domingo, diciembre 17, 2006

A final concert roundup

It's roundup time as 2006 draws to an end. I will attempt in this article to cover the things that somehow slipped through my fingers in earlier weeks. It's a personal selection by choice but also by necessity due to the intense concert activity of our city.

Solo singers: One seemed to me outstanding. Raúl Giménez sang at the Colón a splendid recital of mainly Argentine songs, beautifully accompanied by Andrés Máspero. Style, taste, fine vocal fettle and perfect diction gave lustre to some of our best songs, by Ginastera, López Buchardo, Guastavino and others. Soprano Graciela Oddone dealt with very difficult Handel ("Giulio Cesare") and Vivaldi ("Juditha Triumphans" and "La Griselda") with a good deal of bravura but also of gestural exaggeration. She was accompanied at Pilar Golf by the Camerata Bariloche in pretty good form, and they played on their own Vivaldi, Mendelssohn (the early Violin Concerto in D minor, with Fernando Hasaj) and Piazzolla-Hasaj ("Adiós Nonino"). I'm afraid it was a mistake on the part of nonagenarian pianist Antonio De Raco to tackle Schubert's "Winterreise" ; there was of course a lifetime of piano experience behind it, but he was overloud and inaccurate in many places; Víctor Torres, not quite recovered from a cold, wasn't at his best. This was at AMIJAI. It was a pleasant surprise to hear Uruguayan singers Laura Baranzano and Isabel Barrios accompanied by the organist Cristina García Banegas in a valuable and rarely heard repertoire of French Baroque composers: F. Couperin, Du Mont and Campra The venue was the Parish of Jesus at the Olive Orchard , precisely in Olivos! Countertenor Jeffrey Gall trained young Argentine artists who offered agreeable performances in different degrees of accomplishment of Handel arias; this was an initiative of the Colón Institute of Art at the Buenos Aires Stock Exchange. A charming initiative at the Biblioteca Café was called "Poetry in Music": lovely Lieder by Mendelssohn were beautifully sung by Cecilia Layseca and Lidice Robinson and nicely accompanied by Gustavo Zylberstejn and Nélida Sánchez.

Choirs. There was an unexpected premiere recently: Jakub Jan Ryba's "Czech Christmas Mass": fresh, simple and pleasant Classicist music. The Coro Cantoría Lugano (Eduardo Vallejo), the Ensamble del Plata (Susana Frangi) and four well-known soloists (soprano Soledad de la Rosa, mezzosoprano Alejandra Malvino, tenor Carlos Natale and bass Lucas Debevec Mayer) gave a fine account of it at the Church Saint Nicolas of Bari. The Bach Academy presented at the Central Methodist Church the Cappella Seicento (vocal and instrumental) conducted by Federico Ciancio in two valuable pieces by great composers: the Missa brevis K. 194 by Mozart and the "short" Mass BWV 235 by J.S.Bach; they were done with professionalism and taste.

Instrumentalists. French violinist Virginie Robilliard made an admirable debut at the Sofitel in their series of Soirées Musicales. Although due to an intoxication affecting pianist José Luis Juri the programme had to be changed, she gave a splendid account of herself, a true virtuoso with that rare quality of panache. The Bach Chaconne and two Paganini Caprices (this was the only composer that gave her some trouble) for solo violin preceded works transcribed for violin and piano from their originals with orchestra: Chausson's "Poem", Saint-Saens' Introduction and Rondo capriccioso and Ravel's "Tzigane". The Romantic encore was Elgar's "Salut d'amour". Several Midday Concerts at the Gran Rex allowed me to hear the debuts of valuable foreign artists. Ukrainian pianist Julia Bochovskaia showed great accomplishment in an intelligent programme where the main work was Brahms' Variations on a theme by Handel , precisely the composer whose Suite HWV 434 was heard at the start, chosen because its "Aria con variazioni" is the theme that inspired Brahms. In the middle, Beethoven's brilliant Sonata No.3. She ended with an encore, a knuckle-breaker of a piece: Schulz-Evler's paraphrase on Joh.Strauss II's "Blue Danube Waltz". The recital by Junko Ueno Garrett was of specialized interest: it was a panorama of Japanese composers, all tonal: K. Yamada, F. Hayasaka, Y. Nakada, H.Hayashi, T.Takemitsu (the best-known), and K.Hirai. The artist plays very well and she certainly gave its due to her compatriots' music. A French duo gave us a varied programme: Clara Cernat (violin) and Thérese Dussaut (piano) showed very professional qualities and fine ensemble in Mozart (Sonata K.379), the added Sarasate "Gypsy airs" (with a small false start at the beginning of the fast music), the premiere of a "Fugue-tango" by Thierry Huillet (the violinist's husband) and Schumann's First Sonata. With almost no publicity and a sparse audience, pianist Stefano Greco was presented by Allegretto at the Coliseo and he proved a very concentrated and intellectual artist of fine technical means. He played Handel (Suite No.2), Brahms (4 Ballads op.10) and Chopin (Sonata No.2). A warm welcome to a stunning duo of sister violinists: the Malkin Duo (Anat and Bracha), very well accompanied by María del Carmen Calleja, did a great programme at the Museo de Bellas Artes: Handel (op.2 No.9), Moszkowski (the agreeable Suite op.71), Prokofiev (Sonata for two violins), Shostakovich (three duets, really arrangements by Fortunatov on film scores) and Sarasate (Navarra), with the Handel/Halvorsen "Passacaglia" in which Bracha switched to viola. They have wonderful ease and give and take. Flutist Andrea Griminelli and guitarist Emanuele Segre gave a pleasant and rather light recital at the Coliseo for Nuova Harmonia. Though superficial in Bach, I liked them in Giuliani, Paganini and Villalobos.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald - January 07, 2007

