lunes, junio 27, 2011

Varied operatic tales: pearl-fishers, Diana the chaste

            One of the things I love about opera is its endless variety. Of course some basic ideas come again and again: e.g., love triangles. Or simply love and sex in a myriad of different locales and combinations. And yet, how different they can be.  Two premieres   are vivid proof: believe it or not, the first time the Capital hears Georges Bizet´s "Les pêcheurs de perles" ("The pearl-fishers") in French, an initiative of Juventus Lírica at the Avenida; and  the premiere of Martín y Soler´s "L´arbore di Diana" at the Teatro del Cubo by Lírica Lado B, first time an opera of this author is seen here.
            I have an understandable soft spot of "Les pêcheurs de perles", for I proposed its Argentine premiere in French to conductor Antonio Russo back in 1992; I was Director General of the Teatro Argentino of La Plata, in those uncomfortable days when its house was the Teatro Rocha, a converted cinema, and Russo was my Artistic Director. He accepted and we premiered it with Mónica Philibert and Eduardo Ayas with remarkable success. Then and now, I can´t understand why this beautiful music has been heard only once at the Colón, back in 1913 but in Italian. Among those that saw it in 1992 was Boris, and last year he presented it at the Roma. Russo has wanted for years to premiere it in our city, he finally got his way and I´m very glad.
            Mind you, the libretto is weak, a rather insubstantial triangle told by Michel Carré and Eugène Cormon. The same authors had written for Maillart "The fishers of Catania", a similar plot. When they did the libretto for Bizet, the first locale was Mexico and the opera was called "Léila"; they changed afterwards to Ceylon (present Sri Lanka) and the current title. The melodramatic tale is told with too many conventions and lacks backbone, except in a strong choral scene. But the music is often so beautiful that it matters little. The arias for the protagonists, the wonderful duets, certainly stay in the memory and are the very gist of Romantic French opera. Local Orientalist color adds some charm.
            The main parts are quite difficult to sing and the cast I saw was no more than reasonably good. Two of them had already been in the Roma cast: tenor Carlos Ullán (Nadir) and lyric baritone Sebastián Sorarrain. Both should better their French. Ullán looked well but sang with audible strain in the high-lying bits, and Sorarrain needs more body in his tone, though he phrased well; he wasn´t helped by unbecoming makeup. Virginia Wagner isn´t the lyrical soprano with agility that Leila needs, her voice is certainly sustantial but sounds better in dramatic parts (as her recent Suor Angelica); the intense fragments were the best, although she was taxed by the high notes; she acted with conviction. Nourabad was quite well sung by Maximiliano Michailovsky.
            The work of the Chorus was brilliant, for it had been prepared by Russo himself, our best choral conductor. The Orchestra played correctly but didn´t respond with as much enthusiasm as the flexible gestures of the conductor indicated. The production was mostly by a father-daughter team: Florentino Sanguinetti did the stage designs, pleasant but a bit kitschy; María Jaunarena as costume designer had partial success, for Zurga should have looked much more primitive; Florencia Sanguinetti did a traditional production (I mean it positively) at times a little too static; the only surprise was a violent choreographic episode by Julián Ignacio Garcés.
            Most opera lovers know a tiny bit of the music of Vicente Martín y Soler: in the dinner scene of Mozart´s "Don Giovanni", a small band plays for the amusement of the Don; a sprightly tune is heard, and Leporello says: "Bravi! ´Cosa rara´!", mentioning "Una cosa rara", an opera by the Spanish composer that was at the time very famous in Vienna. Now Lírica Lado B, an enterprising young alternative group  whose aim is to present eighteenth-century premieres, has brought to us for the first time a complete opera by Martín y Soler: "L´arbore di Diana", libretto by the great Mozart collaborator, Lorenzo Da Ponte.   It was premiered in Vienna in 1787. It is a picaresque comedy that opposes the chaste Diana, the Roman goddess of the Hunt, to Amor.  The music is light and slight,  charming enough and agreeable to know. The text of Da Ponte is witty and full of funny situations.
            The musical side was decently presented though with ups and downs. The 24-piece orchestra, big enough for this music, was conducted with good style by Camilo Santostefano. Of the singers Alejandro Spies stood out as Doristo; a voice of fine timbre used with skill, a good acting presence, the ability to sing recitative at breakneck speed. Diana is terribly difficult to sing, and Patricia Villanova couldn´t quite overcome all hurdles in her big aria, but elsewhere was good enough. Tenor Christian Casaccio was professional, Esteban Manzano couldn´t cope with his high notes, Selene Lara was a pleasant Amor and Milagros Burga a nice Britomarte. The rest were enthusiastic.
            Alas, the production was a disaster. We had a campy grotesque instead of tasteful comedy. Horrible clothing, lewd gestures, absurd stage fixtures,  an intolerable non-singing part (Matías Pérez), all went against late eighteenth-century Vienna. Producer Diego Rodríguez and his collaborators were wide off the mark.
For Buenos Aires Herald

