domingo, septiembre 26, 2010

The many paths of dancing

            We don´t see great dancing now as often as we did decades ago; the big companies don´t come, too expensive: their crises and ours add up. Nevertheless, we do have some appreciable moments from time to time and in very different styles and traditions. This survey will touch upon some of those experiences.
            The pompously called Russian Imperial Ballet gave us at the Coliseo the choreographic vision of Gediminas Taranda based on Alexander Gorski of the famous Minkus ballet "Don Quixote". Here we are very used to the Zarko Prebil choreography, seen innumerable times during this last quarter of a century, so it´s difficult to adapt to another view. The RIB is a private company born in 1994  and purports to be in the great  Russian School of Ballet tradition. The very badly designed hand programme gives no information on the principal staff, only the names of the dancers and their roles (absurdly written in English). The poor sound of the recorded music (no information on interpreters) hardly added to the pleasure.  About 35 dancers were on the stage, most of them with Russian surnames.
            The results were no more than acceptable. The principals danced well but with no stamp of their own.  Maria Sokolnikova (Kitri) was certainly  the best, fresh, beautiful and assured in her steps. Nariman Bekzhanov (Basil) has a good body and knows the moves, but lacks the personality for the audacious suitor. Vitali Oleynik was a nondescript Toreador (and Tarandas´choreography for the part is weak). As I was seeing their second show and the cast list often had two names for certain parts, I assume that the second one is right. The most vital artist was Anna Pashkova doubling as Gypsy and Street dancer. In Tarandas´ conception both Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are more prominent, which is logical enough; the knight is played  with great solemnity and a display of mime rather than dance; Alexander Lodochkin did well. The most unusual idea of the choreographer is to cast Sancho with a woman, with very direct humor and great flexibility; Yuliya Golovyna managed to make it convincing. Lorenzo, Kitri´s father, is presented as an obese mime with heavy humor by Vitautas Taranda (the choreographer´s brother?), whilst Gamash is a fop aristocrat (Arkadie Nazarenco).  Cupid was too cute as danced by Radamaria Nazareno-Dominica ( a non-Russian in the cast), and Mercedes was nicely done by Solomon Khamaganov (can Solomon be a lady?).
            The Corps de Ballet was of a good standard if you don´t compare with the Bolshoi or the Kirov; it has plenty to do in this old-fashioned ballet with old-fashioned aesthetics in Tarandas´ version. Costumes and scenery were pleasant though sometimes kitschy.
            The Ballet Stockholm 59º North is made up of Soloists of the Swedish Royal Ballet. The SRB has a high European reputation and indeed the quality of the dancers is very high; eleven of them came to BA, but I had bad luck: I saw the second of two nights for the Mozarteum at the Coliseo, and one of the artists, after the performance of "Pulcinella and Pimpinella", had a lesion; as he had no cover that number was eliminated on the second night. Quite a pity, for that ballet, on Stravinsky´s lovely Pergolesi-based music, had a choreography by Birgit Cullberg, who was for many years the main choreographer of the SRB.  So we had two choreographies by her son, Mats Ek, and two by other choreographers, all in typical modern dance trends. The music was recorded but in this case the sound was good; again no interpreters were identified.
            "Cantus in memory of the dancing Queen" has as incongruous music "Kommt, ihr Töchter" from Bach´s "St. John Passion", with presumably meaningful interruptions and low noise added; the choreography by Giovanni Bucchieri (Italian though he works in Sweden) is about "a pair of friends, a pair of lovers and a relationship that ended"; I disliked it. "Pas de danse" has tuneful popular music by Benny Andersson (ex ABBA memeber) and shows the good choreographic background of Mats Ek. "Apartment",also by Ek, has music by the Swedish rock group Fläskkvartetten combining jazz, pop and rap; the choreography, more complex than "Pas de danse", tries to give some humor to situations of separation and alienation; the result is intermittently attractive. Finally, the 22-minute "Tactile affinity", by Pontus Lindberg, on ugly noises by David Lang and a piano piece by Philip Glass (minimalist, of course), explores "familiarity through closeness, tact and shared movements"; not my cup of tea. But apart from the moot value of the choreographies, I do admire the dancers, uniformly very good, fully attuned to modern dance steps and some of them of intense plasticity; but where is content such as Limón or Martha Graham or early Béjart provided? The group is led by Jens Rosén.
            Finally, the Colón´s CETC: a half-hour divertimento called "La limousine", with ingenious percussion music by Marta Lambertini (premiere), provided a chance to appreciate the group of aerial dance led by Brenda Angiel. It is aesthetically interesting with its unrelenting bumping off columns or its acrobatic beauty  as the dancers hang harnessed; it needs a lot of training and the artists showed themselves past masters of this special style. But I do feel that the half-hour was perfect: the repertory of possibilities is limited and longer than that it would surely pall.