Operas and symphonic concerts, a survey

It's wrapping-up time, a final survey of opera and symphonic concerts. Starting with opera, two offerings of the Teatro Argentino, La Plata. Donizetti's "Don Pasquale" is historically one of the last "opere buffe"; it's also practically a chamber opera, and rather easy to stage agreeably and with moderate expense. But it's very much a period piece and the trend to modernize it doesn't work; it didn't now, in a farcical transposition to the 1920s incorporating extravagant car trips and the sort of humor that would go well in a Feydeau "vaudeville" but not in a typical 1840s plot. This futile effort was made by producer Alberto Félix Alberto, who was followed in his ideas by stage and light designer Raúl Bongiorno and costume designer Sergio Massa; incidental good points couldn't save the basically wrong concept.

On the musical side things were better though far from outstanding. Veteran conductor Bruno D'Astoli has done more convincing work in other occasions; apart from misadjustments, there was a lack of brio and charm in the orchestra. The Chorus (Miguel Martínez) did nicely its scene commenting on the house in disarray . There were two casts, I comment on the first. The experienced Ricardo Ortale did an understated but correct Don Pasquale and Sebastián Sorarrain was agreeable as Malatesta. I expected more from Carlos Natale (Ernesto), who has a beautiful lyrical voice; he used it this time rather perfunctorily. Eleonora Sancho as Norina was way over-the-top; Norina need not be so cruel for it leads the libretto to dramatic exaggeration. Her singing was a bit too acid as well, though competent.

One for Ripley's "Believe it or not" : Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro" had never been done at La Plata! Well, this was finally corrected in this commemorative year, and I'm glad to say things went quite well. Oscar Barney Finn, with whose concepts I've often disagreed, this time was on form: he respected the historical time of the action, gave it a moderately Spanish tinge, handled admirably the comedy and was imaginative but never interfered with the perfect mechanism of Beaumarchais' "folle journée" as adapted by Da Ponte. Just one thing: he could have used some more space in the First Scene. With the sensitive support of two talented artists of long trajectory (María Julia Bertotto, stage designer; Eduardo Lerchundi, costumes) and the ability of lighting designer Roberto Traferri, the comedy went with a swing and impeccable taste.

Jorge Mariano Carciofolo has an affinity with Mozart, and his conducting was orthodox and sane, though not as quicksilver as it should be at various points. The Choir has little to do, but did it well under Miguel Martínez. I'm reporting on the first cast. I would single out Eliana Bayón as an impeccable Susanna, with a register that fully meets the demands, a fine line and the kind of lithe demeanor this spirited girl needs. Carlos Esquivel sings Figaro very competently but lacks the mercurial quality Figaro should have. I liked Gustavo Gibert's sinuous Count, which reflects his long European experience, and he was in good voice. The gangling, tall adolescent Cherubino of Adriana Mastrángelo, sung with vernal freshness and hormonal impulse , is a well-known quantity. I wouldn't call María José Siri's voice ideal for the Countess; with her rather wide vibrato and intensity, she is rather a Puccinian Mimí; but she did sing well, with fine discipline, and her brunette presence made a change from the usual Viennese blonde tradition for the role.

