of Stuttgart and Tübingen. The Capella Vocalis was founded in 1992 by Eckhard Weyand and since 2012 it is directed by Christian Bonath. It is made up of children sopranos and contraltos and young tenors and basses.

            At home the choir is really big, 120-strong, but here they came as a chamber choir.  Germany has a great choral tradition, and the Reutlingen is a good example of it. They came in singing a lovely Italian Lauda (Medieval), "Alta Trinita beata", and after the concert they came out doing it again. The severe though beautiful programme was all sacred, except for the surprise of two Händel pieces sung by Jan Jerlitschka. And all German, apart from Charpentier´s "Stabat Mater for nuns", a spare Motet sung by only six voices and accompanied by organ (Bonath).

            It was interesting to hear an imaginative motet by a Bach that died before Johann Sebastian was born: Johann  Christoph (1604-73). Both in this and in the famous chorale from Cantata Nº 147 by J.S., "Jesu joy of men´s desiring", Mario Videla ("alma pater" of the Academy), collaborated at the organ. Mendelssohn´s command of counterpoint and fluid inspiration was evident in three scores: "Psalm 43" for double choir, a motet for four-voiced men´s chorus in Latin, and the "Three spiritual songs" concluding the concert.

            Two barely known XIXth century composers were represented by motets: Moritz Hauptmann and Bernhard Klein; well-wrought music from Romantics that assimilated the Baroque and Classicist traditions. A   nd J.S.Bach´s short and difficult motet "Lobet den Herrn" ("Praise the Lord), also with Videla. All this music was heard in accomplished interpretations that showed both the skill of the director and the fine discipline and pleasant voices of the choir.

            I was stunned by the participation of Jerlitschka, for he was born in 1998 and I have never heard before a boy soprano of that age; fact is he keeps the crystalline timbre of a child and he sang with fine line the beautiful Händel aria "Where´er you walk" from the oratorio "Semele" and the melodic sacred song "Süsse Stille, sanfte Quelle" ("Sweet silence, soft spring"), accompanied by Bonath.

            Unfortunately San Benito, a Neo-Romanic church, looks splendid but has terribly reverberant acoustics. We heard there a Johann Sebastian Bach programme called The Life of Christ with the Chancel Choir of the Second Presbyterian Church from Memphis, Tennessee, led by Gabriel Statom.

            As I read the listing of scores I thought it was enormously long; and three things happened: of many pieces of ABA structure we only heard A; others were cancelled (no announcement); and two works were eliminated wholly: Cantata Nº 4, "Christ lag in Todesbanden" ("Christ lay in Death´s bonds") and the "Ascension Oratorio" (called so  in the Bach catalogue, but really Cantata Nº 11); this was announced.

            The accompaniment wasn´t mentioned in the hand programme; but the parson told the audience that they were members of the National Symphony (about 15 players). This chamber choir is probably as big as that of Bach´s St. Thomas Church: 23 voices; but with two differences: the sopranos and contraltos were boys; and there was a more balanced  distribution than in this instance (8 sopranos, 8 contraltos, 3 tenors and 4 basses). A curiosity: one of the tenors was Maico Hsiao, a Taiwanese living in BA. The vocal soloists came from the choir, plus an Argentine, tenor Osvaldo Peroni as the Evangelist.

            We heard fragments of the Christmas Oratorio, the St.John Passion, the Easter Oratorio and Cantata Nº 140, wonderful and well-contrasted Bachian music. The brilliance of the chosen numbers of the oratorios was based on the first-rate playing of the trumpeters. As far as the acoustics permitted, Statom obtained good results from his assembled forces, with the sonorous voices of tenor Tucker Williams and bass Neil Sherouse in particular.

            The Mozarteum Midday Concerts moved for just one date to the Coliseo instead of the Gran Rex, and greatly gained due to much better acoustics (it would be nice if future cycles could be done there). Once again the USA university orchestras amazed by their quality: the St.Olaf Orchestra of the homonymous college depends on the University of the Lutheran Evangelical Church in Minnesota and is more than centenarian (founded in 1908). Splendidly conducted by Steven Amundson for the last thirty years, it is big (92 players) and all sectors proved their worth in an attractive programme.

            After a homage to Ginastera (the powerful second movement from his Pampeana Nº3) we heard valuable and rarely heard USA music: three parts  of the Suite from the opera "The Tender Land", a prime example of his "prairie style"; and Barber´s closely argued and dramatic "Second Essay". Then, Ravel´s extra-difficult "Tzigane" was played well by Francesca Anderegg. The rousing Overture from Bernstein´s "West Side Story" was the fitting end.


For Buenos Aires Herald 

“Dido and Aeneas” by Waltz: experiment in ballet opera

            There are times when a reviewer has to deal with a controversial artistic experience upon which colleagues can have very different opinions. Such a case is undoubtedly the version presented by Sasha Waltz of Purcell´s "Dido and Aeneas" at the Colón.  The famous fault ("grieta") also applies to culture.