A rich survey of symphonic and chamber music

            I will start this survey with a special event: the concert in which the audience met the winners of the First International Violin Competition Buenos Aires 2010. This initiative of Shlomo Mintz has been sponsored by rhe YPF Foundation and organised by AMIJAI. An  international jury of high prestige accepted 23 candidates from all over the world and finally awarded six prizes; the first three played at the Colón accompanied by the Asociación de Profesores de la Orquesta Estable del Teatro Colón conducted by Mintz. First the prizes were received by the winners from the hands of well-known personalities. Then, although I certainly thank Enrique Eskenazi, President of the Fundación YPF, for this valuable sponsorship, I´m sorry to say he inflicted on the audience a long-winded, inaccurate and political speech that left standing Mintz in the podium for 20 minutes.
            I wasn´t impressed by the Third Prize winner, South Corea´s Hyuk Joo Kwun, who played rather rigidly and with not enough virtuoso panache the last movement of Paganini´s First Concerto; probably the fourth prize winner, Argentine Xavier Inchausti,  merited it more. On the other hand, I liked  a lot the playing of Sibelius´ Concerto´s first movement by the American Nigel Armstrong; he is not only extremely proficient technically, but he also showed a poetic vein and a sensibility that should lead to an important career.  But I must say that Jinjoo Cho (also South Korean) deserves her First Prize, for she was extremely delicate and musical in the marvelous initial "Andante sostenuto" of Bartók´s First Concerto and then stunned the audience in the pyrotechnics of the devilish Ravel "Tzigane". This was masterful playing.  I do hope these competitions will be a staple in the future, and Mintz is to be congratulated. And by the way, he proved to be a good conductor.
            Apparently the main piece in a concert of the Orchestra of the Teatro Argentino (La Plata) was Brahms´  Symphony Nº 1, led with sure hand by Alejo Pérez, but in fact what fascinated me was Alban Berg´s Three pieces for orchestra, op.6. They are the first Argentine orchestra and conductor that give us this seminal work, one of the best of the Second Viennese School, only heard here in a memorable session of the Cleveland Orchestra under Lorin Maazel. The enormous emotional intensity and fantastic workmanship weren´t completely solved (it is extremely hard to play) but the degree of accomplishment was high. I also got much pleasure out of Lucrecia Jancsa´s luminous and accurate playing of one of the best Ginastera scores, his Concerto for harp.
            Giancarlo Guerrero conducted the Buenos Aires Philharmonic in a session with two mighty scores: Brahms´ Second Piano Concerto and Prokofiev´s Fifth Symphony. Both are masterpieces and got their due. Guerrero has a clear mind and good technique, and he showed an understanding of these very different styles. In the Concerto we had the privilege of hearing one of the best musicians around, the Brazilian Nelson Freire, in his full maturity; this was noble, thoughtful playing sustained by a masterful mechanism.
            The young Israeli Ilan Volkov showed good qualities in a difficult and beautiful programme of Nordic music. The concert started well with an atmospheric performance of Sibelius´  subtle tone poem "The Oceanides". However, Alexander Panizza, normally reliable, had an off night in Grieg´s Concerto, with a grave accident in the first movement and a hurried, aggressive attack of the Finale; as he replaced the originally announced Rudolf Buchbinder, maybe he didn´t have enough time to get to grips with the score.  Nevertheless he played an encore, much better: Mendelssohn´s Introduction and Rondo capriccioso. I find Nielsen´s Fourth Symphony, "The Inextinguishable", one of the most interesting works of the Nordic School, with its dramatic tensions between tonalities and innovative orchestration and construction. Neither Volkov nor the Philharmonic gave us the music´s full measure, perhaps because the acoustic chamber was lacking, for certainly the timpani duel didn´t register as it should.
            The Czech Trio made its debut for Nuova Harmonia with a programme that sandwiched Mendelssohn (First Trio) between two Czech composers: Josef Suk (Trio op.2) and Dvorák´s famous Trio Nº4, "Dumky". Although cellist Miroslav Petrás had to be replaced for health reasons by Petr Nouzovský, the understanding of the artists seemed to be of long acquaintance; the others were violinist Dana Vlachová and pianist Milan Langer. Suk´s youthful Trio, written at 15 though revised later, was the pleasant novelty. Of the players Langer was the steadiest,  Vlachová the wildest, and Petrás officiated as the vital link between dissimilar temperaments. Their playing, sometimes uneven, was generally convincing.
            The Mandelring Quartet from Neustadt (Germany) proved to be a redoubtable ensemble in their debut for Festivales Musicales at the Avenida. It is a curious and unfair thing that the three Brahms quartets get played so little, for they are certainly admirable examples of his deep, serious art. The Mandelrings chose the Quartet Nº 2, op.51 Nº 2, in A minor, a 35-minute score traversed by the artists with beautifully burnished sound (the violist!), fine intonation and the most accurate give-and-take, an essential quality in a quartet. Three are Schmidt: Sebastian and Nanette (violins) and Bernhard (cello); the odd-man-out is the violist, Roland Glassl.  I wasn´t so happy with Schumann´s overplayed Quintet, where they were joined by Carmen Piazzini; the performance was too forceful and hectic for comfort.

