martes, diciembre 04, 2007

An "Aida" on fire and three Puccinis

Verdi and Puccini are undoubtedly the bestsellers of the Italian operatic repertoire and have been so for many decades. In recent weeks Verdi's "Aida" has been seen in the open air and Puccini ended the seasons of Buenos Aires Lírica and Juventus Lyrica at the Avenida. This has been a year with very little intellectual stimulation in the choice of operas from practically all institutions: mostly we were given the same meals.

Verdi's "Aida" is a favorite of open-air opera companies and it has been a staple at the Verona Arena and the Roman Caracalla Baths. In the case of "Aida", the opera lover certainly remembers the debacle of ten years ago at the Polo Field, where everything failed, from ticket placement to essential technical aspects.

The presentation I'm commenting upon passed muster, but there's some significance in the fact that there was only one performance (15 in Brazil!). The organizers knew about the Polo affair and evaluated that the audiences would have a healthy distrust this time. The chosen place was the San Isidro Hippodrome, certainly enormous, and it was limited to one sector of it. It was by no means full but there were several thousand people. In one sense the occasion was ominous: it took me 50 minutes circulating in the Av. Márquez at a crawling pace to reach the parking place, and the opera started quite late.

The project is international and this "Monumental 'Aida' on fire" (thus billed) has been presented dozens of time in Europe and America. Credits: General Producer, Franz Abraham; staging director: Joseph Rochlitz; stage and costume designs and projections: Pier'Alli; choreography, Simone Chiesa; lights, Andreas Kisters; the wrongly called Lemberg Philharmonic (it should be Lvov, Ukraine), the Lumka Academic Choir (Ukraine) and the Ballet Group from the Usti nad Labem Theatre (Czech Republic). The hand programme was distributed at the end (quite a snafu!); it has good photographs but the written material is simple shameful and the cast was wrong (no announcement).

Singers: the two women were interesting and made their debuts. The Mexican soprano Eugenia Garza has the right type of voice for Aida and manages it with considerable skill, and Assia Davidov made an imperious and tragic Amneris with very adequate vocal means . All male singers were new here. Ernesto Grisales started poorly as Radames but gradually found his feet and ended up a decent exponent of the role. The lower voices were Ukrainian and I only liked the Ramfis, Oleg Korotkov. As the King, Ilia Popov was undervoiced, and as Amonasro, baritone Nikolai Nekrasov was rough to a fault. A correct Messenger (Nikolai Visnakov) and a poor Priestess (Ramona Eremia).

Haupt, the conductor, proved an efficient maestro who knew the score inside out, and he obtained orthodox and satisfying results from the Orchestra; the Chorus was more uneven. And the production? Well, the bursts of fire were arbitrary, unnecessary and noisy, a major mistake; but the projections were quite interesting, at times surreal and intense. A very symmetrical stage design and mediocre actoral work, Egyptian symbols from the Pyramids to Akhnaton and Ramses II in merry mixture, costumes of some quality but not always apposite (Amonasro's). The amplified sound was passable as such things go and was inevitably affected by the rather strong winds. There were clear titles with the libretto. Final impression: much too expensive for what it offers ($ 600 the best seats) but with some good points.

Puccini's "Trittico" assembles three wildly disparate one-act operas: "Il Tabarro", maybe his most "verista" style; "Suor Angelica", a lachrymose tale with just one good scene (the confrontation with the Princess), and that masterpiece of "buffo" writing, "Gianni Schicchi". All much done here. Buenos Aires Lírica decided to give us a diptych, eliminating "Suor Angelica"; I didn't mind. "Il Tabarro" had a very convincing stage design by Daniela Taiana, cunning lights by Horacio Efron and adequate costumes for the simple people of the plot; producer Rita Cosentino got right most of the action but botched the stunning ending Puccini wanted, when Michele opens his "tabarro" (ample coat ) and Giorgetta's lover Luigi sinks dead to the ground.

Most singers were correct, no more: Ricardo Ortale, José Azócar, Mariela Schemper, Elisabeth Canis and Walter Schwarz; Carlos D'Onofrio is a young tenor to watch. Carlos Vieu conducted with his accustomed intelligence and taste the Panizza orchestration (quite good, adapted to smaller pits).

"Gianni Schicchi" was mixed. The production team was identical. I disliked the staging for this is a medieval story and it was transported to a kitschy 1920s, making nonsense of a lot of the libretto, and the comedy was too gross. The costumes were tasteless. But there was a great singing actor in the title role, Luis Gaeta, and the revelation of an expansive and radiant tenor, Arnaldo Quiroga. Ana Laura Menéndez was agreeable as Lauretta though she lacked creaminess. Of the others the best were Marta Cullerés, Schwarz and D'Onofrio. Fine conducting from Vieu in the Panizza orchestration.

The completely unnecessary "Madama Butterfly" of Juventus boasted fine conducting from Antonio Russo but it had a poor Pinkerton (Norberto Fernández) and an unconvincing production (Horacio Pigozzi, Juan José Cambre, Mini Zuccheri). Mónica Ferracani was meritorious as Cio-Cio-San , Fernando Grassi opaque as Sharpless, Guadalupe Barrientos good (Suzuki), Hernán Sánchez Arteaga excellent (Goro) and Fernando Radó a sonorous Bonze.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald

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