miércoles, junio 22, 2011

Necessary renovation in symphonic concert life

            From time to time I have touched upon an essential problem of symphonic concert life: the renovation of the repertoire. I even wrote an article specifically about this during the summer of 2010. The programming of these recent days has been quite positive in this sense.
            The Munich Chamber Orchestra has visited us before but rather long ago (I first met her in the times when it was led by Christoph Stepp in 1955, and then by Hans Stadlmair in 1960 and 1965; he kept the post until 1990); this time around, it wasn´t conducted from the podium but led by concertino Daniel Giglberger for this tour; its Principal and Artistic Director is Alexander Liebreich. Mind you, Giglberger has a strong, electric personality, and he communicated that feeling to the whole orchestra. In BA the orchestra was a straight string ensemble plus a harpsichordist, 20-strong; but it has 25 permanent members, so it surely includes oboes and horns at least. Though I prefer that fuller ensemble (it has more variety), their programme was cunningly chosen and very interesting.
            It featured pieces by great composers without avantgarde experiments, but managed to give us two premieres: the cantata "Orfeo" ("Nel chiuso centro") by Pergolesi, one of the few authenticated pieces by this short-lived creator famous for two diametrically opposed works: the intermezzo buffo "La serva padrona" and the sad "Stabat Mater". And the string ensemble version of Schönberg´s unusual Second Quartet, which features a soprano voice. In both sang Christiane Oelze in her local debut. But the other pieces included aren´t hackneyed: the arrangement by Rudolf Barshai (as Chamber Symphony in C minor op.110ª) of Shostakovich´s powerful autobiographical Quartet Nº 8, and one of the so-called "Hamburg symphonies" (Nº 1 in G, Wq. 182/1, H 657) by the most talented son of Johann Sebastian Bach: Carl Philipp Emanuel. The concert was offered by the Mozarteum Argentino as part of its two subscription series at the Colón.
            I have to state that Oelze, a very well-considered singer in Europe, disappointed me in Pergolesi: the angular, uncomfortable Baroque lines of the very personal writing seem to have nonplussed her, for there were many unclean moments in her singing.  But she came into her own in the two movements of the Schönberg quartet that are written on  symbolist poet Stefan George´s texts: "Litany" and "Rapture"; in the second, considered the first step to atonalism in the composer´s production, she sings: "I feel the atmosphere of other planets", and indeed it is so aesthetically in this astonishing 1908 score, innovative both in its harmony and in its inclusion of a soprano voice.  And here Oelze was very musical and intelligent, giving its full due to the meaning of words and to the intricacies of the vocality.
            The orchestra was so homogeneous in its playing that I can only praise them in general lines, admiring their capacity to give us equally superb renderings of a Baroque (Pergolesi), a Classicist of very advanced ideas (C.P.E.Bach) and two very different Twentieth-century composers (Schönberg and Shostakovich). If my personal taste runs to the original quartet versions, I also enjoy these amplifications of texture. And the Munich Chamber Orchestra responded with quicksilver rapidity to the inflexions marked by its concertino, never missing a step.
            The encore gave us in Oelze a poised soprano singing a famous Baroque slow piece: "Ombra mai fu" from Handel´s "Serse". It may be useful to remind veterans that this aria, so often bowdlerized as sacred, is in fact a serene ode to to a plantain with a sarcastic twist.
            Due to a trip I couldn´t hear two concerts by the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, and I was sorry to miss  Reinhold Glière´s imaginative and colorful Symphony Nº 3, "Ilya Murometz". On June 9 young Brazilian Carlos Prazeres took over with the same programme the concert assigned originally to Carlos Dourthe. The comparative rarity was Ginastera´s Concerto for harp (1964-5), a rather strange opposition between beautiful lyric passages quite apposite for the soloist and savage explosions in malambo style. Lucrecia Jancsa was the exquisite player, always musical and sensitive.
            Prazeres proved to be a powerhouse of intensity and precision. This worked very well in Ginastera and in the wonderful "Dances from Galantha" by Zoltan Kodály, but admitting that it was very exciting, I do feel that Mendelssohn´s Symphony Nº 3, "Scottish", needs to be more expansive at times. The Phil was in fine fettle. 
            The following concert had been originally programmed to be the first of a subscription series, but this was cancelled due to the conflict between the orchestras and the Government. Now an uneasy truce prevails, and the Phil is playing, so that programme was  offered  on June 16. It featured the premiere of Michael Torke´s "Rapture", for percussion and orchestra. The composer (American, born 1961) is supposed to be a "post-minimalist", but I would take out the "post". The three parts, called "Drums and woods", "Mallets" (marimba) and "Metals", were brilliantly played by Ángel Frette, and the monotonous, relentless orchestral music, vaguely Caribbean, was "danced" by Arturo Diemecke on the podium.
            But the substance was elsewhere, in the toughest Mahler Symphony, Nº 6, "Tragic". Diemecke again showed his amazing memory and command, though some liberties in rhythm seemed excessive (especially the "ritenutos"). The orchestra responded with concentration and accomplishment. No small feat in this gigantic score.