            Some background first. "Dido and Aeneas" was written by Henry Purcell in 1682 and is recognised as the initial English opera. Other famous scores of the greatest Baroque composer of his time and place are considered semi-operas and have been seen here, such as "The Fairy Queen" and "King Arthur", in very good historicist versions.

            Here "Dido..." was premièred in 1953 with first-rate local singers and the knowledgeable conducting of Felix Prohaska, organized by that admirable institution, Amigos de la Música.  The Colón gave a notable presentation in 1978, with the talents of Steuart Bedford (conductor), Michael Geliot (producer), Roberto Oswald (stage design) and Aníbal Lápiz (costumes) and good Argentine singers. The 2002 revival was much less stylish.  At the Colón the 50-minute "Dido..." was coupled with another short opera; I liked the choice in 1978, the première of Busoni´s "Arlecchino". And this year, after 24 years, the most adequate historicist coupling would have been John Blow´s "Venus and Adonis" (1681), although it´s a masque (a semiopera).

            Of course, "Dido..." has been profusely recorded (at least 25 times), and with such varied Didos as sopranos Flagstad, De los Ángeles, Kirkby, and mezzos Veasey, Von Otter, Baker. And almost all the Baroque specialist conductors. It certainly isn´t the only time that Dido  was an opera heroine: there are about fifty operas on her, starting from Cavalli´s in 1641. But only Purcell´s and "Les Troyens à Carthage" (second part of "Les Troyens") by Berlioz have survived. (A reminder that we urgently need the première of "Les Troyens").

            The text is by Nahum Tate and is based on Virgil´s "Aeneid", and the opera was premièred not at a theatre but at the School for young girls of Josiah Priest at Chelsea. In three short acts it tells of Aeneas´ arrival to Carthage fleeing from Troy, the love of Carthage´s Queen Dido and Aeneas,  his departure called by Jupiter to found Italy (but in Tate´s libretto it´s a farce for Jupiter is an apparition manipulated by  witches bent on mischief), and Dido´s death from grief.

              The music alternates recitatives with arias, dances and choruses, and the characters include Belinda (Dido´s sister), a Sorceress, two Witches, a Sailor, a Lady and the Apparition, plus the chorus (courtisans, witches and sailors). Time passes quickly with such beautiful sounds. The most famous piece is Dido´s lament on a ground, "When I am laid in earth".

            But Purcell´s "Dido..." got what is now called an intervention, when choreographer Sasha Waltz in 2005 decided that she would wrap around Purcell´s opera a fantasy of her own. And so the 50 minutes became 95, the extra 45 veering between more Purcell extracted from various sources, read poetry or utter silence (only dancing). The hand programme specifies "Revision by Attilio Cremonesi". ¿Does that include a change for the worse, converting the "sisters" into men? It´s a blot on the otherwise historicist version of the score.

            Waltz introduces a Prologue in which Phoebus, the Sun God, in the company of Nereids, extols the arrival of Venus (spoken scene, poorly read). Then they dive into the "sea", a rectangular water tank; for quite a while we see rather beautiful aquatic choreography, that however has nothing to do with the plot. The exhibition of naked behinds as they climb out of the tank is quite superfluous. And then the opera starts, though it will be interrupted several times by extraneous matter. 

            Waltz´s main idea is to duplicate each soloist singer with a dancer or two, so that theoretically the story is simultaneously told in two means of expression. It might have worked if the narrative had been intelligible, but it isn´t: the story is continuously veiled by groups that often make it hard to distinguish who is singing (especially in the case of Aeneas, I spotted him aurally, for Reuben Willcox has a powerful voice, but he was always lost in surrounding people).

            I found particularly galling a silly dance lesson in French and English (untranslated) and with no connection whatsoever with the plot. On the other hand, whilst there is a brief change of scene a boy or a girl executes a charming dance seen against the light. The crucial scene of the witches is badly mauled by the transformation into men and inadequate singers.

            To accentuate the positive: Christopher Moulds conducting the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin (Academy for Old Music) got excellent historicist playing with authentic phrasing and speeds. And the Vocalconsort Berlin not only is a fine chamber choir but it moves with agility whenever it is needed (probably the best part of Waltz´s producing work).

            Aurore Ugolin was a correct Dido (much more can be expressed), whilst Debora York showed her affinity with the Baroque style. As intimated, Willcox was the best of the cast for he sings expressively.

            The dancers do well what they are asked, but the choreography rarely attracted me. An ugly wall was the scenery for the Palace and for the hunting scene...And the costumes gave us men in beige underpants or women in lurid colors.