The ways of opera from Baroque to Classicism

            Recent weeks have provided a cross section of the evolution of opera during the Eighteenth Century. A rather unexpected Handel ("Serse", Buenos Aires Lírica, Avenida) and a recognized Mozart masterpiece ("Così fan tutte", Juventus Lyrica, Avenida)
            Although the resurrection of Handel has been going on steadily since the 1920s in Europe, little of it has come to these coasts, where we have barely scratched the surface. Buenos Aires Lírica is certainly to be commended, for it has brought to us in recent years the first complete "Rodelinda", the premiere of "Agrippina" and now the revival of "Serse" (1737), only played in 1971 at the Colón. May their good work go on steadily, and I put my wish list: "Alcina", "Rinaldo" and "Tamerlano".
            There´s a curious thing about "Serse": the famous Handel Largo, of which there are about a hundred recordings, is a bowdlerized version of the inicial aria sung by Serse, which turns out to be really a satirical ode to a plantain in pure Baroque style…not a lachrymose pseudoreligious Romanticized piece. There´s another rather strange fact: this presumed "opera seria" on Xerxes, the great Persian king of ancient times whose exploits are told by Herodotus, turns out to be a convoluted pentagon of crossed loves between Serse, Romilda, Arsamene (Serse´s brother), Atalanta (Romilda´s sister), and Amastre (a dumped bride of Serse disguised as a warrior). Other characters: Ariodate, commander of Serse´s troups and father of Romilda and Atalanta; and Elviro, servant to Arsamene, a completely "buffo" role. What? A "buffo" in an "opera seria"? yes, it´s one of the surprises. For, as Claudio Ratier explains in his interesting programme notes, this isn´t a typical "seria", for it incorporates aspects of the Venetian opera of Monteverdian times, such as "buffo" characters in a "seria" context. Also, there are more duets than usual and some of the arias aren´t "da capo" (ABA); some even aren´t quite arias. So, the music is mostly fast, little of it is sad, and the whole thing is charming to hear and difficult to sing.  Alas, the dramatic action is mostly inane. The libretto is based on an earlier one by Nicolò Minato presumably adapted by Handel himself.
            I can understand the urge of producer Pablo Maritano to find a way to give some pep to this flat cake. His solution is trendy and not quite to my taste but he does enliven things: a) of course time periods are completely jumbled and you see majordomos out of Mozart, military gents in British raj uniforms, Belle Époque cocottes, the Eiffel tower, and a big etcetera of purposely incongruous things; b) you must have action all the time, even during the overture; c) arias are always intermingled with physical gags in which are omnipresent four valets and two maids; d) the visuals are generally handsome and even beautiful; e) he invents witchy shrieks for the conniving girls. Well, I do believe one can be funny and keep a Baroque coherence, certainly not Maritano´s aim, and there´s the rub; but I  admit I wasn´t bored, and that´s a feat in this piece. Stage designs by María José Besozzi and costume designs by Sofía Di Nunzio responded fully to Maritano´s views.
            In the musical side the best thing was the orchestra under Alejo Pérez, who keeps surprising audiences with his versatility and command; the playing was lithe and pleasant, not historicist (modern instruments) except for the very able continuo (cello, theorbo and harpsichord). The Chorus has little to do but it was well done (Juan Casasbellas). Of the soloists I especially liked Rosa Domínguez as the protagonist (after a rather wan "Ombra mai fu") and Ivanna Speranza as Romilda. Marisa Pavón was too shrill and Klára Csordás has a rather hard timbre and dicey florid singing. Chilean countertenor José Lemos (debut) is too glottal in his attack and too wild in his highs. Sergio Carlevaris was a competent Ariodate and Norberto Marcos a funny Elviro with a fine voice.
            "Così fan tutte" has been staged repeatedly in recent seasons, but Juventus Lyrica came up with a rather interesting version, where the young Argentine Hernán Schvartzman, who lives in Holland, led an orchestra made up of a mixture of students of The Hague´s Conservatory and of local players; they played well under the conductor´s alert indications, and he was apparently responsible for some useful Classical ornamentation in the vocal parts (at times it sounded a bit too unusual).The Choir under Rubén Pesce acted and sang with gusto. Ana D´Anna´s production was generally sympathetic but she jumped the gun when she allowed the characters to have amorous approaches too early in the game: you can´t close Act I with a clinch that should happen in the Second! No matter, the whole thing was quite agreeable and well acted, with fine costumes by María Jaunarena and adequate stage designs by Daniel Feijóo.
            The singing in the second cast was dominated by the Fiordiligi of Macarena Valenzuela, stunning to see and mostly to hear. Lara Mauro was a good Dorabella and Laura Penchi an overactive Despina, but she sang quite nicely. The boys were rather green, tenor Patricio Oliveira and baritone Juan Feico are promising but still have some way to go. Oreste Chlopecki acted with a fine sense of comedy as Don Alfonso and sang with a dark voice well handled.

