miércoles, enero 11, 2012

A final roundup of ballet and chamber opera

            Tchiakovsky´s "The Nutcracker" is a Christmas staple in many countries, and it has become so here in B.A. It is very much a family ballet. This year for the first time I saw it  with my granddaughter, 6, and she fell under the spell. She was right: Iñaki Urlezaga´s presentation at the Citi Opera with his own revision of the choreography was really pleasant and accomplished.  No version will ever come near in this city to the Nureyev at the Colón, stunning both in its dancing brilliance and marvelous satge designs. But that is far in the past.
            Urlezaga´s Ballet Concierto, with the artistic direction of Lilian Giovine, the production and artistic realisation of Marianela Urlezaga, the lovely costumes of Rodolfo Sorbi and the technical direction (including lighting) of Miguel García Lombardo, gave us an enjoyable, well-danced and nicely presented evening.
            In this version Urlezaga only dances as the Prince (the Nutcracker transformed), not as Nureyev who also did  a finely acted Drosselmeyer.  The Christmas scene had charm and dynamism. In Clara´s dream the fight of mice and soldiers was rather pat. In the Second Act the Snowflakes Waltz was quite nice, and the long Divertissment was a success. I especially liked the lithe and beautiful Celeste Losa as the Odalisque in the Arabian Dance, but such things as the Chinese and the Russian dances also went very well, and the corps de ballet  was quite adequate in the big Flower Waltz. Of course, the great pas de deux at the end was the moment of special splendor for Urlezaga and his Clara, Eliana Figueroa. Drosselmayer was taken with professionalism by Jorge Amarante.
            The Orquesta Académica de Buenos Aires played agreeably under the firm hand of a ballet connoisseur, Carlos Calleja, and the Coro Kennedy under Raúl Fritzsche sang correctly in the wordless Snowflakes Waltz.
            I wrote recently about "Coppelius", the final offering of the Argentino´s Ballet, but an earlier event must also be mentioned. In October a double bill combined the Suite from Ginastera´s "Estancia" with the complete Stravinsky "Firebird". Carlos Trunsky as the choreographer of "Estancia" eschewed the conventional folk-inspired steps and in the eight chosen dances he combines couples in contemporary evolutions. As Trunsky says, he evokes  Ginastera´s music: "the passing of time, the dichotomy between city and field, love between a man and a woman from contrasting sides"; plus a Trunsky addition of an allegory of a "gringo Argentina crying at the feet of the original men of these lands". I didn´t like it much, but others may feel more attuned to his concepts. It was well danced .
            The original choreography of Fokin for "The Firebird" is a magnificent classic and I don´t believe it can be bettered, for it is wholly in the spirit it should have: that of a Russian fairy tale. Jorge Amarante´s choreography is respectful of the original story and steps, with only minor changes. The imaginative stage designs by Tito Egurza and costumes by Mini Zuccheri, well lighted by Roberto Traferri, made for a fine show. Larisa Hominal, a striking blonde, danced with full command the Firebird, abetted by convincing colleagues: Darío Lesnik (Kostchei), Stefanía Vallone (Princess) and Bautista Parada (Prince Ivan). The disciplined Corps de Ballet showed the knowledgeable hand of the Ballet´s Director Mario Galizzi.
            The Mexican conductor José Areán got generally good results in the difficult scores apart from some horn fluffs.
            Nino Rota´s "I due timidi", on a libretto by the famous film script writer Suso Cecchi D´Amico, is a bittersweet 56-minute opera on the disastrous results of excessive shyness. The Colón premiered it years ago with orchestra, and now the Argentino´s Ópera Estudio offered at the Sala Piazzolla the score in its original version as a radiophonic opera with piano. Composed in 1950, fully tonal, the music falls pleasantly on the ear but is hardly memorable. The witty Italian text was well projected by the whole young team, well prepared by musical director Guillermo Brizzio. Pablo Maritano did it as if we were witnessing the radiophonic performance, each artist doing his part but not interacting; it worked well. All were good, but I will especially mention Silvina Petryna, Darío Leoncini, Maximiliano Agatiello and María Luisa Merino Ronda.  
            The  Festival Internacional Encuentros offered two well-known one-acters in their original versions with piano: Menotti´s funny "The Telephone" and Poulenc´s tragic "La voix humaine" on Cocteau´s text. Nicolás Aráoz as producer underlined the farce elements in the Menotti libretto, and soprano Valeria Albarracín and baritone Martín Caltabiano fulfilled their parts with gusto. The telephone is also fundamental in Poulenc´s one-woman opera, for it´s the last time she talks with her ex lover. In Jorge de Lassaletta´s expressionist concept  the drama was well transmitted, and Marta Blanco, although with declining vocal means, was certainly an involved interpreter. Enrique Prémoli was the solid pianist.  
            A very short reference to Salvatore Sciarrino´s "Luci mie traditrici", an antiopera of exasperating stillness based on a seventeenth-century melodrama of treason. The completely dry rendering of the music by Raminta Babickaite, Ekkehard Abele, Daniel Gloger and Florian Just may be what the composer intended, but oh what a bore. The Ensamble Lucilin of Luxemburg with addition of Argentine musicians was conducted by Tito Ceccherini.  Alejandro Tantanian as producer had the thankless job of keeping the temperature close to absolute zero. The venue was the Sala Casacuberta in the San Martín´s cycle of contemporary music.

martes, enero 10, 2012

A concluding concert panorama, Part Two.