martes, junio 14, 2011

Puccini´s problematic “Trittico” gets a wet production

            Giacomo Puccini´s "Trittico" is made up of three completely contrasting pieces each lasting 55 minutes: the fully "verista" "Il Tabarro" ("The Tabard"), a sordid social drama; "Suor Angelica", the melodramatic account of a suicide and a miracle; and "Gianni Schicchi", a sparkling medieval comedy about greed. They were written between 1915 and 1918 (war years). The latter has been very successful on its own, as the only and accomplished comedy by Puccini. The others have always been less praised and with reason, especially in the case of the weak "Suor Angelica", although in recent years (and I agree) "Il Tabarro" has gained some currency.
            The Colón and other opera companies have programmed the separate pieces with some assiduity but only the Colón has offered the complete "Trittico" and it figures, for it is expensive to put on with its three very different settings and the vast amount of artists it needs: 38 characters, and double the number if you include members of the second cast and covers. The last time was in 1997 with Sherrill Milnes and the vastly superior production by Fabrizio Melano and David Reppa as compared with the one inflicted upon the current audience by Stefano Poda (debut).
            "Wet production", says the title of this article. Indeed it was: in one of those incongruous "concept ideas" that pass for production in Europe nowadays, Poda asked of his stage designer to provide an ample pond smack across the stage, and if it makes a bit of sense in "Il Tabarro" (the action is supposed to happen in or near a barge on the Seine in Paris), it is completely nonsensical in "Gianni Schicchi" and even more so in "Suor Angelica": to see Buoso Donati´s relatives carousing and splashing each other, or the poor nuns wading through water, is certainly nonsense.
            Given the special character of this Puccini opus, it is relevant to analyze each opera in turn. Matters were aggravated by the equally absurd contradiction of Puccini´s intentions, ending with "Suor Angelica" instead of with "Gianni Schicchi": we go morosely home instead of laughing.
                                                 "IL TABARRO"
            Social opera isn´t at all common: the somber tale traced by Giuseppe Adami´s libretto gives a stark picture of life in the docks of Paris at the start of the Twentieth-Century: the adultery that ends in crime is powerful and the atmosphere, believable, although diluted by such things as the singer of ditties and the duo of young lovers, charming episodes peppered on the main drama, as are the character ariettas of the ragpicker Frugola.  Michele, the owner of the barge; his young wife, Giorgetta; and her lover, the stevedore Luigi, are true to life and sing powerful music. 
            There was a double cast. Giorgetta was sung by Amarilli Nizza, an interesting Italian soprano (debut) whose timbre is rather too incisive but with true verista instincts, and by our Haydée Dabusti, making an unfairly delayed first appearance at the Colón and singing with beautiful timbre, fine line and convincing acting. Both Micheles were admirable: the distinguished Catalan Juan Pons in his third visit to BA, still keeping his quality after a career of more than three decades, and Luis Gaeta in a perfectly delineated and sung impersonation, full of contained anger. Luigi needs a full dramatic voice and Carl Tanner certainly delivered powerful high notes with his burly frame;  he looks Nordic, though, and his singing wasn´t Italianate (the hand programme biography didn´t reveal his nationality). Fernando Chalabe, in the all-Argentine cast, acted woodenly but gave out clean Medieterranean sounds and fine diction. Polish contralto Agnes Zwierko´s deep tones weren´t always accompanied with enough characterisation in her Frugola, although she was much better than Alicia Cecotti. Her husband, Talpa, was well taken by Mario De Salvo and Christian Peregrino, and the other stevedore, Tinca, was similarly convincing as sung by Gabriel Renaud and Gabriel Centeno, the latter with fresher voice. The young voices of Duilio Smiriglia, Marina Silva, Oriana Favaro and Santiago Bürgi gave pleasure in episodic parts.
            Richard Buckley is a seventyish American conductor with vast experience; he made a distinguished debut, always in command and in style, extracting fine and blended sound from the orchestra.  But the end result was compromised by the vagaries of the production, where we were asked to believe that somewhow the distant barge and the proscenium acting area were the same thing, and the constant darkness as well as the morose movements of vast quantities of extras were excessive.
