martes, diciembre 27, 2011

End-of-season ballet standards

            Last year disaster struck the Colón´s Ballet Season when a prolonged conflict between the Ballet and the theatre´s director Pedro Pablo García Caffi led to the cancellation of the subscription series. One of the obstacles was the absence of a decent dancing floor. At the start of this year, after denying the need for it and the existence of dancers with lesions, García Caffi caved in and bought two Harlequin floors. The corps de ballet pronounced it acceptable, and although big problems remain unanswered, dancers are happy to be back on stage and are trying to give their best, with reasonable success.
            “The Corsair”, a famous ballet with a long history, was supposed to be back in the repertoire last year, and in fact the new production was ready. This season, with no subscriptions (at the start of the year both orchestras were on strike), “The Corsair” was reprogrammed.   
            Lord Byron wrote “The Corsair” in 1814, a typically Romantic text. Joseph Mazilier, long-time “maître de ballet” of the Paris Opera, made this full-length work in 1855 on an adapted scenario by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges, and premiered it on January 23, 1856. The music was by the author of “Giselle”, Adolphe Adam. When the ballet was revived in 1867, Mazilier made some changes and asked Léo Delibes (author of “Coppélia”) to provide some new music (the “Pas des fleurs”). But another version was concocted by Jules Perrot in Russia, based on the original by Mazilier; there were musical interpolations by Cesare Pugni. Perrot´s Conrad (the Corsair) was Marius Petipa, who in 1880 presented his own version,  modified in 1899, and with new musical interpolations by Riccardo Drigo (the famous “pas de deux”, often seen and heard here in ballet galas). Much later, in the 1950s, Piotr Gusev added in his choreography still more music, by Ludwig Minkus and by Prince Peter of Oldemburg (cousin of Czar Nicholas I), and changed the scenario with Yuri Slonimsky´s help. This version was premiered in 1955 and presented at the Colón in 1999. Finally, we now got to know Anne-Marie Holmes´ version, based on a later version by a Russian choreographer unidentified in the otherwise excellent programme notes by Enrique Destaville.
            And out of this puzzle, what has come out? An agreeable, not very dramatic, often humorous concoction with plenty of brilliant choreographic passages, without any attempt (and I agree) to make it “contemporary”. This is the version that Paloma Herrera danced with Julio Bocca years ago, and now she was Medora, whilst her Conrad was the Canadian Guillaume Côté.  There were three casts and I write on the first. Paloma, now 35, is a very accomplished artist of remarkable consistency over the years, and so she was again, although I have always felt in her some lack of poetry.  Côté was a very good partner, even if in this choreography some plum bits are given to his sidekick Ali, brilliantly danced by Juan Pablo Ledo. Two other artists were outstanding: the refined Silvia Perillo as Gulnara, and the elegant Federico Fernández as Lankedem, the slave trader. The Pasha was mimed funnily by Marcelo Antelo. Others who danced well were Edgardo Trabalón, Maricel De Mitri and Natalia Pelayo. The Corps de ballet was generaly accurate and disciplined, especially the ladies in the “Animated Garden” scene, and the dynamic pirates.
            The Buenos Aires Philharmonic played very well this light and agreeable music under the expert conducting of Hadrián Ávila Arzuza. Apart from some kitschy details, I liked very much the production, with splendid stage designs by Christian Prego, fine and varied costumes by Aníbal Lápiz and resourceful lighting by Roberto Oswald.
            Most ballet “habitués” have seen Delibes´ “Coppélia” though the decades, for this is the best French ballet of the nineteenth-century along with “Giselle”. But the change of title at the Argentino, “Coppelius the magician”, intimated that Marcia Haydée´s choreography would be innovative. Indeed, she has changed the plot deeply and put Coppelius rather than Swanilda as the protagonist. As time passed during the performance I saw (fourth and last of the run), I became convinced that she has aimed at the children (which were numerous in the audience), corresponding to the Christmas season (her version was supervised by Pablo Aharonian).  She has cut most of the Third Act (no big loss dramatically, for it is mostly a divertissement) and put the accent on a world of gypsies (First Act) and gnomes (the latter in the Second Act yelling and covering the often subtle music). And she has added some music from “Sylvia” (a splendid Delibes ballet shamefully neglected in our midst). What I disliked was the portrait of Franz (Swanilda´s suitor) as boorish and over-insistent. But otherwise a lot was fresh and humoristic, with interesting dance steps.
            Coppelius in this version is young, charismatic; the part was very well taken by Bautista Parada. Franz was danced by Benjamín Parada (are they kin?), fleet and accomplished as a dancer but much too mincing in his gestures. Julieta Paul was a charming Swanilda. Esteban Schenone was a lithe and humoristic Zimmo (dream gnome), Juan Manuel Ortiz was a strong Gypsy and Elizabeth Antúnez was beautiful and sensitive as the Fairy of Love.  The big ensembles went well with young, agile dancers doing their parts with enthusiasm and accuracy. The Orchestra played nicely under the accomplished conducting of Carlos Calleja. The effective stage designs were the joint debut of Lucas Borzi, Martina Urruty and Santiago Duarte; Gonzalo Giacchino did the imaginative costumes, and Rubén Conde lighted the proceedings with a fine touch.  

