martes, noviembre 28, 2006

Good end for the Big Three

The Big Three have once again given us quality events in their closing concerts. I will review initially the Mozarteum Argentino, who brought us to end their year at the Colón an important chamber orchestra for the first time in Argentina: Les Musiciens du Louvre – Grenoble , led by their founder, Marc Minkowski. As implied by their name, this organism (born in 1982) was during the early years Parisian, but since 1996 they have moved to Grenoble due to attractive sponsorship from the city and the region. Although their chief repertoire is the Baroque (I met them in 1994 in Paris with Handel’s “Theodora”) they brought to BA a Mozart programme in celebration of the bicentenary of his birth , a fitting close to the season of an institution bearing the composer’s name.
The concept was historicist and influenced by Harnoncourt: no vibrato, strong dynamic contrasts, fast tempi, dramatic accents. Hardly restful Mozart, but convincing in its own terms. It needs strong control from the conductor, and Minkowski showed himself a musician of strength and sinew, attacks and releases done with instantaneous response. Mozart’s two greatest symphonies, Nos. 40 and 41, were preceded by the final ballet from “Idomeneo”, music of substance and character. The 51-member Orchestra proved itself truly virtuoso in all departments. I hugely enjoyed the similarly strong encores by Joseph Haydn: the 2nd movement of Symphony No.101 (the one that gives the work its name, “The Clock”) and the funny Finale to No. 97, both done with powerful statements and the offbeat humor of Haydn’s late music.
The Orchestra della Toscana has been here before. It is in fact a chamber orchestra, only 47-strong, at least for this tour. Their playing is honest and committed, in a good technical level. The venue was the Coliseo and the conductor, the temperamental Gabriele Ferro. He is currently more an opera than a concert conductor, and he holds the important post of Musical Director at the Naples San Carlo Opera House. Sanguine, intense and rather exaggerated, he is a well-grounded musician. It was curious to see him combined with the very clean and rather cold pianist Roberto Cominati in the Ravel Concerto, very decently done by all concerned but with some conciliation between cool and hot. I didn’t care much for a world premiere, Giorgio Battistelli’s “Apres Josquin”, yet another postmodernist lucubration on an old-time composer. In the Second Part we were in safe ground with Prokofiev’s short and lovely “Classic” Symphony, a bit slow for me, and the suite from De Falla’s “El Amor brujo” minus the vocal parts in a pleasant traversal, lacking some Andalusian mystery. To my mind the best thing was the encore, an exhilarating view of Rossini’s Overture to “L’Italiana in Algeri”. A good “finale” to the meritorious Nuova Harmonia season.
In this last part of the year the most active institution has been Festivales Musicales. Just a few days before the Colón’s closure they feted their 30th anniversary with a fine concert conducted by Festivales’ Artistic Director, Mario Videla. With the admirable collaboration of the Camerata Bariloche and of the Orfeón de Buenos Aires (Néstor Andrenacci and Pablo Piccinni) we were given a Baroque combination of three greats: Johann Sebastian Bach’s Suite No. 3, Vivaldi’s Gloria RV 589 and Handel’s “Foundling Hospital Anthem”. The first two are of course acknowledged and famous masterpieces; the third is a find, grade-A Handel : seven pieces for vocal soloists, chorus and orchestra, where the last is the reemployed “Hallelujah” from “Messiah”. Lovely solos and splendid choruses in this 1742 score, a most welcome culmination to Festivales’ 2006 season. And a good moment to take stock and thank them heartily for so many wonderful experiences throughout these three decades.
Videla’s views on the works were sound and orthodox, generally satifying. Of his Baroque erudition, naturally, there has been no doubt for decades. Of the soloists I found Graciela Oddone in pretty good form, Susanna Moncayo rather uneven, and Carlos Ullán correct. There was a non-subscription event from Festivales which proved to be quite interesting. I have known and liked Salieri’s “Les Danaides” for years, as I have the splendid Gelmetti/Stuttgart CDs of the complete opera. It was certainly a brilliant idea to offer this work here, for BA knows nothing at all about Salieri’s operatic contributions. It’s worth mentioning that La Scala was reinaugurated some months ago with the very work of its original inauguration in the late 18th century: Salieri’s “L’Europa riconosciuta”; and this composer among his many operas has a “Falstaff”. The terrible Greek story of the 50 daughters of Danaus compelled by their father to kill their husbands certainly makes for a strong Classic tragedy, and it comes as no surprise that at the time the score was supposed to be written by Gluck.
It was a pity that there were heavy cuts in the version led by Marcelo Birman with the Compañía de las Luces (some fine things were gone) but as presented the work was gripping and showed that Salieri could be intense, as well as a fine artisan. With strong singing from Sergio Carlevaris and stylish contributions by Ana Moraitis and Pablo Pollitzer, the 25-piece historicist orchestra played quite well and the chorus sang with total commitment. Birman gets better each year and so do his ensembles. The appropriate venue was the Museo de Arte Decorativo. Para el Buenos Aires Herald, 01/12/06