domingo, septiembre 12, 2010

First-rate pianists and chamber groups this season

            We are having a good run this year in pianists and chamber groups. This survey covers only some of the better ones.
            Nelson Goerner had the richly deserved privilege to be the first pianist to play at the reopened Colón: two sessions with identical programme for the Mozarteum Argentino. And again he proved to be our best artist in that category (no, I don´t forget Argerich and Barenboim). His programme was a homage to Chopin´s and Schumann´s bicentenaries of their births, and he showed himself a past master of these quintessential Romantic composers. From Chopin, superb interpretations of Polonaise Nº 15, op.44; Nocturne Nº 17, op.62 Nº 1; the Berceuse, ideally tender and refined; and one of the best performances I´ve heard of that tough piece, the Second Sonata, where even the weird Finale made sense.
            Goerner chose one of Schumann´s grandest works, the Symphonic Etudes, with the welcome bonus of the five posthumous variations hardly ever played, and he was stunning throughout. The pleasure was prolonged with Rachmaninov´s Prelude op. 32 Nº 5 and a glittering Chopin Etude op.10 Nº 4.
            Zhu Xiao-Mei deeply moved the audience of Festivales Musicales some years ago when she played an intimate and limpid version of Bach´s Goldberg Variations. The Chinese artist´s view is completely convincing in its own terms, the work of a true artisan polishing each phrase to perfection but always with introspection of almost metaphysical dimensions. In her fourth visit she repeated the Goldbergs, as a straight concert for Festivales at the Colón, but also (the one I heard) in the Colón series "My first concert" before an audience of kids, where she played the score in two big sections, with previous comments by Eduardo Barrientos on a scheme elaborated by himself and by Festivales´ Artistic Director, Mario Videla. It was quite a success, and as the children behaved themselves admirably, I think it showed that a score supposed to be for adults (considering its intricacy) can be enjoyed by kids if they have a proper introduction.
            Two Midday Concerts at the Gran Rex showed to advantage the talents of the Ukrainian Julia Botchovskaia in her second visit and of Antonio Formaro, one of our most solid artists. She too paid homage to Chopin and Schumann, with four works of the former (Ballad Nº 2, Etude op.10 Nº 3, Waltzes Nos. 1 and 5) and the charming "ABEGG variations" of the latter, all in fleet and very agreeable performances. I liked her less in the first work she played, Beethoven´s Sonata Nº 21, "Waldstein", not quite as steady as that style needs. The fine encore was "Widmung", a Schumann Lied from "Myrthen" arranged by Liszt.
            Formaro is that rare thing, a quality pianist who is also a scholar and a professor of musical history. And it shows in his performances of Romantic music. Although his specialty is Mendelssohn, his views of Schubert and Schumann  are deeply thought out. He chose a Schubert Sonata: Nº 14 in A minor, op.143 (D.784), with one of the most dramatic and tense first movements he wrote; his reading was very well structured , each fragment having its place in the overall canvas. He too played Schumann´s "Symphonic Etudes", with noble and musical phrasing as well as fine technique; he didn´t play the additional movements, but he gave us a surprise, by doing the original version (not the later revision) of the Finale. Formaro does have a small handicap: he is too cautious at times, and Romanticism always strikes a difficult balance between literalness and fantasy. The charming encore, beautifully played, was one of the "Cantos de España" –Nº 2, "Oriental"- by Albéniz.
                                                           CHAMBER GROUPS
            The Zukerman Chamber Players are old friends here. They now came not as a pure string group but also with a splendid pianist: Angela Cheng, Canadian. The ensemble offered a subscription concert for Nuova Harmonia at the Coliseo (the one I heard) and a different programme at AMIJAI.  The others we all heard in their previous visit and are all admirable:  first violinist Pinchas Zukerman, second violinist Jessica Linnebach, violist Jethro Marks and cellist Amanda Forsyth (Zukerman´s wife). The First Part was dedicated to Brahms and was interesting, for they chose scores not often played: the juvenile Sonata Movement from the collective Sonata FAE (written with Dietrich and Schumann), a dynamic Scherzo; and the ample Second Quartet for piano and strings, op.26 (Second, not First, as wrongly stated in the hand programme; my notes, if the audience read them, clarified the error), a ruminative, very Brahmsian score. The vastly known Schumann Quintet for piano and strings had a splendid performance,as had happened with Brahms.
            Pía Sebastiani recently had her 85th birthday, pretty incredible as one saw her performing at a concert in her homage at AMIJAI. With the fine collaboration of violinist Rafael Gintoli, she gave a performance of Brahms´ Third Sonata op.108 for violin and piano with all the wise phrasing and impeccable taste of a lifetime of performing and teaching. Then her finest disciple, Marcelo Balat, gave us sensitive renditions of Chopin´s Nocturnes op. 62, a fleet "Goldfishes" (Nº 2 of "Images" by Debussy), and a powerhouse execution of Rachmaninov´s devilish Second Sonata in the revised edition. Finally she and he played as an encore five of Brahms´ melting Waltzes for four-hand piano, and we all went home happy.
For Buenos Aires Herald

