martes, marzo 28, 2017

Brief account of Charpentier´s Baroque Orpheus


            Marc Antoine Charpentier was a great Baroque composer but his operas were obscured by Jean-Baptiste Lully´s monopoly of Louis XIV´s opera company. Decades ago Christie´s Les Arts Florissants revealed his worth in our city. Now Andrés Gerszenzon´s Selva Vocal e Instrumental offered "La descente d´Orphée aux Enfers" ("Orpheus´ descent on Hades") at the small theatre of Hasta Trilce. Two short acts, 56 minutes, 1686, it stops when Pluto allows Orpheus to reclaim Eurydice. As H.Wiley Hitschcock says, "The little opera is full of musical charm and cunning characterization".

            The playing was very good, the singing from admirable (bass Max Hochmuth, Pluto) to deplorable (Esteban Manzano, Orpheus). The staging (Alejandro Cervera), minimalist and ugly.


For Buenos Aires Herald 





The Colón´s “Adriana Lecouvreur”: Tola saves the day


            Last week readers got the Herald´s views on the Gheorghiu affair and the announcement that in her place the audience would see and hear Virginia Tola in the four subscription series performances of Francesco Cilea´s "Adriana Lecouvreur", thus starting the operatic season. Good news: it happened and things went well.

            But before I go on, noblesse oblige: I am correcting two slips on my preceding article. One: on the seventh paragraph the "mildly positive" review was published on The Guardian, not The Telegraph. And on the final paragraph, it´s the Colón 2018 programming that will be thoroughly analysed, not 2016.

            Nowadays opinions are divided about Cilea´s opera: some believe as I do that in spite of its weak libretto the music is too good to be lost (and there are plenty of operas that are saved by the composer and remain in the repertoire); others stress the mediocrity of Arturo Colautti´s adaptation of the French original play by Eugène Scribe and Ernest Legouvé and find it too absurd and kitschy; I partly concur but still I get a lot of pleasure from good performances of it.

            Indeed Adrienne Lecouvreur was the great tragedy actress of the Comédie Française during Louis XV´s reign and she was one of the lovers of Maurice, Count of Saxony, who simultaneously had a liaison with the Duchess of Bouillon, whose husband had "la Duclos" as lover. Those were heady days for eroticism in Paris, and although the unpleasant truth is that Adrienne didn´t die by inhaling poisoned flowers sent by her rival (as in the opera) but from dysentery,  Maurice was quite a Don Juan, as well as being a brilliant military leader at the service of the King but with the ambition of getting the Baltic Duchy of Kurland, for though he was the son of Frederick August the Strong, elector of Saxony and King of Poland, he couldn´t aspire to succeed his father because he was the result of a morganatic union  that barred such a destiny.

            For some reason Colautti converts the Bouillons into Prince and Princess but we are not told of where, and also refers to "lire" as currency used in France. There are three subjects in this four-act opera: the quadrangle of lovers and their intrigues; the world of the theatre with five actors counting Adriana, and stage director Michonnet (who also loves Adriana but doesn´t dare to say it); and the military/political ambitions of Maurizio.

            Francesco Cilea was born in 1866 and died in 1950. He wrote only five operas and "Adriana Lecouvreur", 1902, is the one that still is staged with some regularity. A very strange thing is happening this week: for the first time in Argentina: another of his operas will be premièred, and in parallel to "Adriana": "L´Arlesiana" (on Daudet´s drama) will be presented at Avellaneda´s Roma Theater this Sunday at 7 pm (during the last century  the Colón announced it twice but failed to present it!).

            Back to the great tragedienne. Cilea´s music is very well written, melodic and expressive, and in the lighter moments the influence of Verdi´s "Falstaff" is felt. But the arias for Adriana, Maurizio and the Princess are the strong points, as well as the duos of Maurizio and Adriana. Both Adriana and the Princess are dramatically plum roles, particularly in their public confrontation of the Third Act, and the latter´s hate is so strong that she murders Adriana with poisoned violets.

            The Colón has given this opera in 1948, 1951, 1987 and 1994, and in recent years Buenos Aires Lírica presented it at the Avenida. Artists like tenors Gigli and Armiliato, soprano Caniglia and mezzo Barbieri  showed their mettle. This year´s first cast isn´t starry but they put on a valid show. Tola may lack some volume and theatrical presence but she was always musical and professional, with beautiful pianissimo floated notes; her fine looks also helped. Tenor Leonardo Caimi made an agreeable debut; he phrases well, the voice is fresh and pleasant and he is an adequate actor.