            The libretto by Giovacchino Forzano, inspired by a couple of lines in Dante´s "Inferno" about the protagonist (only reference to the "Divina Commedia" in the whole "Trittico"), is funny, witty and savage in its satire of greedy relatives; we certainly agree with Schicchi´s ruse, for after all he gives a good many lands and florins to the unworthy family, and if he keeps the best for himself (house, mule and mills) he also gives his support to Rinuccio´s and Lauretta´s marriage. And the music shows that Puccini could do comedy wonderfully (much as "Falstaff" proves in the case of Verdi).
            I never thought I could be almost bored by "Schicchi", but producer and lighting designer Poda accomplished this "feat". Apart from the infantile jokes and the silly water effects, we weren´t given the merest inklings of Florence in a work that celebrates the city explicitly, there was constant darkness where there should be light, and (as in the other two works) the costumes were relentlessly black, as well as completely neutral. I found myself sorely missing the charm and appositeness of the production by Jorge de Lassaletta in a production at the Colón about six years ago for the theatre´s Institute, with its scrupulous evocation of Medieval times and infectious sense of fun. Here Medieval times were inexistent, the charm and quaintness of episodes such as the Notary´s and the Doctor´s went for nothing, even when sung by talented artists (Sebastiano De Filippi, Fernando Grassi). Poda didn´t  age Simone, who is "the oldest", as the relatives keep repeating, and  didn´t  try to give Schicchi´s appearance some similitude with Rinuccio´s description of him.  Only in the scene where, up in a gigantic bed, Schicchi dictates his testament, was there any approximation to the fun of the piece, although the collaboration of the group of artists playing the relatives was impeccable, they really worked as a team.
            Pons sang well as Schicchi, but his acting had less point than expected; he was bettered by Gaeta, an excellent actor, though even he was subdued as compared with his splendid job a couple of years back for Buenos Aires Lírica. Both the petite Beatriz Díaz (Spanish, debut) and Eliana Bayón sang sweetly "O mio babbino caro", that plum of an aria. Darío Schmunck was his reliable self as Rinuccio. Of the relatives Zwierko (Zita) and De Salvo (Simone) have the only parts that go beyond ensemble work; most of the artists did well, although I disagree with Osvaldo Peroni´s exaggeration.  Buckley again showed his acumen.
            I dislike this piece with its mediocre libretto, for it gives us bathos rather than pathos, and a full half of it is dramatically irrelevant. The opera properly starts when already twenty minutes have gone by, in the crucial scene between the Aunt-Princess and Angelica, sent in typical seventeenth-century fashion to a convent and a life of penitence due to illicit love. But after that things deteriorate with Angelica´s suicide and particularly the kitschy miracle in which she is pardoned and sent to Paradise to join her dead infant son.  There are some good Puccinian moments but not enough, and we frankly don´t care about the little incidents between nuns and their authorities. For some reason there was a cut in the score, eliminating the part of the nurse-nun. 
            But an intense artist in the lead part can´t fail to impress, and both Nizza and the Argentine Virginia Wagner (who lives in Europe) acted and sung the arduous part with fierce emotion and fine top register. Zwierko (debut) was a vocal rather than a dramatic presence as the Princess. I would single out in the smaller parts the fine voices of Bayón, María Luján Miravbelli, Favaro, Victoria Gaeta , Laura Polverini and Florencia Machado. I was disappointed with Cecotti, Lucila Ramos Mañé and Fabiola Masino.
            Again Buckley was a tower of strength and again Poda and his collaborators (Daniel Feijoo, stage designer, and Cristina Pineda, costumes) failed to meet the needs of the work. "Suor Angelica" is static by itself and certainly needs all the help it can have to become alive; you need white costumes (they are specified), not black, a stage area that agrees with Forzano´s specifications (it didn´t), as fast a motion as allowed by the libretto, and some commonsensical regard to the few moments of action provided by the text. So I went out crushed and unhappy by such sad misconceptions. Better luck next "Trittico".