All parts are important in Mozart, although the others carry less weight. They were perfectly chosen and gave much pleasure: Luciano Miotto was a model Don Bartolo, Vanesa Mautner did a Marcellina full of character, Gabriel Renaud's Basilio was properly insinuating, Juan Barrile was the rough gardener Antonio to the life, Osvaldo Peroni was a buffo caricature as the stammering Don Curzio, and Susana Moreno a fresh Barbarina.

And now, short notice on some remaining orchestral concerts. In one of the sessions of the B.A. Phil conducted by Arturo Diemecke, there was the debut of Russian pianist Alexander Markovich; a bear of a man, he certainly can technically handle the difficulties of Tchaikovsky's First Concerto, but he lacks taste and a sense of phrasing. What was important came from the conductor in Richard Strauss' huge and rarely done "An Alpine Symphony", a fascinating piece beautifully done. Lior Shambadal came back in the same season for a concert that was correct enough in Britten's Passacaglia from "Peter Grimes" and Schumann's Symphony No.2, but unfortunately cellist Ricardo Sciammarella had a bad day playing Haydn's Concerto Hob. Viib/2, well below his usual level. The preceding concerts were at the Colón. After its closure the Phil went to the Coliseo where it offered three concerts in compensation for strike-cancelled sessions of 2005. One of them was conducted by the Italian Francesco Colombo, who showed good qualities even if the orchestra didn't seem quite sure of itself in Bartok's tough Concerto for orchestra. Angel Frette was his usual brilliant self in an attractive premiere, the Concerto for marimba and strings by South African Peter Klatzow. The opening piece should have been Copland's "Music for the theatre"; it was unaccountably changed by Fauré's "Pelléas et Mélisande".

Finally, the Colón Orchestra under Stefan Lano offered commendably Bruckner's enormous Eighth Symphony, a tough challenge well met.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald - January 08, 2007

lunes, diciembre 11, 2006

The dilemma of contemporary music

During November the Complejo Teatral de Buenos Aires presented the tenth season of Contemporary Music, a cycle led by Martín Bauer since its inception; this year the venue was the Teatro Presidente Alvear except a concert that took place at the Margarita Xirgú. I attended a total of six out of eleven events, quite enough to draw some conclusions.

What follows is a very personal reaction about the music of our time (composers active after World War II). The appreciation or valuation of it varies wildly even among specialists and it may well be that some readers won't agree in the least.

The beginning decades of the Twentieth century were enormously rich in musical quality as well as innovative. They were the result of the dialectical end of the tonal era. A straight line of increasing harmonic complexity that had lasted a thousand years came to a final crisis; Schoenberg and his Vienna School made the big jump into atonality, and then their leader ideated the twelve-tone system as an intellectual alternative to tonality. Stravinsky, Prokofiev , Milhaud took another way: intense dissonance and superposition of tonalities. Others were Neo-Romantic. And in the Thirties there was a Neoclassic tendency. There was a solitary harbinger of things to come: Edgar Varese in the Twenties wrote pieces where pure sound dominated.

The principal aesthetic lines of those early decades persisted after WWII although weakened. But several other appeared ; some fell down pretty fast ("concrete music", processed noise), others are still with us. To wit:

a) The Polish School led by Penderecki in his youth was based on the textural possibilities of sound, eliminating or diminishing drastically the age-old parameters of melody, harmony and rhythm; "spectral music" is a more recent derivation.

b) Electroacoustic music was certainly new in having all possible cycles of sound available and eliminating the interpreter; technological sophistication has produced several generations of sound production.

c) Integral serialism derives from twelve-tone music, but in it all parameters are serialized (Boulez) .

d) As a nihilistic equivalent to Duchamp's urinal, John Cage negates all tradition and even "composes" a piece made only of silence as a climactic "concept" piece.

e) Minimalism is based on redundancy and very basic melodic and harmonic elements; the American line is led by Philip Glass but there's also the European "mystic" line of Paert or Gorecki.

f) More a feature of various styles than a style in itself, "aleatoric music" was the rage in the Sixties and Seventies: the player can choose between several possibilities offered by the composer.

g) Some have led ways of their own, such as Messiaen or Feldman, both with transcendental aims but diverse techniques.

h) Crossover has proliferated, imitating within the classical field the constant fusions of disparate music that we see in the popular field.

i) Postmodernism has reinterpreted materials of the past in terms of current sensibility.

The question is: do all these styles point to the future dialectically? And are there masterpieces worthy of being put aside those of Bartok, Ravel, Stravinsky? My personal answer is "no", and I come frustrated out of a Festival of contemporary music.