martes, septiembre 07, 2010

Before and after the Barenboim cyclone

            Barenboim came and went leaving his audiences happily exhausted.  But before, during and after his visit there was plenty of interesting symphonic life. Some of it collided with his overwhelming presence and thus some events remained out of reach for this reviewer: the second visit of the Jerusalem Symphony under Yehuram Scharovsky, the debut of the Hong Kong Sinfonietta (first time that a Chinese orchestra visited us), Calderón leading Bruckner´s Seventh Symphony with the National Symphony. But there remain plenty of events to be mentioned in this survey.
            After Barenboim:I will give pride of place to the mighty endeavor of La Plata´s Teatro Argentino: Mahler´s Symphony Nº 8, "Of the Thousand", done only twice in Buenos Aires, in both cases under Pedro Calderón. And now, by another Argentine conductor, the greatly talented Alejo Pérez. The enormous score (80 minutes) demands eight vocal soloists, two mixed choirs, a children´s choir and an augmented orchestra. The First Part is a fantastically intricate setting of the hymn "Veni Creator Spiritus"; the Second is the vast setting of Goethe´s "Faust" ´s last section, in which Faust´s soul is led to Heaven by the Eternal Feminine (Margaret), in the way mixing anachoretes with angels, various Fathers (Profundus, Ecstaticus, Marianus) and such women as "Una Poenitentium"; "Magna Peccatrix" and "Mater gloriosa" (sopranos), "Mulier Samaritana" and "Maria Aegyptiaca".  The music goes from slow and deep to majestic and exalted, with a climax of towering grandeur. Only Schönberg´s "Gurrelieder" and Havergal Brian´s "Gothic Symphony" are comparable to this acme of Postromanticism.
            To say that this was a good version may seem faint praise, but considering the tremendous problems involved, it isn´t. No fault of the artists, the first of three performances started with the wrong foot, with a 7-minute video of the cultural accomplishments of the first thousand days of this government; it was roundly booed!  Except the third soprano, all (soloists, choirs and orchestra) were involved in the initial hymn, and the first minutes weren´t quite satisfactory: too much harshness and some sense of the pieces not quite falling into place; also, the new wooden and rectangular acoustic chamber doesn´t seem to be a full success, with a total effect of excessive stridency. But as the work went on, most factors improved, especially in the Second Part, providing some radiant moments and a very moving final section. Of the singers, tenor Carlos Bengolea was predictably below par, the voice is  run down and old; less predictably, the generally reliable soprano Soledad de la Rosa had an off day, with strained high Cs. Outstanding were bass Hernán Iturralde, mezzo Adriana Mastrangelo and sopranos Daniela Tabernig and Paula Almerares; correct, baritone Luciano Garay and mezzo Elisabeth Canis.