domingo, diciembre 18, 2011

A penultimate concert roundup: variety galore

The last concert of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic had an unusual programme, for the original one was changed. The description “colossi of rhythm” was appropriate to the combination of Stravinsky´s “Les Noces” and Orff´s “Carmina Burana”, but the former was scrapped and instead we had a First Part combining a string quartet first with the orchestral strings (in the splendid Elgar “Introduction and allegro”) and then with the full orchestra in the premiere of Ludwig Spohr´s Concerto for string quartet and orchestra in A minor, Op. 131. The Petrus Quartet didn´t play in their usual topological disposition but were in a line in front of the orchestra on the left. I felt that the orchestra conducted by Enrique Arturo Diemecke didn´t cohere with the quartet and the result lacked richness in Elgar and enough precision in Spohr. The Quartet played well but not quite at its best. Spohr is an agreeable composer mixing Classicism and Romanticism.
“Carmina Burana” is by now a hackneyed, constant presence in our seasons. Diemecke has a strong rhythmic sense and did it quite well, with the firm assistance of the Phil and excellent work from the Colón Choir under Peter Burian and the Colón Children´s Choir under César Bustamante. Laura Rizzo sang resplendently, Luis Gaeta sounded veteran in both senses, for his easy professionalism solved the problems but the voice isn´t fresh, and Damián Ramírez was too mannered in his countertenor rendition of the poor swan singing as he is roasted.
La Bella Música is an institution led by Patricia Pouchulu that has presented several series of concerts throughout the last decade but had as its big event a choral-symphonic concert at the end of the year. However, in recent years Pouchuku has been studying conducting, and she chose to be this season at the helm of an orchestral concert at the Avenida. It was a pleasant occasion. Vivaldi´s “The Four Seasons” was done with a rather large string group (24) and four different soloists, all of them concertini of our orchestras. They didn´t attempt to play as Baroque specialists (such as Manfredo Kraemer) but they added ornaments in the right places and played with sprung rhythms and accuracy. Freddy Varela Montero (from the Colón´s Resident Orchestra) was the mainstay of “Spring”; Luis Roggero (National Symphony) did “Summer” brilliantly; Nicolás Favero (La Plata´s Argentino) dealt with “Autumn”; and Pablo Saraví (B. A. Phil) solved with bravura the picturesque intricacies of “Winter”. Pouchulu accompanied tastefully.
I have a soft spot for Beethoven´s Sixth Symphony (“Pastoral”) and I was agreeably surprised by an orthodox, careful reading that let us appreciate the calm beauties of most of the music but gave its due to the Storm. The ad-hoc Orquesta sinfónica de La Bella Música, 49-strong, had Grace Medina as concertino and many prominent players.