Musik Fabrik is an excellent German ensemble that played works by W.Rihm, H.Zender, R.Saunders, M.Kagel, I. Xenakis and C.Cardew; I partially enjoyed the Xenakis and Zender pieces for their greater coherence and sense of timbre. I must say I deliberately skipped sessions dedicated to Steve Reich, Salvatore Sciarrino and Morton Feldman ; they don't appeal to me, and I had enough of Sciarrino after his incredibly boring "Infinito Nero", done by the CETC at the Xirgú early in the year.

The piano duo Helena Bugallo/ Amy Williams is certainly brilliant and dedicated; the programme was changed due to the quality of the pianos and I thus had the pleasure of hearing a true masterpiece, Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" (1913). I did enjoy the complex Studies by Conlon Nancarrow and Ligeti's "Three pieces". The Diotima Quartet (French) played mostly well difficult and arid pieces by E.Nunes and J.Dillon. H.Lachenmann's "Grido" was more interesting. As examples of avantgarde of their times they did Stravinsky's wonderful "Three pieces" (1914) and Beethoven's futurist "Great Fugue" (1826), where the players came to grief.

An homage to Gerardo Gandini on his 70th birthday showed him again as a refined composer passing an acutely melancholy phase; five of his works alternated with some favorites of him: Gershwin, Schoenberg, Berg and Tauriello. Decent playing from a local group, the Ensamble Sueden. I admired the neatness of the Ensamble Lontano (Great Britain, debut) led by the picturesque Odaline de la Martinez; they have a splendid clarinettist. They offered a valuable panorama of British music: two great names (Tippett, his admirable suite from "The Ice Break"; and H. Birtwistle), and several new ones:Diana Burrell, the Argentine Silvina Milstein (who lives there), Joe Cutler, Martin Butler and Eleanor D'Alberga ; a good deal held my interest. Finally, the competent Ensemble Sillages (debut, French) did "spectral music" by T.Murail, J.L.Hervé and G.Grisey, sporadically attractive; also the splendid trumpeter Antoine Curé did a very creative piece by Yan Maresz ("Metallics") combined with electronic sounds.

I couldn't attend two concerts with some promise; in the first Musik Fabrik under Alejo Pérez premiered Wolfgang Rihm's "Vigilia"; and in the second (the last of the series) Martín Matalón led the Ensemble Sillages in his scores for Bunuel pictures.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald -December 13, 2006

The endless variety of choral music

One of the valuable facts of our musical life is the abundance of choirs; few are professional, most are amateur inasmuch as they don't get paid but often have professional quality.The year has been intense and I have written about some of the highlights. Herewith a summing-up survey of the remaining season.

The Handel oratorios are fundamental in the history of the genre, although many of them are little-known here. Two recent revivals will be mentioned. I believe that "Israel in Egypt" is the composer's best after "Messiah", as well as being the most choral. It hadn't been done in recent years, so I welcome the enterprise of Guillermo Dorá, founder of the Coral del Siglo XXI, who asked Pedro I.Calderón to lead the work with the Handel Orchestra of Old Instruments. Dorá further had the musicological conscience of giving us the second version, in which "Exodus" and "Moses' Song" are preceded by "The Lamentations of the Israelites for the death of Joseph", adapted from the "Funeral Anthem of the death of Queen Caroline" (wife of George II). I appreciated the "Lamentations" and I marveled again at the ingeniousness and variety of Parts II and III; there was a grand total of 41 choruses! (counting in Part I). An enormous challenge for the chorus, very well met. I was astonished by the ease and professionalism of Calderón in a field that is new for him, despite his enormous experience, and the Orchestra responded quite well. Add to it very responsible soloists and you have an artistic success of proportions: Marcela Sotelano and Laura Delogu (sopranos), Pablo Travaglino (countertenor), Ricardo González Dorrego (tenor), and especially Sergio Carlevaris (baritone) and Alejandro Meerapfel (bass). The work was absolutely complete (first time here) and the venue was the Auditorio de Belgrano.

On the other hand, "Belshazzar", as offered by the Handel Society at the Church of the Holy Cross, was heavily condensed. More uneven than "Israel...", it's still a grand piece with substantial drama. It was offered semistaged, with biblical period costumes , which provoked some controversy, but Handel often offered his narrative oratorios in staged versions. A small historicist orchestra (16 players) was in fact too thin for the support of the 75-people Chorus of the Society. The founder of the Handel Society, Sergio Siminovich, was more controlled than in other instances; he loves the style but at times he exaggerates phrasings. Tenor Mario Martínez was a too emphatic Belshazzar, and his mother Nitocris was sung by Silvana Guatelli rather smoothly but with little character. Good work from countertenors Travaglino and Adriano D'Alchimio and bass Francisco Bastitta. Recitatives were replaced by a sober narration by Jorge Dulitzky.