lunes, junio 13, 2011

A rich harvest of interesting concerts

            Before and after a trip to Canada and China, I witnessed numerous worthwhile concerts in our city. I thank my colleagues for filling in and keeping readers informed during the three weeks of my absence. 
            I will start by commending a splendid concert by the National Symphony under Pedro Calderón last Friday, and paradoxically condemning it as well. On the plus side: both orchestra and conductor were at their best in two masterpieces, Alberto Ginastera´s "Variaciones Concertantes" (to my mind his best score) and Anton Bruckner´s Fourth Symphony, "Romantic". What a pleasure to hear such assured playing in solid, wise readings, impeccably built. But there was a down side: for the original programme was wholly devoted to Bruckner´s Fifth Symphony, his most complex work, and for the second consecutive year it was scratched, due to the continuing disagreement between the providers of the orchestral materials (Melos ex Ricordi) and the Nation´s Culture Secretariat (I referred to the problem in an earlier article). It is ruining the year´s programming and I think it is a major problem. (And by the way, I dislike writing programme notes –as I did- that don´t get published).
            The Midday Concerts of the Mozarteum Argentino at the Gran Rex are an established institution that offers quality free music to thousands of people. The concert by the Cuarteto Petrus offered two French scores: the marvelous and well-known Ravel Quartet, and a true rarity, Édouard Lalo´s Quartet in E flat major, Op. 19,  an Argentine premiere in its original version (he would revise it later as Op.45). The Petrus is made up of four players of equal high level: violinists Pablo Saraví and Hernán Briático, violist Silvina Álvarez and cellist Gloria Pankaeva . They are also fine stylists and understand the hues and inflexions of French music. Lalo´s Quartet is no masterpiece but it has its attractive points and was worth making its acquaintance.
            Readers know I am an enthusiast of the Academia Bach de Buenos Aires, and again I enthuse about their first concert of the season, in which the artists under Mario Videla gave us two premieres: Sonata à 4 in F major by Johann Friedrich Fasch, for the rare combination of oboe, violin, horn and thorough-bass, and Johann Sebastian Bach´s Cantata Nº 88, "Siehe, ich will viel Fischer aussenden" ("See, I will send many fishermen"), for soloists (no choir), 2 oboes (oboe and oboe d´amore), 2 horns, strings and thorough-bass. The Fasch  is concise, pleasant Baroque; the Cantata is in two parts and seven pieces, with especially valuable arias for baritone and for tenor and a lovely duet for soprano and countertenor featuring the oboe d´amore. The best soloists were Alejandro Meerapfel (baritone) and Mónica Capra (soprano), countertenor Damián Ramírez was correct and tenor Matías Tomasetto, a bit green. The players were excellent, particularly Andrés Spiller (oboes) and Fernando Chiappero (horn), and Videla was as usual a first-rate Bach connoisseur. Just one objection: too little music (32 minutes), too much talk by Videla (over an hour), even if most of it was useful. 
            A curious cultural initiative called Tandem has brought us French artists and sent Argentine ones to Paris, but the "modus operandi" seems to me quite incorrect: a major French pianist made his debut at the Colón but it was a closed performance by invitation, and the theatre was only half full. Theoretically the City Government was in "tandem" with the French Embassy for the presentation of Bertrand Chamayou, replacing the octogenarian and famous Aldo Ciccolini. Well, the 30-year-old Chamayou proved a first-class talent, with a dazzling technique coupled with great sensitivity. The First Part was given over to Franz Liszt: the arrangement of Mendelssohn´s "In the wings of song", and fragments from "Years of peregrination": three from Switzerland (the charming lightness of "At the edge of a fountain", the terrifying difficulty of "Storm", the brooding ultra-Romantic "Valley of Obermann") and the three pieces called "Venezia e Napoli" (from Italy, of course) ending on a scintillating "Tarantella", played with disarming ease. In the Second Part the artist gave us a deeply considered "Prelude, Chorale and Fugue" by Franck, and two works by Saint-Saëns: the rarely done "Bells of Las Palmas" and the wonderful "Etude in the form of a waltz", a "tour de force" in Chamayou´s hands.  Two Liszt arrangements were the encores: "Widmung" by Schumann and "The Maiden´s Wish" by Chopin.
            It is a rare thing to hear cello duets: such was the treat offered at the Hungarian Embassy for an invited audience by a father-son team: Csaba and Zoltan Onczay (the father played Dvorák´s Concerto at the recent Ushuaia Festival). They also played for the general public and with a different programme for Ars Hungarica. Both are accomplished, though with a plus of firmness and style in the case of the father. A very interesting Sonata by the unknown Jean Barrière (1707-47) was followed by a Vivaldi Sonata, in this case with harpsichordist Sylvia Leidemann, who then played a piece from the Chiquitos (Bolivia) repertoire. A rather quirky Suite Op.l6 by David Popper preceded an arrangement by Csaba Onczay of Paganini´s Variations on a theme by Rossini (from "Mosè"), very difficult.
            There are each week in Buenos Aires a myriad of small concerts in extremely varied venues and most aren´t reviewed, but whenever I  visit some of them,  I often get much pleasure.
For Buenos Aires Herald