For Buenos Aires Herald 

The Orchestra della Toscana and the Coliseo´s positive transformation


            The Orchestra della Toscana is one of the good regional Italian orchestras. They have come before.  It is in fact a chamber orchestra, 51-strong on this tour, and the music they played sounds well with such forces, for it encompasses a short period of time between 1807 and 1816. True, the works chosen are all very well-known and a little more enterprise would have been welcomed, but the results made their audition worthwhile.

            In his early thirties, Daniele Rustioni has been named Principal Conductor of the orchestra. He was well trained by such artists as Gelmetti, Pappano, Noseda, C.Davis, Segerstam, Masur and Muti. He has conducted important orchestras not only in Italy but also in Switzerland, Russia and Great Britain, and has had extensive operatic activity already, at Milan´s La Scala, Covent Garden, Munich, Lyon and Berlin.  Also, he married lissome, tall violinist Francesca Dego, who has recorded no less than the Paganini Caprices for Deutsche Grammophon and at 27 is having important activity in variegated places. She came along to BA to play Paganini´s famous First Concerto.

            As to the Orchestra, it was founded in Florence back in 1980 and has had numerous and prestigious conductors and soloists in abundant trips and recordings. The combination of a flexible, dynamic orchestra with two young talents has proved fruitful, some reservations apart. Rustioni is histrionic to a fault, a style with which I have no empathy, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and as colleagues told me (I agree) when you closed your eyes what you heard was coherent, orthodox and intense; and that´s what matters.

            The start was excellent, with a pointed, humoristic and limpid version of one of Rossini´s best Overtures, that of "L´Italiana in Algeri", with fine woodwind solos. Then, Paganini´s First Concerto, by far the most often played, allowed Dego to show off a virtuoso display of precision in very difficult writing, especially her admirable control of harmonics. She is quite impressive playing pyrotechnics (Paganini revolutionized the technical requirements) but not so convincing in long melodic phrases, where the timbric quality wasn´t as warm as the music demands. The Concerto´s First Movement has beautiful tunes but also a stop-and-go quality that was too emphasized by Rustioni. Her brilliant encores were Ysaÿe´s Third Sonata-Ballade (a strong, dramatic score of transcendental hurdles written in 1923) and a Presto Paganini Caprice.

            We are accustomed to hear Beethoven´s massive Fifth Symphony with big modern orchestras, and in an ample hall the extra weight tells. But in fact if 50 musicians play with concentration and drive the music is projected to the hearer with satisfying effect, and under the firm command of Rustioni we heard just that.

            The encore was more Rossini, the most famous of all his Overtures, that of "The Barber of Seville", and it came out sparkling, with a perfect control of the famous crescendo. The  concert was on June 2,  the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Italian Republic.

            And now is the  time to refer to another celebration: the start of the final two years of the ample restoration of the Coliseo. Of course, such things as the intensely white floor of the foyer, the new design of the marquee, the ameliorated rest rooms, the refurbishing of the auditorium, the redesign of the foyer stairs, have been evident for some time. I do question that the orchestra seats are still too narrow. But many other aspects can´t be seen by the public, and an illuminating video was shown in a useful press conference.

            Thus we saw the impressive and very tall redesign of the stage box with a system of motorized and automated rods and a gridiron and bridges system weighing 65 Tons with three levels. There is also a motorized monorail with carts to mount stage designs or  lighting positions. The lighting system has a new switchboard guaranteeing  lighting levels in different planes of the stage  and with  dimmers.

            Also, the rehearsal rooms and the dressing rooms have been redesigned. In these next two years there will be  new stage floor, acoustic chamber and complementary systems. And the system of security drop curtain will be modernised.

            All this has been or will be done during the Summer period, thus allowing the Coliseo to have normal activity during the rest of the year. It has been possible thanks to funding of 44  million pesos of the City Government through the Sponsorship (Mecenazgo) Law. Architect Alfio Sambatore designed the stage box, the rehearsal rooms and the dress rooms, and Architect Giuseppe Caruso, the marquee and foyers.

            The whole project was coordinated by Elisabetta Riva, Directress of the Theatre, with the full support of the Board of Directors of the Fundación Coliseum led by Cristiano Rattazzi.

            The Coliseo is part of the Palazzo Italia and is owned by the Italian Government (only case in the world of a theatre outside Italy). Although born as a circus in 1905, afterwards it became a lyric theatre and in 1920 Enrique Susini realized the first radio transmission of an opera in history ("Parsifal"). After a period of decay, it was bought by the Italian Government in 1940; the old building was torn down and the current one was built; inaugurated in 1961, it has been an important aspect of theatrical activity in our city.


For Buenos Aires Herald 

Bellini´s different bel canto view on Romeo and Juliet

             The story about Romeo and Juliet comes from Medieval times in Italy but until it was taken up by Shakespeare it didn´t have so much repercussion, apart from Verona (where tourists are now led to a fake house of the lovers). Shakespeare´s play had immense success.  I was impacted by the wonderful films of Renato Castellani and Franco Zeffirelli and horrified by Luhrmann´s version in contemporary Miami.

