martes, junio 05, 2007

From "bel canto" to "verismo"

Two recent revivals of worthwhile Italian operas brought us from the "bel canto " period to late "verismo". The Roma Theatre (Avellaneda), after a "Luisa Fernanda" (Moreno Torroba) that I decided to skip because I had seen most of the singers in the same parts at the Parque Centenario, offered Gaetano Donizetti's "La Favorita" with astonishingly good results. And the Casa de la Opera de Buenos Aires gave us Francesco Cilea's "Adriana Lecouvreur" at the Avenida with an uneven outcome.

Among the enormously fecund output that Donizetti produced between 1816 and 1844 (about 70 operas), "La Favorita" is amongst the most valid dramatic pieces. It has many good points, among them some admirable arias for Fernando and Leonora, several duets and ample concertantes. It started life as a French opera, "La Favorite", a transformation of an earlier incomplete opus, "L'ange de Nisida"; the librettists were Alphonse Royer, Gustave Vaez and Eugene Scribe and it was premiered at the Paris Opéra in December 1840; as was imperative at that theatre, it included a ballet. The story was based on a triangle formed by Alfonso XI, King of Castile (1311-1350), his lover Leonora de Guzmán (who had nine children with the King!) and the young Fernando, who falls in love with her ignoring her status as "la bella del Re".

When it was translated into Italian, the rigid Austrian censure intervened, several Italian librettists successively rewrote the lines (Calisto Bassi, Francesco Jannetti and Fausto Broussard) and some facts were ridiculously twisted around: what was logical in the French version became incoherent in the Italian (the Prior Baldassarre –of the Santiago de Compostela monastery - is also the father of the cuckolded Queen!). Still, this is the version given nowadays. With big roles for mezzo, tenor, baritone and bass and lovely melodic lines, it is still a pleasure to hear, though I wish I could get to know the original .

The Colón last offered "La Favorita" in 1995 and 1967 (with Kraus and Cossotto!). For the Roma it is a first, and I'm glad to say it's one of the best things I've seen there. The small old theatre has resonant acoustics and the voices sounded juicy and big, for the cast was well chosen and everyone was in very good shape. Carlos Duarte's voice is as expansive as his physique; he is a sanguine singer with a beautiful, Mediterranean timbre. He had a couple of uncomfortable moments, and his "Spirto gentil" was too lacrymous, but I liked most of what he did. María Luján Mirabelli has been uneven in the past, but this time all was right, her registers firm and expressive, her demeanor convincing and intense. I've never heard Enrique Gibert Mella sing with so much line and strength; his Alfonso had presence and he was up to the big climaxes. And Oreste Chlopecki sang with command and well-controlled shaping of phrases, his timbre not as black as I've heard him in earlier years. A fast vibrato diminishes the merits of Ana María Siniscalco (Inez). Correct jobs from dry-voiced tenor Pablo Gaeta (Gasparo) and the baritone Fabián Frías (Gentleman).

The Orquesta Sinfónica Municipal de Avellaneda certainly leaves much to desire, but it was led with vigor and style by the 29-year-old Sebastiano De Filippi, also known as a baritone. And although the voices of the Choir of the Instituto Municipal de Música de Avellaneda are of disparate quality, the young choristers were eager and responded well to their director, Ricardo Barrera. Producer Eduardo Casullo respected the laws of melodrama and of the historic environment evoked and was clear as well as dramatic in his indications; as stage designer a few columns were enough to give a feeling of monastery and castle, though the wrinkled white wall should have been improved. Fine costumes from Mariela Daga and Azelio Polo brought us to Medieval times. The lighting plot by Ernesto Bechara was traditional.

A shorter notice on Cilea's "Adriana Lecouvreur", for it was revived just a couple of years ago by Buenos Aires Lírica with Myriam Toker and Gustavo López Manzitti. The opera dates from 1902 and represents an attenuated "verismo" with a good deal of eighteenth-century pastiche. The story of the poisoning of actress Lecouvreur by her rival, the Princess of Bouillon, involves their lover Maurice of Saxony; there's an admixture of political intrigue and of the unrequited infatuation for Adriana by Michonnet, the manager of the theatre. The music is very well written and tasteful, with some fine melodies. Now I wish somebody remembered his other good opera, "L'Arlesiana" on Daudet, the one with the famous "Lamento di Federico".

Unfortunately there were grave vocal problems in both protagonists, Adelaida Negri and the young tenor Rodrigo Mora, quite green yet; the soprano as always has her moments but they weren't enough, and I found her spoken recitations too rhetoric. I liked Marina Biasotti as the Princess and Leonardo López Linares was outstanding as Michonnet. Eduardo Ayas as the Abbé of Chazeuil and Víctor Castells as the Prince of Bouillon were satisfactory. The others were in the picture. I didn't enjoy the choreography of Guido De Benedetti in a pseudo-Greek style. But Alejandro Atías was an attentive producer who respected the historical ambience both in the movements and in the stage designs (his own) and there were nicely designed dresses by Mariela Daga.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald

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