             The revelation of the night was Bulgarian mezzo Nadia Krasteva, who has an opulent vocal organ strong both in highs ans lows and acts with intimidating command. Veteran character baritone Alessandro Corbelli is now rather arid in the top range, but compensates with a warm, empathic interpretation of Michonnet. The other powerful singer was bass-baritone Fernando Radó as the Prince, projected with real impact. Sergio Spina found the exact inflexions to convey the malice of the Prince´s sidekick, the dissolute Abbé Chazeuil (character tenor). And the four actor friends were nicely interpreted by Oriana Favaro, Florencia Machado, Fernando Grassi and Patricio Oliveira.

            The principals of the well-chosen second cast, which I didn´t see, are Sabrina Cirera, Gustavo López Manzitti, Guadalupe Barrientos and Omar Carrión.

            Mario Perusso, now in his late seventies, remains a connoisseur of Puccini and his contemporaries and was in fine form; he obtained very good sound from an alert orchestra and phrased with taste. The Choir under Miguel Martínez did well.

            Readers know that I dislike the prevailing trend of changing time and place in opera staging, so I was happy that two longstanding members of Roberto Oswald´s team were in charge. It was the first time that Aníbal Lápiz did not only the costumes but also the stage direction, and he was seconded by Oswald´s collaborator in stage design, Christian Prego. Oswald was a consumate master of lighting design, but Rubén Conde has been chief of lighting technique at the Colón since 1988. So this is a thoroughly professional team, and it showed:  we felt in Louis XV´s time and the action was as coherent as the libretto´s flaws permit.

            Although Prego´s layout was based on an impressive unit set, he avoided the limitations of the concept by clever disposition of props and colors and especially because perspectives of the changing center provided (far from the proscenium) beautiful and convincing views of the theatre in which Adriana recites or of trees´ branches moved by the wind, or in the party scene at the Prince´s Palace the adequate backup for  Lidia Segni´s traditional choreography of mythological Greek-Roman Gods in the Judgment of Pâris (who´s the most beautiful, Hera, Pallas or Aphrodite?; much in vogue during Louis XV´s reign). Three dancers from the Colón Ballet and one hired, plus a supporting hired group, gave a stylised view of the famous tale.

             Lápiz showed his expertise on early Eighteenth Century French fashion with lavish and attractive costumes. And Conde´s lighting was always apposite and helpful.

            So this "Adriana..." was both watchable and musically good. Not memorable, but certainly not a letdown. 

For Buenos Aires Herald



martes, marzo 21, 2017

Colón: Diemecke succeeds Lopérfido, Herrera replaces Guerra


 

            The Colón Theatre has always been a tough nut to crack throughout its long history. Even when it was well run (Valenti Ferro, Renán) each day was a fight against obstacles either true or perverse. To be General and Artistic Director is a full-time job that takes its toll on health and demands deep knowledge of many ample and difficult fields, firm ethical decisions, ability to control and delegate as well as to plan ahead no less than two years, preferably three.

            As a cultured member of the audience consider what it takes to put on a fine interpretation of, e.g., a Wagnerian opera such as "Lohengrin" in a new production. First the dates for five performances, four of them by subscription: even a ten-title season is an extremely complex puzzle (although Valenti Ferro managed to present eighteen!). Crucial aspects: how many rehearsals the choir needs to memorize the music and the German text (calculated by the Choir Director); how many for the orchestra to learn the music and play it with exactitude and style (the conductor´s evaluation); nowadays productions have stage, costume and lighting designers unified by the producer´s vision: how many weeks the artisans and artists of the Colón need to realize the ideas of the production team in time for the scheduled dates? Plus the costs according to budget, the contracts, the proper cast or casts…

            Multiply all this by the total number of operas, plus similar requirements for the ballet season; add the subscription concerts of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic and its availability for the ballet nights.

            Add the concerts planned by the Colón in separate series, such as the Barenboim/Argerich festival; and the twenty dates of the Mozarteum Argentino plus a couple of Nuova Harmonia, and you have the legitimate work of a great integrated theatre. Unfortunately more and more intrusions alien to classical music have been given dates, denaturing the purpose of this theatre sometimes to ridiculous extremes (weddings, rock, pop, cinema stars, tango, folklore): there are other venues for all this and only a lack of clear thinking and a desire for juicy returns explain (not justify) these aberrations.