La Bella Música wanted to do its own homage to Mozart and did so at the Coliseo with yet another interpretation of the Requiem (certainly the most over-programmed score of the season), though preceded by the very pleasant and rarely heard "Regina Coeli" K. 127. Conductor Antonio M. Russo was a guarantee of style and technical control. Although the Coro Lagun Onak is undergoing internal changes and there were reinforcements, it did good work under Miguel Angel Pesce. The ad-hoc Orchestra was competent. Silvina Sadoly sang nicely in the "Regina Coeli". The vocal quartet in the Requiem was made up of prominent local singers, though the ladies weren't quite in their best form: Soledad de la Rosa (soprano), Mariana Carnovali (contralto), Carlos Ullán (tenor) and Lucas Debevec Mayer (bass).

More innovative (and to my mind the only interesting thing done by the National Symphony in the whole deplorable year, underfinanced and undermanaged as they were) was Mozart's "La Betulia Liberata", on the Judith and Holophernes story, K.118 (but really K.74c), written at 15 on Italian stylistic models but an astonishingly strong and personal work, one of the best of the early adolescence of that incredible genius, and as far as I know done for only the second time here. Russo was again a tower of strength, and he decided to avoid an interval, complicated at the chosen venue, the Cathedral. The National Symhony played well and the Coro Nacional de Jóvenes under Néstor Zadoff proved again that it's one of the best. Some cuts in "secco" recitatives were good policy. The singers that Russo prefers were again on his team: de la Rosa, Ullán, Debevec Mayer, González Dorrego; Alejandra Malvino was competent as Judith, and a young countertenor, Pehuén Díaz Bruno, still has some maturing to do.

A severe and beautiful concert was offered by organist Mario Videla and the Estudio Coral de Buenos Aires (Carlos López Puccio) at the Convento de Santo Domingo. We heard the complete Mozart organ music (the futurist Fantasy K.608, the melancholy Andante K.616, and the Adagio and Allegro in F minor K.594). Interspersed we heard three pleasant motets by Salieri. A Bach Chorale, the Mozart "Ave verum" , and more Bach for the finish: Prelude and fugue K.543 for organ and the stupendous motet "Singet dem Herrn", in a swift version , and the only one offered in front of the public (the rest were played or sung at the organ loft). The organ playing was stylistic though not quite note-perfect, and the Estudio Coral was its usual admirable self (they offered recently , after the concert I comment, a concert of 20th century music in celebration of their 25th anniversary).

Para el Buenos Aires Herald - December 15, 2006

Welcome visitors, a summation

For some reason this year we had many visiting trios (piano-strings). The Guarneri of Prague came back and offered two concerts: one for Festivales and the other for AMIJAI's subscription series; that's the one I heard. They played two wonderful and basic works: Beethoven's Trio No.6, "Archduke", and Dvorák's "sui generis" Trio No.4, "Dumky". There was strong unity in the interpretative concept, but it was again apparent that the dominant figure is pianist Ivan Klansky, magisterial in his firmness and articulation. Violinist Cenik Pavlik is quite uneven, with good passages along ungrateful ones. Marek Jerie (cello) is very clean but has a small sound and a retiring deportment.

I could only hear the Vienna Piano Trio in Shostakovich's Trio No.2, but they seemed very professional and smooth; too much so maybe, for this score needs some ferocity as well. They played at the Gran Rex for the Midday Concerts. Stefan Mendl, piano; Wolfgang Redik, violin; Matthias Gredler, cello. The intimate venue of the Museo Fernández Blanco allowed me to hear in warm acoustics a Trio with no collective name, it is known by the surnames of its members: Karvay (Dalibor, violin, Slovak); Karanovic (Milan, cello, Serbia); and Stroissnig (Stefan, piano, Austria). All quite young and talented. I could only hear the First Part: Mozart's Trio K.548 and Schubert's Trio No.1. They impressed me very favorably and were quite homogeneous in approach and technique.

The catalan LOM Piano Trio is called thus due to the initials of its members: L(igorio), Daniel, piano; O(rpella), Joan, violin; M(or), Jose, cello. It made a fine debut at the ornate Salón Dorado de la Casa de la Cultura playing a very interesting programme: Beethoven's Trio No.5, "of the Spirits"; Turina's "Círculo", three atmospheric pieces; Shostakovich's one-movement Trio No.1; and Granados' considerable Trio op.50, a good example of admirable Spanish chamber music. The players are again young and talented and it was a pleasure to hear them.

