viernes, mayo 27, 2011

A Russian ballet and the Budapest Festival Orchestra

     I wrote about the Colón Ballet recently and promised a review of  a Russian ballet offered at the Teatro Argentino of La Plata.  Here it is: Aram Khachaturian´s "Spartacus" in the choreography of Vilen Galstyan. It was a revival, for the premiere had taken place in late last December.  A big epic piece, it was originally a typical product of the Grigorovich years at the Moscow Bolshoi, and we saw it in BA when that great company visited us more than two decades ago. Later in 1996 there was another very good version by the Novossibirsk Ballet featuring our Maximiliano Guerra in one of his best roles.  And earlier, in 1978, there was another choreography for the Colón Ballet by Attilio Labis.
             The Argentino´s version by Galstyan was revived by José Luis Lozano, who last year was the Director of this theatre´s ballet; he is now replaced by Mario Galizzi, an artist of vast reputation. I am sorry that in the reprogramming a very important ballet was discarded, the first time in more than sixty years that Delibes´"Sylvia" would have been seen; it is urgent that either the Colón or the Argentino should offer it, because it is of the best ballet music of the Nineteenth-Century.
            You will probably remember if you are a veteran the "Spartacus" movie with Kirk Douglas, and now a new TV series is announced: the story of the Thracian leader of the slaves against the Roman Empire´s oppression is a strong and attractive one and was the subject of an excellent novel by Howard Fast; the ballet´s plot was concocted by Nicolai Volkov and has a quartet of principals: Spartacus, his beloved Phrygia, the Roman centurion Crassus and his lover Aegina. And immense groups of dancers: slaves, shepherds, Gaditans (from Gades, now Cádiz), participants in an orgy, gladiators, soldiers. It is a huge show of love and death, of the fight for freedom, with the grandiloquent, "Soviet Hollywood" music of Khachaturian (the love duet of Spartacus and Phrygia is famous), sometimes kitschy but always effective.
            Galstyan´s revision follows the general lines of Grigorovich´s original, with athletic, vital dancing, big symmetrical groups, exalted love duets and a sense of show.  The local designers understood the spirit of the piece and followed the Bolshoi´s aesthetics: María José Besozzi in the stage designs, Mariano Toffi in the costumes and the lighting of Roberto Traferri gave evidence of solid professionalism and of the resources of the Argentino.
            There were two and sometimes three casts; I comment on the one of April 17. Both principal male roles need powerful physiques and virile dancing. Whilst not in the same league of the Guerra of 1996 or especially Vasiliev, Bautista Parada gave a good, solid account of Spartacus, and his foil as Crassus, Nahuel Prozzi, was appropriately visceral and impetuous. The fragile, sensitive Phrygia and the energetic Aegina were well-taken by Agustina Verde and Stefania Vallone, dancers of good looks and fine technique. Not all the members of the vast Corps de Ballet are quite up to par, but most are, and the numerous group scenes had vitality and reasonable mutual adjustment.
            The young conductor Darío Domínguez Xodo showed visible progress in this often loud and strongly rhythmic music, difficult to play with real virtuosity; the Orchestra did pretty well. Musically I certainly find Khachaturian´s "Gayaneh" (done here decades ago by the Armenian Ballet) vastly better than "Spartacus".
            In this article I also want to deal with a valuable concert. The Mozarteum Argentino gave much pleasure at the Colón in the first of its season presenting the return visit of the Budapest Festival Orchestra led by its founder Ivan Fischer. I could only hear the second of two different programmes, but it was enough to appreciate again the high qualities of this organism, already met in 2003 and 2007.  Fischer is still relatively young (in his late fifties) and adheres to the same principles as he did when he founded the Orchestra (with Zoltan Kocsis) in 1983: a fresh, communicative approach, a palpable joy of making music live in the players and himself, a very high technical standard.
            The unusual physical layout was interesting and functions beautifully: basses behind the woodwinds, first violins in front of the seconds, cellos and violas in the middle, trumpets, trombones and tympani to the right of the woodwinds, and horns to the left. The result was rich, deep and clear. All sectors are splendid but I particularly admired the vital, burnished sound of the violins. As I expected, the artists were wonderful in Dvorák: the rarely played and charming "Prague Waltzes" and three of his marvelous Slavonic Dances: op.46 Nº 2, and op.72 Nos. l and 8 (the hand programme had the op.72 items wrong, the other way around, 8 and 1).
            Pianist Dejan Lazic dazzled the public in the 16-minute "Konzertstück" by Weber, a quicksilver score leading directly to Mendelssohn: wonderfully dexterous but also extremely sensitive and musical, Lazic is certainly outstanding (he had been here with another orchestra back in 2002 –or was it 2003?). His encore was a Scriabinesque Fantastic Dance by Shostakovich.
             I do find Schumann´s Third Symphony ("Rhenish") too heavy and blocky in texture, but Fischer´s straightforward reading presented it in the best possible light. Two charming encores: Brahms´ Hungarian Dance Nº 10, and Leroy Anderson´s Blue Tango.

