sábado, octubre 21, 2006

Revivals of Puccini standards

In recent years I’ve often written about the much increased market of operatic performances , paradoxically during years of crisis. The situation still prevails this year; 2007 is enigmatic due to the Colón’s closure. But there’s a downside, and that is the prevailing lack of adventurousness, the obstinate recurrence of operatic standards when there’s such a gigantic and worthwhile repertoire waiting in the wings. Recent performances of Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” and “La Boheme” are such cases. I will start with the first listed, offered at the Luna Park by Sigma 6 s.a. I don’t generally relish amplified performances, especially in Winter (Summer makes it more acceptable but even then I prefer an air-conditioned closed theatre with good natural acoustics). However, I must admit that the audio specialists have done a very fine job in the case of this “Butterfly”, especially avoiding the glassy string sound and obtaining a good balance (this time the conductor was in charge, as he should be). The contact mikes were ugly (they looked like gigantic flies on the singers’ brows) but true and without interferences; and it’s a curious thing, a really poor voice still sounds poor when amplified; luckily the voices were good to begin with. The producer was Daniel Suárez Marzal, whose audacities have sometimes bothered me (as in his Luna Park “Traviata”); most of what he did this time I liked, however. He knows and loves Japan and it shows: the aesthetics were refined, accurate and beautiful and the drama was followed with naturalness and ease. Some adjuncts could be argued about: though I liked the raking of a Zen garden, I thought too artificial the dancing at both ends of the very wide stage. What did irk me was the presence in the Third Act of impassive Western onlookers in the steps behind the stage, an unnecessary postmodern touch. He had the technical support of Juan Carlos Greco. Mini Zuccheri did the costumes. There were two casts: two performances of the first and one of the second (an attempt to put on a fourth and a fifth evening foundered). I saw the first and I was surprised by the Butterfly, Eiko Senda (debut), a Japanese living in Brazil (and married with the second-cast baritone, Federico Sanguinetti) who showed herself in possession of an ample and sweet voice admirably handled and who gave us a sincere and authentic interpretation. Gustavo López Manzitti was his usual sturdy self as Pinkerton; I prefer a more pliant and plangent voice for this role, but there’s no gainsaying his firmness, and he looks the part. Omar Carrión was an excellent Sharpless. Good jobs from Carlos Giaquinta, Alicia Cecotti, Juan Barrile, Mirko Tomas and Mónica Sardi. The Orchestra was billed Asociación de Profesores Orquesta Estable del Teatro Argentino de La Plata; the Chorus had no appellation but the list of members clearly showed it to come from La Plata too, and its conductor was their regular one at the Argentino, Miguel Martínez ; they did nicely the Humming Chorus at the end of Act 2.In this version there was no interval between Acts 2 and 3. Reinaldo Censabella did one of his best conducting jobs, with precisely judged tempi and the right amount of give and take. Frankly, for an alternative company to compete with the Colón in the same opera is hardly wise, and as Juventus Lyrica had offered “La Boheme” a few years ago I felt this year’s run of performances quite unnecessary. Also, where was the need for them of a new production, especially as it was evident there was little money? Producer Oscar Barney Finn’s incongruous idea to stage it as if in a film studio seemed to have no other rationale than spending less, e.g. reducing the Café Momus to few chairs and two tables, and brought about some disastrous decisions, such as making the most dynamic choruses an image of oratorical stasis, seriously restricting the acting area in an already small stage, stressing snow and cold in the First Act whilst everybody has fun in the open air lightly clad in the immediately occurring Second, etc. Before the music of each act, there were mimed scenes as if preparing the scenes for filming. Some nice acting touches compensated somewhat. I was sorry that talented stage designer Emilio Basaldúa’s comeback was saddled with such a wrong concept, and costume designer Mini Zuccheri has certainly done better jobs. There were alternate casts but not homogeneously. In the one I attended I thought Soledad Espona a pleasant Mimí - though nothing special- and Norberto Fernández, as he showed three years ago, finds Rodolfo quite congenial and is still the best thing he has done. Espona is very young, almost a debutante, so this was auspicious. Virginia Savastano was an over-the-top Musetta, singing with total command. Fernando Grassi (Marcello) was the best of the cast, a really sympathetic portrayal of the painter, beautifully acted and sung. Nice jobs from Fernando Santiago (Schaunard), Mario De Salvo (Colline) and Gui Gallardo (in sober and well-sung portrayals of Benoit and Alcindoro, more communicative than when he did the parts at the Colón). Hamstrung by the staging, the Chorus under Miguel Pesce sang well, however; and the Orchestra (basically from the Colón) was led in good taste and proper tempi by Carlos Calleja. 10/10/06 para el Buenos Aires Herald

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