martes, marzo 20, 2007

A flashy "Aida" starts operatic season

Quite early in the season, an independent outfit called Fundamús has presented Verdi's "Aida" at the Avenida and has reaped a considerable success. Although I do have some reservations, I do think it was a worthwhile effort. The soul of the organisation is director Eduardo Casullo, an enthusiastic independent who has been laboring for decades under difficult conditions with uneven results but undoubted drive and love for his profession. These last few years have seen the rise and gradual consolidation of Fundamús as both an operatic school and a producing unit and in the last two years they have also collaborated with Adelaida Negri's Casa de la Opera, responsible for two productions a year.

During these last five years Casullo has presented "Aida" in widely divergent conditions. The first was at that curious venue, the Manufactura Papelera, more a performing space than a theatre. There, in a small place, he attempted what seems almost a contradiction, a chamber "Aida": it certainly gave a strange feeling to hear and see the protagonists at such close range, and some parts became quite moving, but the big set pieces were fatally flawed by the constricted surroundings. Then, at Paraná (Entre Ríos) he went to the other extreme: an immense open-air space close to the river allowed an "Aida" in the grandest scale, although with the natural musical limitations of amplification. The Avenida is, as you know, the theatre chosen by most alternative opera seasons nowadays. Even if the chosen opera does have its rather abundant intimate moments, it does require the resources of a first-rate opera house to do justice to its huge concerted scenes. Some of the faults are inherent to the Avenida, which only proves that the Colón is the single theatre fully equipped for such ample operas that we have.

First, the orchestra pit can only hold 45 and "Aida" needs more. Second, the stage is shallow and the flies are almost nonexistent ; so where do you put the offstage chorus in the Trial Scene? Onstage because you can't do otherwise. OK, so that's that. But other matters were avoidable mistakes; a partial list:

a) It surely was wrong to add distracting dances to the Act I Prelude, quiet and subtle music that sets the stage for the dialogue between the High Priest Ramfis and the top- ranking soldier Radames . It was even more bothersome, later in the same Act, to have dancers doing arcing leaps just in front of the two mentioned characters as they solemnly go through the ceremony in the temple propitiating their gods.

b) The unit set was decided upon surely for financial reasons but it just isn't convincing to see the same elements for the borders of the Nile (Act III), the Triumphal Scene (end of Act II), or the Fourth Act tomb, which simply isn't there .

c) Of course, the Ghislanzoni libretto has flaws of its own, but it is clear that we are dealing with a period of splendor around the 19th Dynasty and we are supposed to look at a coherent stage picture; it can't mix, as here, architectural and sculptural features of two completely inimical periods: that of the monotheistic adorator of the Son, Akhnaton, and what came before or after with its whole pantheon of gods.

d) And whilst some costumes were beautiful and apposite, others were incomprehensible in "Aida", such as Bedouin chilabas, or clothes for poor Amonasro that made him look like one's nightmarish mother-in-law .

And still it worked, such is the magic of "Aida" and such were the factors that came together and jelled. For in Casullo's direction the relationships between the characters were clear and strong , the groupings were harmonious avoiding excessive symmetry, many of the visual elements were pleasant, and somehow the director managed to place the crowds without excessive cramming. And the singers did their larger-than-life parts with conviction.

A particular bit of silliness I could have done without: the hand programme said verbatim: "we ask the public to participate standing when the King enters". In the performance I saw (rightly) no one did; although those seated adjoining the central corridor did partake of bread distributed by "Egyptians".

I heard the first cast. Haydée Dabusti solves some of the problems of Aida but others are too much for her: the voice is rather hard and metallic and she is a poor actress. I heard Carlos Duarte in better vocal shape at the Manufactura, but even so he is able to ring out in the big moments, he has the style in his veins and a warm, Italianate sound. María Luján Mirabelli started weakly as Amneris but later took color, being quite strong and dramatic in the Trial Scene. Ricardo Ortale sang an impressive Amonasro, Oreste Chlopecki began well as Ramfis and later declined, and Cristian De Marco as the King lacked character.

No less than four choirs joined forces with varying results; they certainly put their best effort under Gustavo Felice's helm but some voices were substandard. The Orchestra (ad-hoc) was generally correct under Roberto Luvini's good conducting. Producing team, apart from Casullo: stage designer, Atilio de Laforé; costume designers, Mariela Daga and Azelio Polo; lighting designer, Ernesto Bechara; choreography: Luciana Prato.

Somehow I enjoyed myself , probably because it was so patently a labor of love. Or due to the summer abstinence.

For Buenos Aires Herald - April 29, 2007

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