            During the Macri years as Chief of Government something essential was sanctioned by the Legislature: a very flawed Autarchy Law invented an absurd five-Director structure: General, Executive and three other members supposed to have "recognised cultural trajectory", one of them representing the Colón workers either from the artistic or the technical sectors. No mention of the Artistic Director (!?). Well, lawyers and accountants were named as members in flagrant violation, and the election of the representative of the Colón was delayed for years until Director General García Caffi could be sure that he had the votes for someone who wouldn´t be an independent voice.  During the GC tenure happened two things: a) after six very confused and controversial years the Colón reopened in 2010: it had gone through a massive restoration; unfortunately it was incomplete (and still is: the Institute of Art went to a separate building, and many workshops  work at La Nube, an insufficient Belgrano building); b) obeying Macri´s gravest mistake, four hundred people were  summarily either transferred or left in a limbo without any rational previous evaluation: the 1300 people were reduced to 900 (they couldn´t be fired under the stability law); now we are back at the previous number if you sum the tercerized employees.

            Come January 2015 and out of the blue GC resigned, invoking private reasons. In this surreal Colón he had been both General and Artistic Direct. Implicitly recognising that an Artistic Director is essential, Rodríguez Larreta chose Darío Lopérfido  as General and Artistic Director;he was a very negative Secretary of Culture during the De la Rúa stints as our city´s Chief of Government and then as President. To add to Surrealistic behaviour, later  Lopérfido was named Culture Minister retaining the Colón but only as Artistic Director. María Victoria Alcaraz, for some years a low profile Director of the Centro Cultural San Martín, was named the Colón´s General Director. So she was Lopérfido´s superior at the Colón but reported to him as Minister! More Surrealism of bad quality.  But Lopérfido resigned as Culture Minister for spurious reasons and came back to the Colón.

            And now he was offered by the Nation "an irresistible job" at Berlin (no details!) and resigned. Three candidates were evaluated and Enrique Arturo Diemecke was chosen as replacement, though changing the description of the job: not Artistic Director but Director of Programming and Artistic Production. Diemecke, of course, has been the Principal Conductor of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic for twelve years, and he will keep this position during 2017; in 2018 he will leave the post, previously choosing two conductors who will share the Principal Conducting.

            Lopérfido was a caretaker Artistic Director in 2015, for he respected García Caffi´s programming (only changing conductor and producer for "Parsifal"). 2016 was  programmed fully by Lopérfido, and already last November he announced 2017 in every detail, published in a booklet. The press release states that the season will take place as programmed, but Diemecke says that there might be changes in the second semester! And although Lopérfido had advanced a lot with programming 2018, if there aren´t contracts everything can change. He says that he will continue to lead Ópera Latinoamérica and hold "an international representation of the Colón", Alcaraz doubts that this will be so.

            Our colleague La Nación had interviews with Diemecke, Paloma Herrera (who takes over as Directress of the Ballet due to Maximiliano Guerra´s resignation) and Alcaraz. The latter makes two interesting statements: with reference to Lopérfido: "it wasn´t an easy relationship because we didn´t share ethical criteria concerning management and other subjects". And about the Colón use for shows outside its vocation: "Diemecke and I will decide to whom we will rent the theatre. I have my differences about how it was used recently".

            It´s worth mentioning what is known about the Lopérfido 2018 opera season. The term used in the information, "comprometido", is rather "firm offer accepted by the artist", it isn´t the same as "under contract". "Tristan and Isolde" conducted by Barenboim; "Simone Boccanegra" with Domingo; Berg´s Lulu" (conductor Brönnimann); "Aida"; "The Tales of Hoffmann" (both conducted by Ranzani and the latter produced by Zanetti); Martinu´s "Julietta", premiere (conductor Kuerti) and Janácek´s "Jenufa".  As the operas will be ten, three are missing from this list (one could be an Argentine opera by Matalón, as rumor has it). Says Diemecke: he likes the proposals but doubts if the budget for it will be available.

            In a recent article I mentioned that Guerra´s job was in danger due to great discontent with his tenure. Paloma Herrera, now 41, seems a good choice. She, like Bocca, is a product of both the Colón Art Institute and the American Ballet Theatre. As she expresses in the interviews, she will apply the same principles of discipline and perseverance of her own career to better the level of our Ballet. She wants more performances either at the Colón or elsewhere. She accepts the programming left by Guerra but wants to add to it.

            Both she and Diemecke believe in being present as much as they can, but this year they have previous engagements to honour, they will need efficient Subdirectors. And both as well as Alcaraz will have to tackle organisational reforms completely "forgotten" by García Caffi and Lopérfido: pensions, regulations, rehearsal times, and a big etc.

For Buenos Aires Herald