martes, junio 24, 2008

Offenbach and Haydn renovate the season

No lyric season is complete unless there’s a certain amount of renovation alongside the standards, which abound this year. That welcome leavening has been provided recently by Buenos Aires Lírica and Ars Hungarica. The former took on a major challenge: the first Offenbach operetta in French and with orchestra after 84 years! And Ars Hungarica provided a first rank novelty: the South American premiere of Haydn’s opera “L’incontro improvviso”.
The almost total silence in our scene of operetta is troublesome, for this is a charming genre and it contains masterpieces. But the fact is that in the last four decades I can only mention in the original language Lehár’s “Die Lustige Witwe” (“The Merry Widow”) sumptuously done by the Colón with Von Stade and Allen in the San Francisco production by Mansouri and a very minor production by Pigozzi for Juventus Lyrica of Johann Strauss II’s “Die Fledermaus” (“The Bat”). No Gilbert and Sullivan since the heady amateur ventures led by Alannah Delias in the Fifties and Sixties (except, I believe, a student performance at the Belgrano Day School of, if memory doesn’t fail me, “The Pirates of Penzance”).
Now specifically to Offenbach’s operettas. There was since 1950 only a “La Vie Parisienne” in Spanish by the Colón in the Seventies, and a miniproduction with piano of “Orphée aux enfers”. As the splendid Toulouse-Plasson recordings and others have demonstrated, with good casts and a quality orchestra these pieces take on a special lustre. Offenbach’s immense popularity at the time of the Second Empire (Napoleon III) would of course end with the disastrous 1870 Franco-Prussian War; satire no longer had any place after that catastrophe. But before it Offenbach, with his talented librettists Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, made as much heady political fun as Gilbert did with Sullivan about the Victorian era.
How did Buenos Aires Lírica fare? An A for enterprise, of course. But otherwise? The piece is an animated spoof of Helen and her tryst with Paris, with Menelas very much a cuckold and Agamemnon angry enough to chase the lovers at the end (and eventually initiate the Trojan War). Two problems: a) there’s a lot of spoken bits; b) the controversial decision was to do them in Spanish, and to boot with contemporary Argentine references. I know that our local singers have notorious difficulties with French pronunciation, but I vote for drastic cutting of the spoken scenes to the strict minimum that allows narrative coherence, and then coach the artists intensively or try to find enough of them conversant in French. True, some references to local politics in the 1860s would go for nothing, but I prefer that to the incongruities of the text prepared by Juan Casasbellas and Peter MacFarlane.
As to MacFarlane’s production, he is famous for his musical comedy stagings and I wasn’t surprised that his bent spilled over to this production, which certainly had rhythm , brilliancy and humor, but sometimes quite un-Gallic and too Broadway as seen by Corrientes. There were quite effective stage designs by Nicolás Rosito and costumes by Daniela Taiana were often suggestive and funny along with some more Fellinian than Offenbachian.

The musical side was quite good. Dante Ranieri had the style well in hand and got pleasant results from the orchestra, and Casasbellas knew how to extract involved singing from his young and flexible choir, quite amenable to acting MacFarlane’s lively indications. Mariana Rewerski is beautiful, sings well and lives in Europe; she has good French. So a lot of her Helen was right, except for her exaggerated acting, which I put at MacFarlane’s door, and the lack of enough character to her voice. Carlos Ullán’s Paris is personable enough for the part of Helen’s vainglorious lover, and he sang with agreeable timbre, but there was (as often with this singer) a diffident side to his interpretation. Osvaldo Peroni has the right small roly-poly physique for Menelas and was clad in barrel-like ridiculous clothes; his every appearance was funny . Leonardo Estévez was a strong if metallic Agamemnon and Vanessa Mautner sang well a travestied Orestes right out of Fellini’s “E la nave va”, surrounded by two courtesans (Gabriela Ceaglio and Andrea Nazarre). I liked Walter Schwarz’s Calchas, Jupiter’s Great Augur, firmly sung and acted with true humor. Pablo Pollitzer was a weak Achilles and Carlos D’Onofrio and Gustavo Zahnstecher were correct as the two Ajaxes. Rocío Arbizu was absurdly characterized as a Paraguayan maid . Good music-hall dancing by an animated group in a choreography by Carina Vargas. Mariano Caligaris was funny as Philocome, Calchas’ servant (an actor’s part). The venue was the Avenida, as usual.

A brief chronicle of Haydn’s opera, a charming and beautiful rescue opera, a “dramma giocoso” in purely Classical style dated 1775 and written for Prince Esterhazy’s court opera. As I was directly involved, I can’t review it, I can only chronicle the event. It was staged at the Museo de Arte Decorativo by the sisters Perre, with a historicist orchestra led by Sylvia Leidemann. This was the double cast: Soledad de la Rosa/Laura Penchi, Carlos Natale/Ricardo González Dorrego, Norberto Marcos/Sergio Carlevaris, Ricardo D’Onofrio/Maico Hsiao, Marcela Sotelano/Cecilia Layseca, Elisa Calvo/Silvina Martino, Mariano Fernández Bustinza and Enzo Romano. This is so far the only premiere of the season. It merited more attention than what it got from my colleagues, mostly absent.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald

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