jueves, diciembre 13, 2007

Death and birth seen by Verdi and Berlioz

There has been quite a number of choral-symphonic concerts this year, but in the final weeks two stand out: Verdi's Requiem conducted by Stefan Lano , ending the Colón lyric season at the Coliseo; and sharing the same theatre, "L'enfance du Christ" ("The birth of Christ") by Berlioz, conducted by Carlos Vieu and produced by Patricia Pouchulu for her institution La Bella Música.

Apart from the musical results, there were many symbolic aspects in these particular performances of the Requiem. It ended a difficult season where the Colón has had to rely on alternative venues due to the building's closure under the Master Plan of renovation. But these sessions were among the last shots of the Marcelo Lombardero period as Artistic Director, and Stefan Lano said goodbye to his years as Musical Director of the Colón. In almost every performance a member of the Orquesta Estable read a communiqué where the orchestra asked for Horacio Sanguinetti (who has since taken over as Director of the Colón) to reconsider his decision to annull the Lombardero-planned season for 2008, to prolong Lano's involvement with the Estable and to provide for fair pension arrangements for the players. Apart from minuscule groups, the audience was overwhelmingly in favor of the communiqué, but no avail: the cancellation stands and Lano goes.

There were other problems; in a season plagued with replacements, there were several in the Requiem. Bass Greer Grimsley, who was supposed to make his debut and was announced months ago for next year's "Parsifal" (scrapped since then), pleaded illness and was replaced by Hernán Iturralde. With the tenor there was a true comedy of errors: Jean-Luc Viala was theoretically substituted by Dante Alcalá, but he too fell ill (or so we were told), and the first performances were taken by Argentine Enrique Folger, whom I didn't hear (but reports weren't good); for the one I heard, the debut of the Cuban Raúl Melo was secured.

Lano was determined to go with flying colors, and I have seldom seen him so involved. One could cavil at the excessive fortissimi of the Dies Irae and on the other hand the singing wasn't quite as soft as required in certain passages, but by and large this was music-making of intensity and reasonable adjustment. Lano's tempi, as is his wont, tended to slowness, but it never became bothersome. The Colón Choir under Salvatore Caputo certainly provided thrilling moments, although some singers are over the hill; and the Orchestra was generally accurate, except celli, basses and some trumpets.

The solo singers are fundamental in this work. Uruguayan soprano María José Siri had an excess of vibrato and one of her high notes broke, but she is a sincere artist with the right type of expression. I enjoyed the debut of German mezzosoprano Annette Seiltgen; her register is true throughout, the musicality is never in doubt; her timbre isn't quite as creamy as could be wished in some passages (she too was supposed to sing in "Parsifal" next year). The revelation of the night was Melo; a beautiful, firm voice handled with much skill, he has recently sung at the Met and he should have a bright career. Iturralde has recorded the work but I feel his voice isn't of the right type; not a true "basso cantante" but a character baritone, this time he phrased rather blandly, without the powerful firmness he has often given us.

"L'enfance du Christ" is late Berlioz, from 1854 . It was offered here late in the day; the premiere was conducted by Serge Baudo in 1980 for the Wagneriana, and the score was revived in 1999 under the octogenarian Jean Fournet. It was a good idea of La Bella Música to offer it, and in December, so close to Christmas. I was sorry that a silly polemic over whether or not it was a premiere (due to very ambiguous announcements from the institution) took some luster from the real merit of this endeavor.On the other hand, although the piece is certainly worth knowing, it isn't quite a masterpiece of the order of "La Damnation de Faust" or "Roméo et Juliette". The text, by Berlioz himself, is very weak, often mawkish. And the music, often very beautiful, does have ininteresting passages. Berlioz, who was so good in fantastic stuff, here lacks contrast and sometimes imagination. I write as a true Berliozian, for I asked Baudo to premiere "Roméo..." in 1973.

Although I was surprised that La Bella Música's admirable habitual conductor, Antonio Russo, wasn't summoned, I of course have great respect for Maestro Vieu, probably the best of his generation. The ad-hoc orchestra was integrated by excellent musicians mostly from the B.A. Phil and the National Symphony, and the generally professional response to Vieu's sensitive phrasing allowed the music to make its effect. The instrumental chamber interlude was accurate and charming: Claudio Barile and Stella Maris Marrello were the flutists and Lucrecia Jancsa the harpist. The Choir Lagun Onak under Miguel Angel Pesce wasn't in top form; the voices seemed muffled , lacking true dynamic range, although some parts were admirable, particularly in the last a capella chorus.

The soloists were a fine lot. I especially liked Lucas Debevec Mayer and Daniela Tabernig (Joseph and Mary), but there was very good work from Carlos Ullán and Oreste Chlopecki; only Emilio Estévez (Herod) seemed tired, though acceptable.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald

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