On the initiative of our contralto Susanna Moncayo, Francesco Fanna came from the Istituto Vivaldi di Venezia to offer the American premiere at the St. Francis Basilica of Vivaldi's "Dixit Dominus" RV 807, edited by Michael Talbot. This version of Psalm No.109 is one of three Vivaldi composed in D major and was found in Dresden, once attributed to Galuppi. As Fanna says, this "Dixit" , written about 1832, is rich in counterpoint but also is influenced by the Neapolitan florid style, though it ends with a splendid fugued Finale. The whole Vivaldi programme was interesting; it also included "Laetatus sum" RV 607; "Salve Regina" RV 617 (fine work from Graciela Oddone, soprano, and Manfred Kraemer, violin); Concerto op.3 No.10 (quite well known); and the Stabat Mater for contralto, sung unevenly but with some good points by Moncayo. Splendid playing from La Barroca del Suquía led by Kraemer, good singing from the Grupo de Canto Coral prepared by Néstor Andrenacci, and very knowledgeable and firm conducting by Fanna.

Several choirs came over from the USA. Space and the relative quality of the programming precludes more than a passing reference to several of these. The Main Street Singers ( Mark Shaull) of Los Altos,Ca., offered a potpourri at the Law College Main Hall; I will single out the premiere of the melodic Requiem by John Rutter (England, 1945). It was offered jointly with the Choral Seminar of the Gilardi Conservatorium at La Plata (Oscar Escalada). The Butler University Chorale (Indianapolis) under Henry Leck and Eric Stark offered a very mixed bag at the First Evangelical Methodist Church and collaborated with our Coral Femenino de San Justo (Roberto Saccente). No less than four children's choirs (from Washington, D.C.; Miami; Minnetonka; and Winnipeg, Canada) plus our Coro de Ninos Cantores de Córdoba, intervened at the Colón in "Melodía!", South American Festival of Music for Children. There was music by Mozart, Copland, Hatfield and Escalada (the premiere of his very conservative "Elogio a la ninez"), and the conductors were Doreen Rao and Escalada. All this was of good quality, but I will single out the Dallas Symphony Chorus, a big concern led by David Davidson, with "La Filarmónica" in support. The venue was the Coliseo and they tackled a fundamental score: Brahms' "A German Requiem". With good soloists (Christina Major, soprano; Weston Hurt, baritone), Davidson offered an orthodox and noble rendition of the mighty piece, that showed to advantage the qualities of this true symphonic choir.

The Chamber Symphony of Budapest (Weiner-Szasz Orchestra), really a string ensemble, gave a pleasant debut concert at the Templo Libertad.They played B.Marcello, Mendelssohn (Symphony No.10 for strings) and Mozart: Concerto No.23 for piano (with added local players) and the "Little Nocturnal Serenade". Sebastián Forster, the Argentine pianist, played beautifully. The ensemble showed fine intonation and good grounding. The concert was presented by the Kinor Foundation in its "Solidarity" series.

The two final concerts of the Fundación Chopiniana at the Avenida gave us the debut of Polish pianist Adam Wodnicki and of the Duo Nicolosi-Bresciani (Franz Liszt Piano Duo). The former gave a good account of himself in Bach-Busoni and Chopin, but it was the Second Part that was worthwhile: three rarely heard pieces by Paderewski and ths splendid Prokofiev Sonata No. 6 had renditions of true quality. The Duo tackled the arrangements by Liszt of both his Sonata and his Symphony called "Dante": difficult and rhetorical music brilliantly realised by the pianists.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald - December 14, 2006

miércoles, diciembre 06, 2006

"Turandot", a difficult Colón triumph

Late last year, there was a strike at the Colón; when it was fixed, the Artistic Direction saved the premiere of Strauss' "Capriccio" but had to postpone "Turandot". When Marcelo Lombardero, the Artistic Director, programmed 2006, he decided to offer the last Puccini opera after the main season at the Colón and as a compensation for the 2005 subscribers. Alas, on the second fortnight of November the Colón was already closed down because of the necessities of the Master Plan (or so we are told) and the revival had to be offered at the Luna Park. When this was announced the immense majority of oldtimers was disappointed, for it meant that the music would have to be amplified due to the horrible acoustics of that roofed stadium. But the fact remains that it's the only place big enough for a large-scale opera outside the Colón. Under the circumstances, the amazing fact is that, warts and all, "Turandot" has been a huge success.