A sadly absurd condensed “Ring” at the Colón in 2012

            Richard Wagner´s epical Tetralogy "The Ring of the Nibelungs" is the most ambitious and trascendent work in the history of opera, a marvelous and complex, long dramatic musical narration made up of a prologue ("The Rhine Gold") and three so-called "journeys" ("The Walkyrie", "Siegfried" and "The Twilight of the Gods"). Uncut it lasts about 16 hours in four days, and is offered that way not only in Bayreuth but in several big theatres of the world, although the Colón, for reasons of singers´ stamina limitations, indeed cuts at least an hour, which leaves gaping holes in the narrative. To put on the complete "Ring" in a season marks the strength and organization of a theatre; the Colón could do it in the Sixties, in recent decades it has been reduced to two at a time, or even one at a time, and the last one was interrupted after "The Walkyrie".
             The "Ring" is an instant bestseller worldwide, one of the hottest tickets, a sure sign that even in these twitter days there´s still lots of people that appreciate huge sagas; the Tolkien craze is another. But the current Colón sees fit to hitch on to an absurd and sad parody, the "compacted Ring".  I can´t believe that Cord Garben, producer for Deutsche Grammophon of New York´s Metropolitan Opera´s "Ring", should team with the outrageous great-granddaughter of Richard, Katharina, who will be the producer (current Co-Director of the Bayreuth Festival, where she is insulting the composer´s memory with each new production), but those are the facts. Garben made the condensation to seven hours that is supposed to celebrate the bicentenary of the composer´s birth in 2013.
            There have been in recent years several projects of another type: the telescoping of the best symphonic fragments of the "Ring" and of other Wagnerian operas, even taking some vocal fragments and eliminating the voices, so as to make from the original operatic materials huge symphonic poems; it certainly doesn´t replace the operas, but the desire to wallow in the magnificent melodies and harmonies imagined by Wagner without having to follow the text is comprehensible in symphonic fans. And in fact, several were played by our National Symphony. I don´t mind, as long as I can have the operas done as they should. But the "compacted Ring" is nothing of the kind, even admitting Garben´s expertise in this repertoire. Of course I haven´t heard it, nobody has, but the idea is in itself a terrible one. For Wagner´s huge canvas has to have breadth, detail and density to produce its full effect, and the music is a fantastically intricate maze of Leitmotiven (leading motives) which hold together the tremendous edifice. Any cut diminishes it, but cuts of the gigantic length proposed (nine hours less) will give us a barebones Wagner.
            The idea is obnoxious anywhere, but particularly here. It will be presented in Berlin, a city that often sees the complete "Ring", so at least there they have a choice: those that are appalled by the idea will simply not go. But here… It means that the "compacted Ring" is all we are going to have for quite a few years, for in typical fashion I can see some ignoramuses saying that we´ve already had the "Ring", let´s leave a complete "Ring" for the far future. But the last time we had an almost complete "Ring" was in the lapse 1995-98! The great disruptions of the Colón´s productivity and current news about off-Colón production certainly aren´t good signs for Wagnerites, and they should strongly oppose this disastrous project. Because it´s wrong and because we have been neglecting Wagner for too long.
            If the Colón wants to do something worthwhile next year, let it put on "The Mastersingers", an absolute masterpiece absent since 1980. "Parsifal" in 2013 (last, 1986!), and start in 2014 a new Ring, two a year.  And in 2016, "Tannhäuser" (last, 1994). This would be a decent rehabilitation plan.
            Pedro Pablo García Caffi, by the time this article is published, will have signed in Berlin the right to have the world premiere  of the "compact Ring" on November 27 at the Colón. Cecilia Scalisi is the coordinator. From there the project will go out on world tour during 2013, the year of Wagner´s bicentenary. The bright marketing idea is supposed to put the Colón in the news. Of course the project is another sign of the degradation of Europe but there´s no reason for us imitate the worst of Europe if we have some artistic sense. And some talent for long-term planning. Can this be stopped yet? or cancelled? I hope it is.
For Buenos Aires Herald

