lunes, agosto 27, 2007

The Argentino's solid season

La Plata's Teatro Argentino is having a good, solid season. This is something to celebrate for three reasons: a) its status as second opera theatre of the country weighs heavily in a year in which the Colón is impaired by its dependence on other theatres; b) it had a labor conflict last year that laid waste the first half of the year; c) a further conflict, this time with the Chorus, menaced the performances of "Carmen", but it was solved in the eleventh hour.

Those who still don't know the Argentino's new theatre may well be impressed when they visit it: it may be modern-ugly as a building, but the main hall, named Alberto Ginastera, is quite big (about 2.200 capacity) : seven levels, harmonious colors, an immense stage. It does have some ergonomic and acoustical problems, but still it is an important venue, one that seems to demand first-rate programming. The Argentino is fully integrated, with valuable production facilities, and it offers three different seasons at the Ginastera: opera, ballet and symphonic concerts. And there are also valuable concerts and stage performances at the smaller Piazzolla hall. So, now that with the roadway you go from Palermo to the Argentino in exactly one hour, there are plenty of "portenos" that find it worth their time to follow the activities of this theatre. And the Platenses are going to their theatre in droves.

Earlier in the season I wrote about their satisfactory revival of Bellini's "Norma". Two other standards followed and were quite successful, as I know from colleagues, but I decided not to go because casts were identical to those of performances that I reviewed for the Herald in recent seasons: Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" featured as the protagonists those of last year's Luna Park run : Eiko Senda and Gustavo López Manzitti; and Verdi's "La Traviata" repeated the three principals of the Argentino's 2005 revival: Paula Almerares, Carlos Vittori and Luis Gaeta.

Bizet's "Carmen" has been done often in recent years so there was no need for it, but it always draws huge audiences and the theatre was packed on the Sunday I went. Reinaldo Censabella, the Argentino's Artistic Director, was quite candid when I objected the hackneyed programming in a press conference: "I want full houses"; well, he got them. One of the good things about Censabella's tenure is that he has called back conductors and producers that were Artistic Directors in other periods, which is only fair, a rather scarce quality in our official theatres.

There was one bit of bad luck: Kate Aldrich, who had been an interesting Dulcinée in Massenet's "Don Quichotte" at the Colón, was to make her Argentino debut as Carmen, but she cancelled and went on to replace Veselina Kassarova at the Salzburg Festival. So the first cast Carmen was Virginia Correa Dupuy . I have great respect for this singer but I don't count this interpretation as one of her best. In purely vocal terms, she lacked decibels and richness of timbre; as an interpretation, too many discontinuities in the phrasing and an artificial stance in her gestures diminished the final result, although of course there were many moments of good singing.

Luis Lima came out of retirement to offer a deeply involved and dramatic Don José, though with "verista" excesses, especially in the final scene. His voice sounded big, raw and harsh and I had the feeling that he might be amplified. María José Siri had too much vibrato as Micaela, but she gave intensity to a very weak role. Emilio Estévez , a tall burly Escamillo, was uncomfortable in the high register though otherwise did well. Curiously enough, the best results were in the minor parts: the two smugglers were sung and expressed convincingly by Gabriel Renaud and Sebastián Sorarrain; Carmen's friends were voiced accurately by Ana Laura Menéndez (notwithstanding a touch of stridency) and Mónica Sardi; and both Zuniga and Morales were sung with firmness by Mario de Salvo and Norberto Marcos. Rather poor French from all the cast. I didn't hear the second cast (Alicia Cecotti and Gustavo López Manzitti were the protagonists). The Chorus under Sergio Giai proved again its outstanding vocal quality and acted with true involvement, although due to the conflict they had little rehearsal. The Children's Choir under Mónica Dagorret was fresh and appealing. And Perusso conducted an orthodox and clean interpretation well abetted by the Orchestra. A bit more passion would have been welcome.

Daniel Suárez Marzal, the producer, has lived and worked in Seville for a long period; this gives him an authenticity of feeling that is a definite plus. He asked his stage designer Jorge Ferrari to give him a unit set adaptable to different places; basically a big tilted platform for dancers and choristers and a wide curved staircase that permitted the placement of other members of the chorus and gave perspective to the music; it worked well in the First Act city square and in the outer view of the bullfight arena in the Fourth Act, less so in the Second Act tavern and not at all in the Third Act mountain pass. A lot of the stage action was convincing although there were some mistakes. The choreography by Omar Saravia was "ethnic" and somewhat repetitive. Ferrari's costumes emphasized black as an omen of tragedy. In all, this was a very acceptable "Carmen".

Para el Buenos Aires Herald

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