domingo, noviembre 26, 2006

“Boris Godunov”, a grand goodbye

As you know, the Colón is now closed and will theoretically stay thus until May 2008 , when it will be reopened with Verdi’s “Aida”, commemorating the hundredth anniversary of the theatre with the opera performed at its inauguration. Those eighteen months will see the restoration of the main hall and the stage (among other areas) according to the highly controversial Master Plan. Seven crucial bids for specific items still haven’t been announced, which makes it highly doubtful that the chronology will be respected. Specific action has been implemented at the City Legislature, which has sent a questionnaire to the Executive and has formed a Committee for the monitoring of the Master Plan. Time will tell its own story.
But that uncertain future before us was preceded by a triumphant goodbye to the Colón, a series of performances of Mussorgsky’s “Boris Godunov” that meant a powerful contribution to our operatic life . Marcelo Lombardero, the current Artistic Director, has given us, in South-American premiere, the original full version of Mussorgsky ; not the first, 1869 version which our city saw back in 1998 when we had the unforgettable visit of the full Maryinsky Theatre from Saint Petersburg, but the 1874 revision that added two fundamental things to the original seven scenes: the so-called Polish Act and the closing Revolutionary Scene. I’m not recommending that the Rimsky-Korsakov revision that made the work famous all over the world should be scrapped: I think it’s admirable and that the best solution will be from now on to alternate in successive revivals between the 1874 Mussorgsky and the Rimsky.
What are the main differences between pure Mussorgsky (M) and Mussorgsky/Rimsky? (M/R) Well, M is certainly starker and barer, with disquieting harmonies (which informed opinion no longer considers “errors”), a deeper sense of essential Russianness, pronounced verbal Expressionism, an undernourished and gray orchestration. Precisely this last element is the great distinction of M/R, for Rimsky was the undeniable master of color and wrote a treaty on the subject; when you hear his treatment of the Coronation Scene, all the splendor of the Czars is there; with M the feeling is ominous, you hear the downfall rather than the assumption. So the total effect of M is certainly less accessible but profound in the way a Tarkovsky film is.
The Colón undertook the task with the seriousness of a first-class opera house. The musical side was of a high level, without being outstanding. The staging, alas, fell into the trendy and silly trap of changing the historical context: Mario Pontiggia, after doing the Prologue and First Act in its proper 1600s ambience, absurdly decided to transport Boris and everybody else to the middle 1800s, ditto in the Polish Act. And then he reversed and the final act went back to the 1600s! However, in other aspects Pontiggia did well: he moved the big choral scenes with good timing, the psychological relationships weren’t distorted, and the drama was communicated. One thing was horrid and shouldn’t have been allowed: the ceremonial Polonaise was done by just three dancers in modern tights to a choreography by Carlos Trunsky that went completely awry in style.

Boris Godunov - Teatro Colón 2006 - Anatoly Kotcherga 3 - Foto de Arnaldo Colombaroli

The aesthetics of Diego Siliano’s stage designs were agreeable though hardly Russian; a silhouette of a cathedral was as far as he went. But (more to cut costs than for artistic reasons) we saw a unit set of a variegated wall used in different combinations and parts to represent such disparate things as a tavern, a monk’s cell, a Polish palace, etc. Of course costume designer Daniela Taiana had to comply to Pontiggia’s excentric translation of the action to the 1800s; her costumes were mostly adequate though some didn’t look rich enough. Good lighting by Rubén Conde.

The conducting by Stefan Lano was clear, with rather slow and morose tempi, certainly logical but lacking expansion and emotional communication; the Orchestra played quite well. Excellent work from the Colón Chorus (Salvatore Caputo) and the Children’s Chorus (Valdo Sciammarella).

There was a solid double cast: Anatoly Kotcherga (debut) did Boris with a fine bass voice used with authority and a massive presence; and Mijail Kit gave us a leaner, older Boris , done with fine professionalism. Except from some tense high notes, both Kit and Feódor Kuznetsov sang admirably as the monk Pimen. I was agreeably surprised by the aplomb and intensity of Enrique Folger as the false Dimitri who will usurp the throne; Fernando Chalabe was correct, no more. We had fine Marinas (the Polish Princess): Cecilia Díaz and Virginia Correa Dupuy. Luis Gaeta was splendidly truculent as the mendicant monk Varlaam; Hernán Iturralde sang well but was less of a character. Ariel Cazes was more convincing as the devious Jesuit Rangoni than the exaggerated Lucas Debevec Mayer. Carlos Bengolea and Gabriel Renaud dealt well with the slimy ambiguity of their Boyar Shuisky. Good jobs from (among others) Ana Laura Menéndez and María José Dulín, Elisabeth Canis and Alicia Cecotti, Omar Carrión and Leonardo Estévez, Renaud and Eduardo Ayas (as Misail), Graciela Alperyn and Marcela Pichot. Osvaldo Peroni and Gabriel Centeno sang well as the Innocent but didn’t catch his peculiar anguish.

As the Innocent sang his final lament, I thought of the pain of the Russian people though the centuries and I wished them well for the future.

23/11/06 para el Buenos Aires Herald

Boris Godunov - Teatro Colón 2006 - Prólogo 2 b - Foto Miguel Micciche