The prestigious Pilar Golf concert series is certainly the best of Greater Buenos Aires; it has a good hall in a beautiful building and a faithful audience coming from the abundant country clubs of that region. Although the programming tends to have too much crossover nowadays, there´s still some interesting concerts. This year I was sorry to miss the combination of soprano Verónica Cangemi and the Orquesta Barroca Argentina, both at Pilar and the Colón; unfortunately their concert at La Plata (I had that date reserved) was cancelled. But I enjoyed a rather strange recital fusing the voice of mezzosoprano Virginia Correa Dupuy and the exquisite harp playing of Lucrecia Jancsa. Indeed there isn´t much repertoire for this texture and this meant some special arrangements as well as harp solos. It was a pleasure to meet some unknown Britten: “Evening”, “Morning” and “Night”, from Ronald Duncan´s “This way to the tomb” (1945). After Fauré´s harp Impromptu, Ravel´s “Greek popular songs” sounded very nicely with harp instead of piano, and Correa Dupuy and Jancsa were exquisite.
The Second Part started with Manuel de Falla´s “Soneto a Córdoba” (Góngora) and Guridi´s harp piece “El viejo zortzico”. Then, the well-written “Dos canciones provincianas” by the Argentine composer Ernesto Mastronardi. Afterwards, two arrangements on Villalobos: “Bachianas brasileiras Nº 5” (only the Cantilena, where the harp doesn´t make me forget the cello octet of the original) and “Melodía sentimental”. Finally, four arrangements by Marta Lambertini on Paraguayan pieces and Sosa Cordero´s “Anahí”; Lambertini´s refined versions are interesting; Correa Dupuy, normally so stalwart, faltered precisely in “Anahí”. The lovely encore was Ponce´s “Estrellita”.
The final concert, as usual in Pilar Golf, presented the Camerata Bariloche. For some reason, the leader wasn´t Freddy Varela Montero, but on this occasion the Albanian violinist (with Argentine residence) Demir Lulja (member of the National Symphony). After a nice version of Corelli´s Concerto grosso Op.6 Nº 8, “for Christmas”, a beautiful interpretation of J.S.Bach´s charming Nuptial Cantata, BWV 202, “Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten”, with perfect oboe solos by Andrés Spiller and the fresh voice of Soledad de la Rosa. The arrangement by Camillo Sivori of Bottesini´s Grand Concertante Duet for violin, bass and string orchestra (the original is for two basses) was well done by Lulja and bassist Oscar Carnero, whose part is the devil to play (extremely high for a bass). The very musical and precise playing of Dvorák´s charming Serenade Op.22 ended the concert, followed by fine catering, fireworks and dancing, as is traditional in their final nights of the season.