            The Choir of the Teatro Argentino under Miguel Martínez was joined by the Coro Polifónico Nacional under Roberto Luvini (has there been a previous joining of the provincial and the national choirs?) and by the Coro de Niños del Teatro Argentino (Mónica Dagorret); they found their feet gradually and as the work approched the final stretches they rang out powerfully and beautifully (though the kids were rather submerged). The Orchestra also overcame some initial unclean interventions and played with more and more involvement and lustrous sound until the fantastic final climax with the fanfare posted in the hall joining in. Alejo Pérez had his hands full merely coordinating the First Part; maybe slightly slower tempi would have been more convincing. But his grasp of the Second Part was more and more impressive, and his energy and knowledge were increasingly evident. The Eighth didn´t fail to provoke the audience to utter exaltation.
            During Barenboim: Andras Schiff had offered a magnificent debut recital (readers will remember the review) and his brief visit ended with an equally stunning interpretation of Beethoven´s "Emperor" Concerto; "magisterial" is the word for his commanding version, where with no forcing of the piano´s tone he gave expansion and strength to the first and last movements, but also provided a sensitive filigree in the slow movement. He was very well accompanied by the B.A. Philharmonic under Arturo Diemecke; the Phil also provided convincing readings of Mahler´s Tenth Symphony (the slow first movement, the only one he completed) and of Richard Strauss´ sprightly tone poem "Till Eulenspiegel´s Merry Pranks".
            Before Barenboim: the Teatro Argentino provided its own version of the Mahler Tenth, under the Colón´s old friend Stefan Lano, and it was typically well phrased and very musical. That interesting night gave us good Wagner: the Prelude and Love-Death of "Tristan and Isolde", with an unexpected and positive presence of mezzo Virginia Correa Dupuy, who was her sensitive self in splendid interpretations of Berg´s "Seven Early Songs". The programme was completed with the lovely "Liebeslieder" ("Songs of Love) by the Argentine composer Luis Mucillo, wonderfully sung by Víctor Torres.
            The National Symphony under Guillermo Scarabino accompanied one of our best pianists, Elsa Púppulo, in Ravel´s Left-hand Concerto, that quirky and very difficult piece. She put the accent into the structural aspects, giving us a very well-considered reading, played with her characteristic stamina and sense of purpose; I would have liked a bit more jazziness in the fast parts.  The programme had started with the exhumation of Alberto Williams´ "Marcha del Centenario 1810-1910", a rather curious, Elgarian composition. And it ended with a very good version of Brahms´ Fourth, led with sure hand and played with conviction.
For Buenos Aires Herald

