Short operas vary wildly: they encompass extremely short gems like Hindemith´s "Hin und Zurück" but also almost long ones like Richard Strauss´ "Elektra" (100 minutes, so intense that it´s always given alone). They are often coupled, such as that verista duo "Cav-Pag" (Mascagni´s "Cavalleria rusticana, Leoncavallo´s "I Pagliacci").
I will follow the chronology and start with Antonio Salieri´s "La grotta di Trofonio", presented by the Colón Chamber Opera at the Teatro 25 de Mayo. I believe it has been done here before but I don´t have the exact data. It´s his opera Nº 22 out of 42 (!) and this comic item in two acts written in 1785 for Vienna is considered by Grove´s Dictionary "the best of its kind (in the composer´s production) and one of his finest works"; it had "an extraordinary success and was engraved by Artaria". On a libretto by Giovanni Battista Casti, it refers to a magic grotto that changes personality: the one who enters, if he is shy emerges totally extrovert, or viceversa. Two pairs of lovers are affected by it, and even the father of the girls, a sceptic, is eventually convinced. However, the condition isn´t permanent: they go again into the grotto and come out in their old selves. The magician is Trofonio; for almost the whole of the opera we have straight comedy, but the final minutes become sinister, which seems to me a mistake. Nevertheless, the music is likeable and flows with fine classic technique, though nothing is memorable.
The best singers were the experienced Walter Schwarz (Artemidoro) and Luciano Miotto (Trofonio), but the two couples did well: Victoria Gaeta (soprano) and Trinidad Goyeneche (mezzo), Agustín Gómez (tenor) and Mariano Fernández Bustinza (baritone). Twenty players were nicely coordinated by Martín Sotelo. The director Diego Cosín does, in his own words, a cocktail of situations of Old Greece, the XVIIIth century and our time; in his own terms it was well done, with adequate stage design by Gastón Joubert, costumes by Isabel Gual and lighting by Rubén Conde, plus projections by Natalio Ríos.
"La scala di seta" ("The silk ladder") is one of the funniest Rossini one-acters. It was written for Venice´s Teatro San Moisè in 1813 with libretto by Giuseppe Maria Foppa based on a French text by Planard for an opera by Pierre Gaveaux (1808). Rossini was only 21; his style was already unmistakable, with his famous "crescendo" and the ability to concoct ensembles intercrossing the characters´ bewildered feelings, plus the witty fast pieces and the cantabile ones. I had an early contact with this creation back in 1964 at the Piccola Scala with splendid artists (Bruscantini, Sciutti, Alva, conductor Bartoletti) and I rejoiced to reacquaint myself with it in the very good Colón 1973 première, brought weeks later to the Vienna Festival; the Colón also offered it in 1977, and I´m told that around 2000 there was another revival from a different source. So after forty years I had the pleasure of hearing it live again in a presentation of Buenos Aires Lírica at the Teatro del Picadero.
It´s a small amphitheatre that seats (I believe) about 230 people and has good acoustics. At least in this production, the stage was minimal, in the shape of a half-moon, and to the left, but directress Cecilia Elías managed to use every available inch with great skill. The instrumental ensemble, to the right, had only eleven players (five strings, four woodwinds, horn and harpsichord) led with style by Carlos David Jaimes. I single out the beautiful playing of the first violin part by Cristina Tartza, but all were good; the harpsichordist was unnamed: pity, for he was resourceful in the recitatives. New names were positive in a production that evoked the Nineteenth Century: stage design, Rodrigo González Garrillo; costumes, Julieta Harca; lighting, Ricardo Sicca. In this comedy a lot seemed to anticipate the vaudevilles of Feydeau, based as it on spying, a fool that wreaks havoc by misinterpreting what he sees, and people that come in and out of the same door generally at the wrong time. Although Elias was generally well oriented, she certainly overdid things by suggesting that Germano (the fool) had sex with Giulia, who is a coquette but is also married secretly with Dorvil (that´s the clinching revelation at the end).
Constanza Díaz Falú is young and sensual, with an incisive voice that reaches the heights easily but lacks warmth; she acted in an extrovert manner. Dorvil was sung by tenor Sebastián Russo, who was taxed by his difficult aria but otherwise gave a believable performance as he has to dissemble and apparently promote the arrogant Blansac as Giulia´s future husband, instigated by Giulia´s tutor Dormont. Luis Loaiza Isler (baritone) was a convincing Germano, singing with firm voice a typical buffo character. Bass-baritone Sergio Carlevaris sang smoothly as Blansac, dominating from his towering height, subtle in his innuendos. Tenor Patricio Oliveira as Dormont was the lively caricature of a hectoring tutor. And the competent mezzo Guadalupe Maiorano as the self-effacing Lucilla will finally be the one that marries Blansac, an old flame revived. One big plus: the excellent notes of Claudio Ratier and the finely selected photographs in the hand programme.
There are few operas for children that have quality, and I´m unhappy with the adaptations of operas which aren´t for children such as Mozart´s "The Magic Flute". I can mention only two: Humperdinck´s "Hänsel and Gretel" and Britten´s "The Little Sweep". Hans Werner Henze was the best German opera composer after WWII, but unfortunately not one of his long operas has been offered here, where we only knew two short ones, "El Cimarrón" and "The wonder theatre". So I welcomed the première of "Pollicino" ("Tom Thumb"), libretto by Giuseppe Di Leva translated into Spanish by César Bustamante and Helena Cánepa as "Pulgarcito" and given at the Colón on their programme "My first opera". Based on the tales by Collodi, Grimm and Perrault, premièred in Italian at Montepulciano (Tuscany) in 1980, it lasts a bit over an hour telling the story of children abandoned by their parents due to extreme poverty and later finding themselves at the house of an Ogre and his wife and escaping from it with a happy ending.
The inventive orchestration of 19 players includes no less than 8 recorders, two Krummhorns, strings, guitar, organ and piano, but there´s also the addition of several percussionists (Percussion Ensemble of the Conservatory Astor Piazzolla, led by Marina Calzado Linage). Besides the four adult roles, the rest are children: Tom Thumb and his brothers, the forest animals, the sisters of Clotilde (daughter of the Ogre that helps the boys to escape). The music for the children is fresh, melodic and singable, the adults sing in heightened recitative, and there are some interesting orchestral interludes, more audacious.
The adult singers were weak, the kids much better, especially Tom Thumb, and the playing was very good, conducted by Bustamante (also director of the Colón Children Choir). The staging was splendid, with charming and colorful stage designs by Verónica Cámara, fine costumes by Aníbal Lápiz, skillful directing by Matías Cambiasso and lighting by Rubén Conde.
For Buenos Aires Herald