lunes, diciembre 12, 2011

The charm of Viennes operetta

            The makebelieve world of operetta first flourished during the French Second Empire and was interrupted by the Gallic defeat in the Franco-Prussian War; afterwards it recovered  but again World War I put an end to it. The Pax Britannica of the Victorian Age engendered the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan (they called them “operas”). And the Austro-Hungarian Empire had a bright light in Johann Strauss II during the late Nineteenth Century but there were others: Von Suppé, Zeller, Millöcker. Later on, two Hungarians led the field: Emmerich (Imre) Kálmán with such pieces as “The Princess of the Czardas”, and particularly Franz (Ferenc) Lehár whose most famous operetta was “The Merry Widow” (“Die lustige Witwe”).
            I am sorry that the Colón chose “The Merry Widow” to finish its season, not that I don´t like it (far from it) but because it was very decently offered just last year by Juventus Lyrica and also due to the fact that the memory is still fresh of the splendid version offered by the Colón in 2001 with Frederica Von Stade, Thomas Allen and Paul Groves, conducted by Julius Rudel and with production by Lotfi Mansouri. In fact it was the first time that a Viennese operetta was offered here in German, as it should be; and if anyone doubts this, let him think about “La Verbena de la Paloma” done in that language! For knowledgeable people, it´s just as shocking and inappropriate.  Fortunately the present version was indeed in German, both in the spoken and sung parts. As I recently wrote about Joh. Strauss II´s “Die Fledermaus”, it´s certainly hard for non-German speakers to enact their roles idiomatically, but if they master the problem the results are enormously enhanced; so much so, that a bilingual version becomes intolerable.
            I believe that the chance was missed to present such Lehár hits as “The Count of Luxemburg” (“Der Graf von Luxemburg”) and especially “The Land of Smiles” (“Das Land des Lächelns”), whose Prince Sou-Chong was Richard Tauber´s most famous role (he was the finest singer of the Lehár repertoire). Or Joh. Strauss II´s “The Gypsy Baron” (“Der Zigeunerbaron”). And one of Offenbach´s best operettas, such as “Orphée aux enfers”. It would be audacious but worthwhile to bring over a specialised cast and do Sullivan´s “The Mikado”.  All would be “firsts” at the Colón even if they are very famous in Europe.
            The best point about this revival was the re-use of the “art nouveau” stage designs of Michael Yeargan, very handsome and functional;  at least the Colón didn´t spend on new designs. On the other hand, the  costumes by Mini Zuccheri were generally agreeable and in style. Good lighting by Roberto Traferri. The production by Candace Evans (debut) had some lapses of taste, such as the scene of the “grisettes”, but she followed the fluffy plot well, although the “trendy interventions” on the original text by Viktor León and Leo Stein (uncredited but of apparent “porteño” vintage) to my mind are counterproductive to the Belle Époque Parisian mood (such as a reference to Messi, of course wildly applauded). The choreography by Rodolfo Lastra was generally well done (excepting the “grisettes”). The long ballet at the beginning of the Third Act, sometimes cut, was welcome, for otherwise the act would be too short.
            On the musical side the best thing was the light, lilting pace obtained by conductor Gregor Bühl (debut), which shows his versatility for he has conducted a lot of Wagner. The Choir under Peter Burian was pleasant enough. I was very disappointed by Norwegian soprano Solveig Kringelborn, who used to have a nice lyrical voice, now strident and often unacceptable; although she moved well, you need vocal allure for “Vilya” or the famous waltz, and this was absent. Lyuba Petrova as Valencienne showed a small but accurate voice and acted with some charm. Baritone Mathias Hausmann (debut) has profited from his experience at the Viennese Volksoper; he sings with a serviceable voice but adds much style, and he moves elegantly, though some prefer more “devilish” Danilos. Though not a match for Paul Groves, tenor Benjamin Bruns (debut) sang a creditable Camille with firm highs (he and Petrova did  the rarely included duet “Zauber der Häuslichkeit”).
            Reinhard Dorn´s voice is rather worn but Baron Zeta speaks more than he sings and Dorn´s acting was very good. Evans exaggerated the rivalry of Viscount Cascada (the firm-voiced Norberto Marcos, who had to cope with many additions in Spanish of doubtful relevance) and St Brioche (tenor Carlos Ullán with diminished means and white hair). The Njegus, a sort of messenger for Ambassador Zeta of Pontevedro (the thinly disguised Montenegro), was marked by Evans with a grotesque body language endured by Gustavo Zahnstecher, who sang with humor a little ditty generally cut (this was a very full edition of the operetta).  I was astonished that the normally good Marisa Pavón did such a gross parody of a grisette in her Zozo. Parody is alright in the spoken role of the old cocotte Praskovia, funnily done by Rosmarie Klingenhagen. Others in the cast were in the picture: Ernesto Bauer, Natalia Lemercier, Alejandro Meerapfel, Oriana Favaro, Leonardo Estévez and Ariel Ramos. Good dancing from the Colón Ballet with such solo artists as Maricel De Mitri and Edgardo Trabalón. There was a second cast (changing the five main parts) which I didn´t hear.