A bevy of symphonic and chamber music

            The Colón´s Resident Orchestra (Orquesta Estable) was supposed to play under Frédéric Chaslin (debut) the first of five subscription concerts on May 21; the decision of the theatre´s Director Pedro Pablo García Caffi was to eliminate the subscription due to the conflict with the orchestras, but the concert was offered, albeit with its date changed to April 30; the change was due to a rearrangement of the dates for "The Magic Flute". And it presented Chaslin, a fortyish French artist, in the triple quality of conductor, pianist and composer.
            The result was no more than correct. The Orchestra played dutifully but dully, especially in Beethoven´s Concerto Nº 5, "Emperor", where Chaslin conducted from the piano, his back to the public. He showed a good orthodox technique, apart from a few slips, and a reasonable sense of style. As composer, he gave the world premiere of his "Gypsy Dance", to be added to his opera "Wuthering Heights". In 7 minutes he goes, according to the author´s own description, from a Hungarian style to Romanian, Yiddish and jazzy; the piece seems written in 1930 for a Hollywood movie such as Rozsa or Korngold used to compose, but it´s quite pleasant and professional. We´ve certainly heard much better versions of the Fantastic Symphony by Berlioz, but also much worse ones; it was a decent traversal lacking the electricity and controlled wildness the marvelous piece needs.
            Unfortunately, the National Symphony (Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional) is suffering from a different sort of conflict: the Nation´s Culture Secretariat fell many months behind in their payment of rentals of orchestral score materials and Melos (ex Ricordi) put its foot down: or full payment or no scores; the Administration paid almost all ($ 130.000) but about $ 10.000 are still going therough the bureaucracy. But Melos is adamant and still refuses renting until all is paid, which seems to me an extreme position. The result: a cataract of cancellations that is ruining the season.  I hope both sides will come to their senses and fast.
            The concert conducted by Pedro Calderón at the Auditorio de Belgrano on April 29 started with a splendid performance of Beethoven´s "Coriolan" at just the right tempo, not too slow. Alas, this replaced Gilardi´s "Obertura tritemática", due to the above situation. But we have already lost such important things as the premiere of Ives´ Fourth Symphony or the revival of Janácek´s "Taras Bulba". The sombre, beautiful Brahms Rhapsody for contralto, male choir and orchestra, based on Goethe´s "Winter trip to the Harz Mountains", was very well handled by the conductor and the male section of the Coro Polifónico Nacional (Darío Marchese) but Mónica Sardi is more a mezzo than a contralto and lacked deepness for the music.    
            The 55-minute "Manfred Symphony" by Tchaikovsky is one of his most impressive scores, even if too prolix; but so much of the music is deeply moving and tremendously dramatic that it´s certainly a fine companion to another Byron score, "Harold in Italy" by Berlioz. I found Calderón at his very best, not only a master builder but also a deeply involved interpreter that got admirable results from a communicative and fully professional orchestra. I only cavil at the weakness of the organ in the final minutes.
