martes, diciembre 02, 2008

The everlasting magic of Mozartian opera

One of the main trends of the last thirty years has been the steady increase of Mozartian opera. In particular the Da Ponte trilogy and "The Magic Flute" have become quite as popular as "La Boheme" or "La Traviata". I believe this has to do with many factors: the eternal appeal of the composer´s music; his uncanny psychological penetration; the excellence of Da Ponte´s libretti who make for excellent theatre; the high degree of professionalism and training of contemporary singers; the historicist tendencies; the relative lower cost of stagings as compared to full-scale operas.

It doesn´t mean, however, that the world of Mozartian opera is free from the current plague of preposterous productions. The most recent batch, however, has avoided the worst pitfalls, especially the transposition in time to the present or the gross lapses into obscenity.

Buenos Aires Lírica (BAL) has given us "Don Giovanni" and Juventus Lyrica (JL) "The Marriage of Figaro" ("Le nozze di Figaro"), both at the Avenida. There were good points in both, though I incline to the latter for the best all-round effort.

In BAL there was one crucial casting mistake, the Giovanni, and some misguided markings from the Italian producer, Rita De Letteriis, but most of the evening was reasonably satisfying though it never delivered the special Mozartian magic alluded to in the title of this review. De Letteriis had a resonant debut in this city with her quite good Monteverdi "L´incoronazione di Poppea"). Mozart seems to agree less with her. There were an astonishing number of "non sequiturs" where she simply seemed not to have read the libretto and the singing actors seemed too often at sea in their relationships. There was nowhere as much fun as the libretto contains, and in the dramatic side there were ludicrous moments such as the totally unconvincing fall into Hell of Giovanni. On the other hand she kept to the Mozartian period.

In any production the stage and costumes designers follow the producer´s lead and if he/she is wrong, so quite often are they. I found the reticulated backdrop by Santiago Elder quite beautiful, the redeeming element of an otherwise minimalist staging that didn´t evoke the various ambits called for, and the stage props were at times absurd. Eduardo Lerchundi is a talented veteran costume designer and some of them were very attractive, but not Giovanni´s, who never looked like an aristocrat.

I said before that the Giovanni was miscast; indeed, Gustavo Ahualli, an Argentine who´s having a career in the USA, showed a serviceable voice, no more, with little insinuation and beauty, and as an actor was much too vulgar. Hernán Iturralde, usually excellent, seemed constrained by the producer: he sang well but with less humor than he showed in other circumstances, and acted rather stiffly. The outstanding artist was Carlos Ullán, who, although he exaggerated the recitatives, interpreted with sterling quality his two arias. Ricardo Ortale did with stalwart authority the "Commendatore", the stone guest. Gustavo Zahnstecher sang nicely as Masetto.

The best of the ladies was Carla Filipcic Holm as Donna Anna; her voice has grown a lot, and although there was some stridency in "Or sai chi l´onore", she found her stride afterwards. Andrea Nazarre was a late replacement for Gabriela Ceaglio as Donna Elvira, so she was comprehensibly nervous; quite young and with little experience, this tough role is still beyond her but she has good qualities. Ana Laura Menéndez sang correctly as Zerlina, but with little charm and innuendo.

Carlos Vieu showed his accustomed firmness and musicality as the conductor of a good orchestra, and the choir under Juan Casasbellas was correct. I was sorry that Elvira´s "Mi tradì" was cut, I suppose because of the replacement. Naturally the Avenida´s stage doesn´t have space for the three "orchestrinas" at the close of the First act, so the polyrhythms and stereophonies of that fragment went for nothing.

I found producer Ana D´Anna´s approach to "The Marriage of Figaro" quite refreshing. She narrated with ease, kept the story clear even in the intrincate Garden Scene and stuck to the original setting in time and place; I only object an excess of sexual play and slaps. The stage designs by Raúl Bongiorno were excellent, both beautiful, in style and functional, and the costumes by María Jaunarena showed a growing maturity.

Antonio Russo was an impeccable conductor, of perfect tempi and phrasing, and got the best out of the very professional orchestra. Pleasant work from the Chorus (Miguel Pesce). The cast I saw (there were three) had the special interest of the local debut of Chilean soprano Macarena Valenzuela as the Countess; I would call it a triumph, for she has a fine lyrical voice capable of much shade and very well used; also she looks right for the part. The very charming Laura Penchi was a vital, very physical Susanna and sang with much stamina and line, only faulted in the lowest notes. The Cherubino of Cecilia Pastawski was delightful in every way, and also moving. A well-sung Marcellina from Lara Mauro, a coquette Barbarina from Mariana Mederos and agreeable Peasants (Silvana Gómez, Marcela Marina).

Marcelo Otegui gradually became a sparkling Figaro, though the voice is impersonal. Fernando Grassi was a correct Count; I expected more from him. Barely acceptable Leandro Sosa (Don Bartolo), good Santiago Bürgi (Basilio), Sebastián Russo (Curzio) and Claudio Rotella (Antonio).

For Buenos Aires Herald

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