domingo, diciembre 04, 2011

True and fake avantgarde

For fifteen years Martín Bauer has been leading the Cycles of Contemporary Music of the Teatro San Martín. During part of that time he has also been at the helm (in that case in collaboration with Diana Theocharidis) of the Colón´s CETC. And when Marcelo Lombardero took the post of Artistic Director of the Teatro Argentino he created the TACEC naming Bauer as its head. So Bauer´s taste has had vast influence in the formation of a generation. Alas -and I stress that I tread dangerous and controversial ground- I feel that his choices have very often been wrongly oriented and I do hope that someone with ampler and more central ideas should take over these tasks. For his exaggerated concentration on certain pet composers such as Cage, Feldman and Sciarrino and on experiments of doubtful value have given a distorted and clique-ridden image of contemporary music.
Also, “contemporary” isn´t the right tag of what these concerts should be; I would propose for them (and for the CETC and TACEC) variants of titles such as “XX-XXI music”. For the object should be to give an authentic panorama of music of both centuries in every style. That´s what Gandini used to do, and I find his orientation the right one.
In what is surely an absurd decision, Pedro Pablo García Caffi, the Colón´s Director, is basing a new venture called “Colón contemporáneo” in a mere redundancy of Bauer´s Cycles. It would be a good thing if it brought -independently of the San Martín- new music worth knowing. But now I´ve said all this, I will have to eat my words concerning one very special concert dedicated to Edgar Varèse, true avantgarde indeed and a signal service to the information of music lovers, as the start of Bauer´s cycle and parting shot (this year, the only one) of the Colón Contemporáneo. I am happy to say that I find this project a fantastic success, a case where both Bauer and García Caffi are completely right.
For Varèse, as has been belatedly recognised, is the purest avantgarde of the Twenties and Thirties. His music was either ignored or savagely attacked, but he did have such a champion as Leopold Stokowski, and with good reason, for he was the pioneer of a new concept: without quite abandoning the traditional parameters of rhythm, melody and harmony, his stress was on pure sound, a precursor of what the Polish School would do after World War II. His ideas on texture are still amazing and new eighty years later; moreover, they are exciting and convincing.
The concert was wrongly billed as the integral Varèse; he wrote very little, for the general rejection forced him into a silence of many decades, but several pieces weren´t in this programme. A First Part of chamber music was followed by two big orchestral pieces: “Arcana” (1925-7) and “Amériques” (1922); I have never before heard them in concert and they may be premieres. The First Part started with the 4-minute “Hyperprism” and then “Ionisation”, well-known here, not quite the first score for percussion but certainly the first important one. Then, “Octandre” (1923) and “Intégrales” (1923-5) are splendid and intricate examples of chamber music (also known here). The two great orchestral pieces were overwhelming in their novelty and richness, especially “Arcana”.
This “tour de force” wouldn´t have been possible without the presence of Alejo Pérez, probably the only local conductor capable of solving the immense problems present in these pieces. He got admirable performances out of the Uruguayan Ensemble Perceum (percussion), fifteen Argentine chamber players and the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, all playing with fierce concentration. I was happy that a big audience gave them all a resounding success.
But afterwards, with rare exceptions, the Cycle fell (as it has in former years) into arid nihilism. I skipped many of the concerts simply because I knew what to expect and didn´t feel like exposing myself to a masochism session. Just for the record, I mention the visit of German creator Peter Ablinger, six composers played by the Ensemble Lucilin (Luxemburg), an experimental opera by Carola Bauckholt (“A keen ear”), percussion pieces by James Tenney with Alexandre Babel, again percussion (including Cage, Gubaidulina and Xenakis) by the famous Robin Schulkowsky, the Prometheus Quartet in Fedele, Reich and Ghedini, and with Carolin Widmann the Schönberg “Transfigured Night”(I count five players but this is a sextet) –Widmann also played violin solo scores-, Lionel Marchetti in “Electroacoustic improvisation around Varèse”, “Homage to Christian Wolff” (USA composer of the Cage school) and Satie´s “Vexations” (a 2-minute piece written in 1893 played 840 times according to the wish of this proto-Dada composer).
I was sorry to miss two concerts, one with valid Argentine composers (Tauriello, Gandini, Lambertini, Kröpfl, Viera), the other a chamber opera by Marcelo Toledo, “La selva interior”, on the writer Horacio Quiroga´s dying last minutes. I will leave Salvatore Sciarrino´s chamber opera “Luci mie traditrici” for a further article, and close this one with a reference to a debilitating experience, symbol of what I call “fake avantgarde”: the “Piano and String Quartet” by Morton Feldman. Its exact description: 80 minutes made up of slow piano arpeggios answered exasperatingly by slow string chords. Perfect boredom in music for me, “a masterpiece” for at least one colleague…The players seemed expert (pianist Emanuele Torquati and the Prometheus Quartet).