            Nuova Harmonia gave us a successful chamber music concert for the start of its season on April 26 at the Coliseo. Two of the four best works of the combination of string quartet and piano  (piano quintet) were offered: Franck´s and Brahms´ . The other two are Schumann´s and Dvorák´s, and of the latter we had as encore the lovely Scherzo from his quintet. Wonderful music with a master pianist, Paolo Restani, and a fairly good quartet, that of the Milan Scala, where I found the first violin a bit below par and the cello as the one with the most beautiful tone.  The tempi and phrasing were throughout very musical, with Restani a tower of strength.
            In recent years I wasn´t in BA for Easter Week, and so I missed the first three seasons of the meritorious Festival at San Isidro; this time I was available, and happy to encounter their "Camino del Santo". The Artistic Director is pianist José Luis Juri under the auspices of the Cultural  Directress of the San Isidro Municipality, Eleonora Jaureguiberry. All concerts are free.  A total of eight events, of which I selected three. Among those not selected (basically because the whole Festival happened between April 20 and 24) the Mozart Requiem, the Camerata Bariloche, pianist Tomás Alegre and soprano Soledad de la Rosa, all of them valuable. But the three I heard showed the seriousness of the endeavor.
            At the ample hall of good acoustics of  the School San Juan el Precursor, fronting one of the laterals of the Cathedral, the unusual Quartet "La Cofradía del Santo" gave us on April 21 two Brahms masterpieces: his late Trio for clarinet, cello and piano and his First Piano Quartet. Unfortunately Juri, one of our best professionals, was running a high fever and surmounting the recent death of his brother; but the Festival is his creation and he staunchly stood up to the challenge. His touch is normally stronger, but the sense of chamber phrasing and the fine technique were there, as well as the camaraderie with Belgian clarinettist Geert Baeckelandt and our notable Argentine cellist Claudio Baraviera (who lives in Spain) in the Trio, and with Baraviera, Elías Gurevich, violin, and the invited violist Gabriel Falconi in the Quartet. Some too incisive playing from violin and viola and overhard forte high notes on the clarinet were drawbacks, but the result was greater than the sum of the parts.
            On the following day and at the same venue, the "pièce de résistance" was the arduous Bartók Sonata for two pianos and percussion, where Juri and Fernanda Morello did fine work accompanied by three good players from the Colón Orchestra. I didn´t like the arrangement by Gustavo Alfieri of Ginastera´s Suite from "Estancia" for piano and percussion , though it was well played by Morello and Alfieri. There were also pieces by Debussy and Scelsi.
            I have nothing but high praise for the all-Bach recital of French violinist Virginie Robilliard  at that very special venue, the Cathedral. Sonata Nº 1 and the first two Partitas were beautifully played, with fine articulation at all speeds and firm solid sound, as well as fierce intellectual concentration. She played the monumental Chaconne of Partita Nº 2 with the bow of her amateur violinist uncle, who had received it from a French luthier; an anecdote, but a warm one (the uncle was present) in a recital that showed the power of Bachian communication.
For Buenos Aires Herald