Before I go on, two paragraphs on the work. As its epic dimensions make it unsuited to smaller venues, only the Colón has offered it in recent decades; the last time was in 1994, so the revival was certainly in order. On the one hand, critical consensus has long placed this posthumous score as Puccini's most advanced in harmonic and coloristic terms, and as the limit of the great tradition of Italian opera. There's also the vexed question of its completion by Franco Alfano, an opera composer in his own right. Before throat cancer finished his life, Puccini got as far as Liú's death. Alfano, based on confused sketches left by Puccini, wrote the final two scenes, but in two versions; Ricordi and Toscanini preferred the short one, and that's the one that prevailed, but sometimes the longer one has been done; it was premiered in Argentina by conductor Mario Perusso in 1991 at the Argentino of La Plata. Last year, then Artistic Director Tito Capobianco announced that "Turandot" would be done in two versions: with the habitual Alfano ending and with the new one concocted by Luciano Berio; but the strike and Capobianco's resignation- put an end to that worthwhile idea. So we heard at the Luna Park the "normal" Alfano ending.

The libretto by Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni , although based on the fable ("fiaba") by Carlo Gozzi (Goldoni's great rival), innovates by adding the typically Puccinian character of Liú, the slave that commits suicide for love. Gozzi based his work on old tales of a cruel Chinese Princess and added the "commedia dell'arte" masks to the brew. But it's hard to establish empathy with the protagonists: Turandot is a repressed and sadistic serial killer, and Calaf is valiant but insensate to a fault: his folly leads to Liú's death. However, Puccini's magic again works and we are conquered.

If there was no way to avoid the Luna Park, it must be admitted that Roberto Oswald made the most of a tough assignment. After a four-decade career and several "Turandots", all different, the septuagenarian producer, stage and lighting designer proves again that he has no rival in big opera shows. He cunningly took advantage of the special Luna Park architecture, with its abundant steps in the background and the great width offered by the stage : at both sides three enormous statues of soldiers modelled on the famous Xian ceramics army , at the center a big round was both the gong of fate and the place for Turandot's appearance; asymmetrical stairs permitted fluid stage movement. The mythical Chinese ambience was abetted by Oswald's longtime collaborator, costume designer Aníbal Lápiz, with one of his most brilliant jobs.

On the musical side there were three liabilities: a) the amplification. Although it was rather good in the solo voices, there were considerable blemishes in the way the sound of the orchestra and the chorus was reproduced: overloud percussion, weak chorus, marked difference from the spectator's point of view according to his seat. b) The Children's Choir was replaced by female voices due to an absurd conflict that will have to be resolved: some parents want their kids to touch a fee, when the spirit has always been that of a scholarship. c) Some leading roles were undercast.

Turandot - Teatro Colón en el Luna Park 2006 - Acto 1 - Foto Micciche

Two factors were outstanding: the conducting of Carlos Vieu and the splendid singers of Liú, Eliana Bayón and especially Paula Almerares. Vieu, in his belated debut in a Colón production, showed himself one of the best opera conductors we have: clear of mind and strong of arm, his views were communicative and convincing, with an attentive orchestra complying with his wishes. Both Bayón and Almerares were sensitive and sounded beautiful.

The Chorus was well prepared by Salvatore Caputo. Both Turandots were below standard: Cynthia Makris vibrato-ridden and Nina Warren very uneven, faults of intonation being followed by radiant top notes. Darío Volonté was involved and intense, even if some passages weren't quite solved; but Warren Mok (debut) was harsh and often crude. Fine Timurs from Ariel Cazes and Carlos Esquivel. The masks (Ping-Pang-Pong) acted and sang well: Omar Carrión/ Norberto Marcos, Enrique Folger/ Gabriel Centeno and Carlos Ullán/ Carlos Natale. Old Altoum was sung expressively in an appropriately worn voice by Oscar Grassi. And the Mandarin was sung firmly by Walter Schwarz/ Emilio Estévez.

Thirty-two thousand people attended this "Turandot". Quite a number.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald, 07/12/06

lunes, diciembre 04, 2006

Opera standards pleasantly done

These last weeks of the operatic season have been marked by lack of imagination and adventurousness, but the standards presented have been done with generally agreeable casts though uneven productions. Mozart and Gounod have reigned , both with two operas. Buenos Aires Lírica decided to put on "Faust" (Gounod) , Juventus Lyrica came back to "The Magic Flute" (Mozart) and the Argentino of La Plata offered "Roméo et Juliette" (Gounod), "Don Pasquale" (Donizetti) and "The Marriage of Figaro" (Mozart). Space allows me leave to comment on only the first three on this occasion.