The Colón´s ill-conceived “Ring” and internal rumblings

            Last May 14, when the Colón in a general way announced its project about a condensed Wagner "Ring", I wrote an article roundly condemning the idea. I hoped then that the project could be stopped by public opinion, but the general apathy of our milieu prevailed, and the thing will definitely be done. In fact, the Colón´s Director, Pedro Pablo García Caffi, invited the two people responsible to the press conference announcing the 2012 season, and in fact the last half-hour was given over to the presentation of the so-called "Colón Ring" (the  official denomination!) by García Caffi and the two "perpetrators": Cord Garben has done the musical condensation and Katharina Wagner will be the producer. There were also questions, quite poorly answered.
            In a second press conference Wagner and Garben were the expositors, and the latter gave expert examples at the piano of details about his work. There were further questions (in which I intervened); later refreshments were served and I dialogued with Garben. I won´t repeat here arguments already made clear in my article, but some facts and opinions must be added as the result of the mentioned exchange of views:
            .) I said it is basically nonsensical to give as a reason that the Ring is too long, for it is always offered as four separate evenings; the longest opera is "The Twilight of the Gods" (around 4 ½ hours); but the condensation lasts seven hours and you see it in one day. Plus two intervals you spend nine hours in the theatre, and some of the shows will take place in working days!
            .) The answer to this was very lame: it is an alternative version, they don´t intend to supplant the original. My riposte: there is a market for long sagas (Harry Potter, "The Lord of the Rings") and any true Wagnerite is quite willing to go along with occasional longueurs for they are an indissoluble part of the Wagnerian method and the music is always interesting.
            .) It became apparent that big chunks were cut not because of musical considerations but out of lack of empathy of Katarina Wagner with certain sections which she feels are unstageable (most of the big love duet in "Siegfried"!); and viceversa, she didn´t admit the cut of Siegfried´s Funeral March (there I agree with her, terrible judgment on Garben´s part). Also, Katarina disavowed Garben´s statement that he had eliminated all the philosophical bits (along with the redundancies, some of which aren´t, such as the ill-advised cut of Waltraute´s narrative). So, even the collaborators don´t see eye to eye!
            .) It will be quite expensive. Although sensibly opera subscribers have the option of buying the whole eight-title lot or only seven leaving the Ring out, the Colón Ring will cost in the best seats $ 2.600 up to December 19, and $3.000 from January on, although that will include catering in the intervals (one of them lasts a whole hour).
            .) The Colón holds the rights and will try to sell it worldwide, as well as to record it. There´s always a commercial side to any cultural event, but it seems to be paramount in this case.  
            My last report on the Colón´s internal situation was published on April 12 and was called "The Colón: light at the end of the tunnel". In a sense it was true, for the season took place; but unfortunately it came about as a result of devious management of very human problems, in a word things were kept quiet by unfair duress.
            Judges emitted favourable sentences forcing the Colón to accept workers it wanted to fire but they couldn´t avoid such things as discounts to orchestral players that had participated in street protests and were consequently cowered into submission. When the players in conflict accepted to go back to work they did so on the promises of negotiations to solve the irritating problems, but they weren´t kept, so the players ceded and obtained nothing; instead, they were sanctioned.
            Macri won a new term, he has more legislators than before and García Caffi apparently stays, so things look dire for the workers. In this context there was recently a strange bit of news. Máximo Parpagnoli, of ATE, head of the resistance during these past years, was a candidate in several elections to cover the fifth post of the Colón Directorate as representative of the workers. Several times the quorum of 60% stipulated by the Autarchy Law wasn´t obtained. Last February Sutecba, the rival labor union, argued that Parpagnoli couldn´t be a candidate for he was sued by the Government  who wanted to fire him and seven others, and García Caffi accepted this, so he postponed the election six months.  But now, for some unexplained reason, Parpagnoli´s candidacy was accepted, the election took place, and I´m quite sorry to inform that he lost to Sutecba´s candidate. It was a close election but apparently a fair one, so now García Caffi is going to cohabit with a friendly labor candidate. Very bad for those who are quite unhappy with the way the Colón is run, like myself.
            So the unrest and rumblings will go on but apparently there will be no new strikes and all the announced subscription series will take place. Unfortunately most people think all is well at the Colón and only care about strikes if they are affected by them; public opinion isn´t disposed to analyze matters and is all too ready to attack labor. On the other hand, savage strikes such as happened last year are indeed unacceptable. Structural matters will remain unattended and no plans to finish the restoration of the building are known. The workshops still are at La Nube in Belgrano and working conditions are  bad. Nothing is known about the future installation of the Museum or the Library. The Salón Dorado remains unused. There are no plans to cover vacancies or to solve pension problems. And opera production is diminished and with second-rate casts but with Met prices. However, most people still think highly of Macri and García Caffi. This is a topsy-turvy world.