viernes, enero 02, 2009

"The tales of Hoffmann" , Offenbach at his best

Labor conflicts are the bane of official theatres. In the last couple of years the Colón, the Cervantes, the San Martín and the Argentino of La Plata have had several episodes of varying gravity. I have enough experience on the subject to state that truth isn´t unilateral, but in most cases it is the fault of functionaries, although some protests go beyond logical bounds. Recently the Argentino cancelled Verdi´s "Nabucco" at the last moment because the Chorus declared it was in assembly during rehearsals as a reaction against unfulfilled commitments from the authorities; they had signed agreements earlier in the year to ameliorate working conditions and they hadn´t honoured them. Most of the other employees of the theatre had expressed their solidarity with the chorus. After tense weeks an interim solution was arrived at, and the otherwise successful season could resume with the closing opera, Offenbach´s "Les Contes d´Hoffmann". I heard the fourth and last performance, where there was a clear indication that all was not well, for a member of the chorus read a communiqué announced that the show would go on as a sign of respect for the audience, but that the conflict wasn´t solved.

A few days later it became known that the commanding team was resigning: Fernando Di Rito, General Administrator, and Reinaldo Censabella, Artistic Director. And shortly after the ex General Director of the Colón, Leandro Iglesias, took Di Rito´s post. It was further announced that in March Marcelo Lombardero would take over from Censabella, though he will maintain his predecessor´s plans for 2009 (published in the hand programme of "Hoffmann" and featuring the first ever R. Strauss at La Plata, "Salome"). So the team that led the Colón in 2006-7 will be at the helm in what is now Argentina´s most important functioning opera house, with its imposing new 2.200-capacity main theatre. I hope they find a way of solving the labor troubles before the start of the season, otherwise the phantom of cancellation will rise again.

Offenbach´s only opera is the culmination of his career, mainly as the writer and almost the creator of French operetta. One of the most interesting operas of the French repertoire, it shows unlimited freshness of inspiration and is based on the extravagant loves of Hoffmann, with the audacity of putting the famous author of fantastic tales as the protagonist. The libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré is structured as a prologue, three acts and an epilogue, and it features a devilish character under four different guises, always Hoffmann´s nemesis.

Death took the composer before he could put the final touches on his score, so it was lightly revised and completed by Ernest Guiraud as an "opéra-comique", with spoken parts; it was later adapted as straight opera with very few spoken bits surviving. There remain some moot points concerning details of the Prologue and the Epilogue and the order of the three acts. The Argentino´s production placed the Venice Act as the Third, when habitually that place is held by the Munich act with Antonia; it makes better sense of the reprise of the Barcarolle in the Interlude before the Epilogue, but Antonia´s act is musically longer and better.

There were two casts combined irregularly in the four performances; I´m commenting the one I heard. Hoffmann is an immense part, present almost throughout the 160 minutes the opera lasts. It needs stamina, expansion, lyricism, good French and acting. Marcelo Puente did lack a more penetrating voice of considerable volume, but otherwise fulfilled all requirements; he is pleasant, personable, professional and agile.

Although Cuban bass-barytone Homero Pérez Miranda has been often cast locally in a variety of important roles, I don´t find his voice ingratiating ; it is gritty and too backward in projection. But he is intelligent and a good actor, so he knew how to differentiate between his four villains; he was at his best as Coppélius.

Two of the ladies were outstanding. Laura Rizzo has sung with success Olympia the doll at the Colón and in Paris; she was again brilliant in the florid singing and the interpretation was very funny with well-imagined mechanical movements and some musical innovations. Soledad de la Rosa sang with crystalline timbre and perfect line as Antonia . Of the others I especially liked Mario De Salvo as Crespel, Antonia´s father, and Vanesa Mautner as Hoffmann´s "mentor" Nicklausse. In the picture Gabriel Centeno in three of the four characteristic tenor parts (good in his operettish Franz), Alicia Cecotti as the courtesan Giulietta, Sebastián Sorarrain as her lover and Alicia Alduncin as the Voice of the Mother (Centeno was weak as Spalanzani, terrible French). The voice of the Muse (María Rosa Hourbeigt, spoken role) was badly recorded, almost inaudible.

The veteran Uruguayan conductor Federico García Vigil did a workmanlike job, keeping things reasonably together and with correct tempi, but his orchestra lacked animation and color, though the playing in itself was good. The Chorus under Sergio Giai got into the spirit of the opera and sang accurately.

The production by Carlos Palacios was a strange mixture of positive imagination with wrongheadedness and kitschy taste, with such absurdities as substituting Antonia´s claustrophobic room by the open air with the tomb of her mother. A pity for there were production values in the stage designs of Nicolás Boni and some of the costumes by Mariano Toffi.

For Buenos Aires Herald

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