"Faust" was for decades (the late 19th. century) among the most frequently performed operas worldwide; its vogue is less now, for it has dated somewhat, but the charm of its melodies overpowers its weak points. It certainly responds well to full-blown productions such as the memorable Colón one of 1971 and this BAL offering was much more modest, but acceptable. Producer Claudio Gallardou was correct and conventional in his marking of groupings; his small innovation was to accompany Mephisto with two or three acolytes. The ballet was cut; I missed the music, but I must admit I've never seen a convincing choreography of the confused and kitschy action specified by the librettists. More seriously, the important Prison Aria was also cut, depriving Marguerite of a genuine dramatic climax. The simple sets by Gastón Joubert were too neuter and the costumes by María Clara Beitía uneven. Rather good projections complemented the stage designs.

I was impressed by the compact bass-baritone color of Homero Pérez-Miranda as Mephisto; he sings and moves well. Daniela Tabernig sang a rather indifferent Jewels Aria but later found the right dramatic accents for Marguerite and had some refined vocal details. Gonzalo Tomckowiack (debut,Chilean) is too much the typical tenor; a poor actor, his singing lacks involvement though the timbre is pleasant and he places well some high notes. I was disappointed by the Valentin of Emilio Estévez, he was uncomfortable and forced in his aria, although he improved later. Nice jobs from Vanesa Mautner (Siebel), Esteban Hildebrand (Wagner) and Cristina Wasylyk (Marthe). The Chorus under Juan Casasbellas sang well but couldn't manage the simultaneous dance and got unstuck with the orchestra, led with good tempi and adequate style by Guillermo Brizzio.

Of course it's the Mozart year; it was the right occasion to have from Juventus such things as "La finta giardiniera" or "Lucio Silla" and not yet another "Magic Flute", although it was a new production. Horacio Pigozzi, the producer, opted for a combination of a few rather ugly and uncomfortable stage props with handsome but meaningless projections. This is a Masonic opera with invocations to Isis and Osiris; what's the sense of projecting pictures of Istanbul's Saint Sophia or of the Hofburg Library in Vienna? The movements of the actors were more convincing, though again the transformation of a sinister Moor (Monostatos) into a handsome white athlete is unacceptable. Of course no producer can change the innumerable contradictions of the libretto, and more and more I try to be schizoid: enjoy the wonderful music whilst hating most of the text. The quality of the costumes by Mini Zuccheri was very mixed.

The musical side stressed youth, and several principals have had very short careers. There were two or three interpreters for each main part. I write about the first night. Nazareth Aufe was tense and charmless as Tamino, but Vanesa Aguado Benítez was a find as Pamina: big-voiced, resolute and with a nice line. The Uruguayan Flavia Berardi made her debut as the Queen of the Night; she has the stratospheric notes but not always the intonation. The best of the cast was Mariano Fernández Bustinza, a Papageno in the proper tradition who sang and acted with bonhomie. Lucas Debevec Mayer has sung Sarastro before; he is now more pompous but his tone is noble , though not deep enough in the low stretches. If you accept Pigozzi's wrong view, Mirko Tomas did a good Monostatos, articulating clearly his difficult arietta. There was an impressive new voice, Fernando Radó as the Orator. The Three Ladies were fine: Soledad Espona, Lara Mauro and Alicia Alduncín. Laura Penchi was charming and accurate as Papagena. Three agreeable Geniuses (Laura Delogu, Cecilia Pastawski and Margarita Pollini), good Priests (Norberto Lara and Radó) and Men in Armor (Gustavo De Gennaro and Juan Pablo Labourdette). Nice work from the Chorus (Miguel Pesce). The Orchestra was led firmly and stylishly by Maestro Antonio Russo.

Only two years ago the Argentino had presented Gounod's melodic and sweet "Roméo et Juliette", so the revival was unnecessary. There were some new touches in the traditional production by Marga Niec, with fine décors by Daniel Feijóo in the proper Renaissance style and splendid costumes from the Colón production of some years back.

Firm and sensitive conducting from Javier Logioia Orbe and yet another excellent job by the Chorus (Miguel Martínez). There were two casts, I write on the first. Paula Almerares, as in 2004, was a lovely Juliet both in appearance and in her singing; her talent is more and more affirmed. However, Carlos Vittori as Romeo looked too mature and sounded too tense. Fine jobs from Sebastián Sorarrain (Mercutio), Carlos Natale (Tybalt), Leonardo Estévez (Capulet), Vanesa Mautner (Stephano), Carlos Esquivel (Friar Lawrence) and Alberto Jáuregui Lorda (Duke of Verona). An agreeable evening.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald, 06/12/06