            In music, there are at least four great "R and J": Tchaikovsky´s great tone poem; Prokofiev´s ballet; Gounod´s charming opera; and the 90-minute dramatic symphony by Berlioz, a marvelous score only played here in 1973. I am glad to anticipate an unofficial but very probable revival this year by the National Symphony.

             Back in 1971 the Colón offered Bellini´s "I Capuleti e i Montecchi", based on the same old Italian "novelle" that had inspired the English playwright but with many points differing strongly from Shakespeare. Of course, his play is vastly better than Felice Romani´s libretto as there are nowhere in it the poetic insights of the play that have become so famous, but some aspects are interesting.

            Shakespeare tells us of a terrible feud between Capulets and Montagus, but Romani adds an essential ingredient: the former are Ghibellines, the latter Guelfs, thus fully putting the action during the Thirteenth Century. From the Encyclopedia Britannica: "The split between the Guelfs, sympathetic to the papacy, and the Ghibellines, sympathetic to the German (Holy Roman) Emperors contributed to the chronic strife within the Italian cities". Both are derived from German sources: Guelfs from the Welf family, Ghibellines from Waiblingen, a castle of the Hohenstaufen.

            The main source of both Shakespeare and Romani seems to be Matteo Bandello´s  Late Medieval " The unfortunate death of two unhappy lovers", translated later into French and English. However, Romani was also influenced by the 1818 tragedy written by Luigi Scevola (based also on Bandello). And there is a further fact: the libretto was concocted for an earlier opera by Nicola Vaccai and adapted for Bellini.

            Now some words about the Colón´s 1971 version. There´s a vexed question: the Bellini original casts Romeo as a mezzosoprano, apparently due to a suggestion by Giuditta Grisi (who sang it at the Venice première on March 11, 1830).  There are at least four recordings of "Capuleti" and three of them respect the original; but one, with Scotto and Aragall, conducted by Claudio Abbado, transposes the mezzo writing to a tenor. And so did the Colón: Scotto with Renzo Casellato.

            Aurally the mezzo version has its charms: in my recording the combination of Beverly Sills and Janet Baker is refined and beautiful. But the Romantic tryst feels truer with soprano and tenor. Frankly, it strains credibility that a fifteen-year-old could be the Guelfs´ "condottiere"; his opponent is Giulietta´s father, Capellio. But such is Romani´s libretto; in Shakespeare things are more logical: Romeo, as so many teenagers in those days, plays around with a sword and does impish pranks with his friend Mercutio, in Romani nonexistent.

            In Bellini´s production one opera dominates: "Norma", of course; a powerful drama blended with pure bel canto. "I Puritani" has beautiful music on a poor libretto. And then come "La Sonnambula", "Il Pirata", "I Capuleti e i Montecchi", "Beatrice di Tenda" and "La Straniera". "Capuleti..." has its merits, although Romani´s libretto is mediocre (he was the most famous in those times, but this time he wrote well below his capacities). One positive fact, however: Tybalt (not Paris as in Shakespeare) is in deep love with Giulietta, and when he and Romeo, who were crossing swords, learn of her "death" (apparent), there is a moving scene where both stop fighting and reveal their despair.

            Curiously, for Bellini´s main gift was for vocal melody, the preludes to the scenes are distinguished by lovely solos (horn, clarinet, harp, cello). There are some beautiful arias and duets, but there´s too much recitative and the choruses are weak. Although the conductor Jorge Parodi states in an interview there are no cuts in his version, there is a small but crucial one, in which Capellio says that he suspects Lorenzo and will confine him: that explains why Romeo doesn´t know that Giulietta´s death is simulated and drinks the venom that kills him.  In the silly ending, she dies of love...

            To survive this opera needs the right voices and production; that didn´t happen at BAL. Rocío Giordano was disappointing, for her high register was painful to hear; a pity, for she looks the part and in some lower passages she gave expression to her lines. Cecilia Pastawski, slim  and agile, made the change of sex plausible and sang with intensity, though her voice is small for this role. Santiago Ballerini, with the ease of his splendid high notes, and ameliorated acting, was a fine Tybalt. Capellio may be detestable, but it was richly sung by bass Walter Schwarz. Sebastián Angulegui gave compassion to his Lorenzo; however, his timbre sounded gritty.

             Parodi got adequate results from the orchestra (fine solos) and Juan Casasbellas did the best he could with the uninteresting choral parts. But Marcelo Perusso´s staging (producer and stage designer) neglected the necessary Medieval ambience (and Stella Maris Müller followed his orientation with modern costumes) even if he solved well the relationships of the characters (but why those three veiled women in the final scene? Voyeurism again...).  

For Buenos Aires Herald