domingo, octubre 28, 2007

Masterpieces of German opera: "Fidelio" and "Elektra"

Tough nuts to crack, two German operatic masterpieces were presented in recent weeks; a private company, Casa de la Opera, tackled at the Avenida the tall order of Beethoven's sole opera, "Fidelio"; and the Colón at the Coliseo offered Richard Strauss' "Elektra", his most uncompromising work.

The troubled road of "Fidelio" is well known; there was a first version called "Leonora" premiered in 1805 with little success, and then renamed and heavily revised with its definitive appellation, "Fidelio", in 1814. Add to this that he wrote no less than four Overtures , the three "Leonores" and "Fidelio", and you have a panorama of stress and effort. Based on a French libretto by Bouilly inspired by a real life situation, the librettos by Sonnleithner (1805) and Treitschke (1814) keep to the original .The plot has two ideas that were bound to appeal the composer: fidelity and freedom, with undertones of human rights. The subject certainly has relevance nowadays. The composer writes in the Singspiel tradition (sung sections alternate with spoken ones) music of enormous emotional power.

Unfortunately the results of Casa de la Opera's revival weren't good enough. The Orchestra under Giorgio Paganini sounded very insecure, with particularly bad work from the horns, and the conductor doesn't seem comfortable in this repertoire. He followed Mahler's tradition of interpolating the "Leonore No.3" between the First and the Second Tableau of the Second Act. On the other hand, the combined choirs were intense and generally accurate. Martín Palmeri led the "Coro Estable de la Facultad de Derecho de la U.B.A." and the "Coro de la Municipalidad de Vicente López". Although they aren't operatic choirs, they sounded convincing, and it helped that the best of Eduardo Casullo's production was the way he moved the choirs going from the anguish of the First Act to the jubilant and cantata-like Choir of the final tableau.

But the main singers weren't up to par. The worst offender by far was the septuagenarian tenor Ricardo Cassinelli, who substituted vocal line with uncouth shouting and acted hysterically. (It certainly didn't help that the spoken dialogues were in melodramatic Spanish instead of German). It was ill-advised for Adelaida Negri to choose this opera; neither the vocal side nor the dramatic were right in her Leonore. And Alejandro Schijman certainly doesn't have the means to sing Pizarro. The others were better; I rather liked the Rocco of Víctor Castells and that dignified veteran, Gui Gallardo, sang with poise as Don Fernando. Marzelline, the jailer's daughter, was unevenly sung by Andrea Maragno, but she had some good moments. Jaquino, who is in love with her, was correctly sing by Eduardo Ayas.

Producer Casullo opted for an almost bare stage and relied on projections (prepared by Edgardo Beck) of Goya and Piranesi, sometimes apposite to the action but not always. He was wrong in peopling Florestan's jail with other prisoners; Pizarro surely has isolated him. The costumes by Mariela Daga seemed based on the Franco period and were mostly acceptable, aside from Florestan's absurd jacket; he should be in rags.

"Elektra" is Sophocles' tragedy through a Freudian filter in Von Hoffmannsthal admirable (and terrifying) libretto. The 1909 one-act opera by Richard Strauss is probably his most important and surely the most advanced in its musical materials, with tense and dissonant language that meets the moral enormities of the action with music of granitic strength and character.

Elektra may be the most taxing German role; Luana DeVol (debut) , American, has had a long career in German theatres and she has the essentials for this character, the prototype of manic desire for vengeance: a strong voice of wide range and complete command of each musical detail; she lacks the final impact, vocal and theatrical, of a great Elektra, but she is thoroughly professional. The other Elektra, Susan Marie Pierson (debut), also American, is much younger and thinner; her problem: some top notes aren't there; several climactic phrases peaked in ugly squeals, though a lot of what she did was right.

Klytaemnestra's confrontation with Elektra is a unique tragical scene ; the moral and physical decay of the mother needs a great interpreter; the voice can be aged and harsh but it must have heft to hold her own. Graciela Alperyn and Elisabeth Canis were dramatically powerful but there were moments where they were underpowered. Chrysothemis needs an ample and luminous lyric soprano; Eiko Senda was closer to the mark than Virginia Correa Dupuy, very musical but relatively small-voiced. Orest, the executioner of his mother and of Aegisth, was sung firmly by Hernán Iturralde; however, he wasn't expressive enough and looked too elderly. Aegisth is a short part but must be well done; Fernando Chalabe was pretty good, Carlos Bengolea less so .

All the other parts are quite short and I have no space to list them, they were generally well taken. Stefan Lano conducted with symphonic thrust and adequate speeds but the Colón Orchestra was sorely tried by the virtuoso requirements; he tended to cover the singers but the orchestration is indeed very heavy . The Coliseo pit was fully used to hold the big orchestra.

The production by Mario Pontiggia told the story reasonably well, but I disliked Daniela Taiana's costumes, especially Elektra's pants; her stage design was interesting with its two levels (imaginative lighting by Horacio Efron), though it didn't look Mycenaean.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald

Foto: Facundo Basavilbaso

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