jueves, septiembre 02, 2010

The Barenboim marathon, Part III: dazzling Scala

            Daniel Barenboim´s incredible musical raid ended in glory  commanding the Milan La Scala forces in a double Verdi programme. No doubt, the event of the year. At the Colón, of course.  It was the end result of long planning and difficult financing, and there was a darker side; but the artistic endeavor was triumphant by any standards, and that´s the paramount conclusion.
            In three consecutive days two Verdi masterpieces of about the same period: on  Sunday afternoon and Tuesday evening, "Aida"; on Monday evening, the Requiem Mass. In both cases, the full forces of the great Milanese opera house: the magnificent Orchestra and the nonpareil Choir. And  two imported casts with some very valuable artists never heard here.
            To keep the already very high costs more manageable, "Aida" was offered in a concert version. Its choice was symbolic: this opera  opened the new Colón in 1908, and was supposed to be put on stage for the (failed) reinauguration in 2008. This was the best "Aida" I´ve ever heard as far as the choir and orchestra are concerned, and the cast was substantial, if not ideal. And the lack of staging allowed one to concentrate on the musical values; as I had the full score with me, it was a wonderfully revealing experience, finding so many details that over the years I hadn´t detected (that´s the mystery of the great scores: there´s always something new in them).
            I have long been aware of Barenboim´s enormous talent, but I hadn´t thought of him as a Verdian; well, he showed himself a master of that style, with an urgent dramatic sense, an extreme sensibility to phrasing and dynamics, an intelligent support of the singers and an unfailing command. Both in "Aida" and the Requiem his readings are among the very best I´ve heard, live or in records.
            But if Barenboim had such a success it was because La Scala´s orchestra and choir are exceptional in professionalism and intensity, without ever losing control. As they have gone through many vicissitudes in recent years, and the crisis continues, it is admirable that artistic quality is still the rule for these true artists. The fabulous precision of the trumpets in the famous March of "Aida" or in the "Tuba mirum" of the Requiem (with spatial placing giving added drama to stunning effect), the beautiful tone of the oboe, the marvelously compact brass, the silky strings in "pianissimo", are memories to be cherished. And as to the choir, they produced their own wonders: a range of sound that went from the softest to the loudest without loss of quality, such exact intonation that after long "a cappella" passages there was no discrepancy when the orchestra joined in, and a coloring of tone that gave us joyful or menacing sounds at will.
            The cast of "Aida" brought us several worthwhile debuts, in a Buenos Aires that is in sore need of such visits. The soloists were placed in front of the choir.  Aida was the Ukrainian Oksana Dyka, an ample voice with a touch of harshness but plenty of stamina. Mezzosoprano Ekaterina Gubanova, briefly heard in Beethoven´s "Choral" Symphony, was uneven as Amneris, for her timbre isn´t ingratiating and her lows are weak, but she has a true dramatic temperament and she rose to the challenge of her great Fourth Act scene with impressive impetus. Tenor Salvatore Licitra is quite famous and his arrival aroused much expectation; his Radames improved gradually after a rather disappointing First Act, and by the time he got to the great Duo with Aida in the Third Act his beautiful, resonant voice had convinced the listeners; and he was able to sing the last Duo with  soft ravishing sounds. The Oriental bass Kwangchul Youn displayed a deep mahogany voice as Ramfis, used with taste. Andrzej Dobber, who had sung in the "Choral" Symphony, was a strongly dramatic Amonasro, with a true Verdian voice. Carlo Cigni sang a good King, and Antonello Ceron (Messenger) and Sae Kyung Rim (Priestess) did well.
            The Requiem brought us a valuable quartet of solo singers. Apart from an isolated vocal accident, Youn again sang nobly. Sonia Galassi was the very professional mezzosoprano, her timbre not quite as velvety as the part needs. The two best members were the soprano Marina Poplavskaya, also heard in Beethoven´s Ninth, singing in the Requiem with lovely soft tones and perfect style, and the very able lyric tenor Giuseppe Filianoti, who is having a  promising career and showed an exquisite command of sweet but never cloying phrasing.
            And now the down side. The visit  was in great danger of not happening, after numerous strikes provoked by Berlusconi´s heavy cuts on subsidies to opera houses, and it would seem that Barenboim, La Scala´s Music Director, threatened to resign if they decided to be absent from our city. In a joint press conference of members of La Scala and the Colón, both delegates considered that the troubles of these opera houses come from a mercantile view of art, as the traditional concept of the State´s obligation to invest in culture seems to be relegated by purely commercial views.   But they finally came, only the second full visit by a great European opera house in the last half century; the other, Saint Petersburg´s Kirov in 1998, was even fuller, with stage performances of two Mussorgsky operas.
For Buenos Aires Herald