domingo, mayo 01, 2011

A contrast of Verdian and Handelian opera

            Recent weeks have given us a sample of contrasting styles in opera. Two operas by Verdi were offered: "Il Trovatore" at the Avenida (Juventus Lyrica), and a concert version of "I due Foscari" at the Roma of Avellaneda. And a  student outfit called Arcana tackled quite a challenge: the Argentine premiere of Handel´s "Alcina" at the Teatro Empire.
            It has often been said that "Il Trovatore" needs the four best Verdians of the world to really dazzle. Also –and it´s true- that the complications of its plot are almost unfathomable. But it remains an inextinguishable river of marvelous melody.
            We almost had the best possible cast in the world at the Colón in 1969: L.Price, Cossotto, Bergonzi and Cappuccilli.  Of course, Juventus Lyrica´s purpose is very different than the international Colón of the Sixties: a good local young cast. Is this quite enough for this opera? There were two casts, and I certainly don´t think the Leonora of Sabrina Cirera up to par: the heavy vibrato and at times uncertain intonation puts her out of court, even if she had incidental good moments. On the other hand, I have long hoped that Laura Cáceres were given a plum role, and she finally got it with Azucena: the voice is quite adequate for the old gypsy, she has a sense of line and acted with intensity both in gesture and vocal inflexion.
            Fabián Veloz, whose physical proportions are assuming alas a Falstaffian girth, sang with true and beautiful tone his Conte di Luna. Manrico is one of the toughest tenor leads, although people put too much emphasis on the famous high Cs of "Di quella pira". I commend Darío Sayegh´s courage and firmness, but his voice in the higher reaches becomes shrill. Maximiliano Michailovsky´s arid voice barely coped with Ferrando´s intervention in the Prologue. Good work in the bit roles from Claudia Montagna, Ulises Hanchen and Juan Feico.
            I found Ana D´Anna´s staging very pallid, with a boring unit set that didn´t adapt to the different situations and undramatic, stock gestures; I was happy, however, that she didn´t change the Medieval ambience into a frigid twentieth-centur. A partial compensation to the conventionalities  were the costumes of Ponchi Morpurgo, not quite as good as I expected  but still better than what we generally see.
            An interesting and unusual point was that the Chorus was prepared by the orchestral conductor, Antonio M. Russo, and it certainly showed: the famous choruses sounded out accurate and Verdian. But the orchestra was too contained and pat, lacking electricity and with exaggerated pauses.
            Two years ago the Colón presented at the Coliseo "I due Foscari", but that version, decent enough musically, was ruined by the staging of Louis Désiré. The Roma interpretation showed that a concert presentation can work if the artists are involved dramatically and have the right vocal means. And both factors were present. The piece, based on Lord Byron, lacks variety but is certainly strong and intense recounting the tragedy of the two Foscari, father and son, in the Venice of the Council of Ten.
            A welcome switch of dates allowed me to hear a talented young Greek baritone with the looks of a Don Giovanni, arguably too young for the Dux Foscari but certainly musical and interesting: Aris Argiris. He grew into the part and was impressive in the final scene. Leonardo Pastore presented an anguished and well-sung Jacopo Foscari. And Haydée Dabusti showed again that in this sort of dramatic Verdi part she has the right style, the no-holds-barred attack and the technical ability such as the part of Lucrezia Contarini needs.  Good supporting work from Guadalupe Larzabal, Luciano Straguzzi and Cristian Mella. The sum of four different choirs paradoxically wasn´t enough, for the singing was tentative and backward. But the Avellaneda Municipal Symphony responded passably well to the convinced enthusiasm of conductor César Tello.
            "Alcina" is one of the very best Handel operas and one I eagerly awaited for decades, knowing as I do the splendid recordings of Boult with Sutherland (1960) and Hickox with Auger (1985). It is paradoxical that the Argentine premiere came from a student group, Arcana, of the IUNA (Conservatorio López Buchardo), for it deserves the honors of a full scale staging with a picked specialist cast. "Alcina" is one of three Handelian operas based on Ludovico Ariosto´s "Orlando Paladino". It is based on  a sort of Circe, a beautiful witch that is highly erotic but also changes men into beasts.
            The complete version lasts 3 hours 20 minutes; the one I saw, 2 hours 10 minutes: the cuts were recitatives, ballets and arias.  The staging by Laura Gutman was very poor, but the small orchestra (eleven members) sounded well under Andrés Gerszenzon. Of the seven singers the best was Juan Pablo Pacchasochi as Melisso (bass). Tenor Emmanuel Faraldo sounded tentative and countertenor Damián Ramírez (Ruggiero), wildly exaggerated. The best of the women was María Cristina Zuccala as Bradamante. Marina Brengi was nice as Oberto. The two witches, Alcina and Morgana, were charming to see but not always to hear: Ayelén Mose (Morgana) was very shrill at the beginning, later improving, and  María Clara Maiztegui made a brave but not always convincing effort to master the long and difficult leading part. But the initiative was valid and I was glad to have the chance to hear "Alcina" live.
For Buenos Aires Herald