         The big amateur Grupo Coral Divertimento always ends its season with a choral-symphonic concert led by its long-time conductor, the talented Néstor Zadoff. This time they presented a nice combination of Nineteenth-century French music: the short, beautiful "Pavane" by Gabriel Fauré, and the best of Gounod´s many masses, the "Solemn Saint Cecilia Mass". The venue was AMIJAI.
I thought the Pavane overloud, but the Mass went along swimmingly, its 40 minutes propelled by a strong conductor, sung with enthusiasm and reasonable accuracy by the big choir; the 34-player
ad-hoc orchestra collaborated correctly. The solo parts were in the safe vocal chords of three good artists: the Chilean soprano Andrea Aguilar, the tenor Ricardo González Dorrego and the bass Sergio Carlevaris.
         Also at AMIJAI, one of the best acoustics we have, I was glad to appreciate the young pianists of the Martha Argerich Presents Project; they will have scholarships to study with the world famous personality. They all have the big guns to solve very difficult pieces. The youngest (19) was Tomás Alegre, who played sensitively three Chopin scores . Then, Ana Cho dealt with the fantastic and extremely difficult first and last movements of Ravel´s "Gaspard de la Nuit" with  ample dynamic range. Javier Villegas played Rachmaninov and Ginastera accurately though rather impersonally. I was impressed by the mettle of Joaquín Bordaçahar Dufau in Liszt´s almost unplayable "Dante Sonata". Finally, Elio Coria met most of the hurdles of Stravinsky´s  Three movements from "Petrushka".
         Third and last AMIJAI date: the second of three concerts by a valuable new group (founded 2010), the Ensamble Instrumental de Buenos Aires, combining strings, winds and piano. The players are all outstanding, among the very best we have, and they all know how to adapt themselves to the give-and-take of chamber music. And at the piano was no less than Fernando Pérez. They try to program unknown or rarely played scores,as on this occasion, for the audience had the pleasure of meeting the premiere of the Romantic Josef Rheinberger´s Nonet Op.139, as well as an acknowledged masterpiece, Brahms´ Quartet Nº 3 for piano and strings.  
         I´m sorry to say that the last concerts of the generally good Chopiniana sessions were disappointing. This apart from the drawback of the whole year, the deplorable resonant acoustics of the beautiful but inadequate Oval Room of the Palacio Paz. I heard the Austrian Mathias Soucek in 2006 and got a favourable impression; alas, now he calls himself just Mattheus and his artistic outlook has changed for the worse. In the standard repertoire he is arbitrary (Schubert and Chopin Impromptus, Beethoven´s "Tempest Sonata"); most of the recital was dedicated to his own wild improvisations on Schubert and Mahler, with very difficult but sham figurations. Martha Noguera, organizer of these concerts since their inception years ago, has a vast trajectory (the complete Beethoven Sonatas and the integral Chopin with opus numbers are among her feats) but the closing concert didn´t find her in a good day: lapses of memory (Beethoven´s Op.27 Nº 2), uncontrolled dynamics in Brahms´Variations on a theme of Händel, again lapses in Chopin´s Rondo Op.16. Only in Chopin´s Fantasy Polonaise Op.61 did I find the Noguera of other concerts, stylish and firm.
         The Festival Internacional Encuentros has reached the imposing number 43, always led by Alicia Terzian. Throughout the years she has presented an immense amount of premieres of Twentieth and Twentyfirst century scores, and although there was music from very good to very bad, it always is a colossal effort. I could only see two full concerts and fragments of a third out of a total of ten, and in particular I would have liked to hear pianist Yehan Gil and two Quartets, the Bozzini and the Aron. At the hall of the Consejo Profesional de Ciencias Económicas I heard the Mondrian Ensemble (piano and three strings). Two of the works were known here: Ives´ Trio and Kagel´s Second Trio. They also did a curiosity, Wyshnegradsky´s Trio Op.53, for it uses quarter-tones instead of the habitual semitones. The rest were Swiss composers using the trendy catalogue of effects (M. Jaggi, D. Ammann, F.Profos). The players are certainly proficient (although the violinist should moderate her gesticulations). The second concert was at the Centro Cultural de la Cooperación and presented the Crash Cuarteto of Santa Fe, prone to the most extreme experimentations; not my cup of tea. But at least as information, there was some interest in getting to know Brian Ferneyhough´s "Adagissimo" and S. Sciarrino´s First and Third Brief Quartets. I disliked the pieces by Santa Fe composers, except for Claudio Ferrari´s "Salvo el crepúsculo". Finally, the excellent percussionist Arauco Yepes played at the Biblioteca Nacional pieces that didn´t impress me (Klaus Ager´s "In the Fine Night" and María Luisa De Caro´s Fantasy for marimba), but Xenakis´ "Psappha" is true avant-garde with content.
         I have not space to cover them, but at least I want to mention the following: Schumann´s "Der Rose Pilgerfahrt" (Formaro, Coro Concepto Coral); Formaro-Cuarteto de la Universidad de La Plata (Colón); Primer Festival Nacional Música del pasado de América (Gabriel Garrido); Argentina Danzante (Lucio Bruno-Videla); Orquesta de Ouro Preto and four vocal soloists in Lobo de Mesquita´s "Matins of Holy Saturday"; Schubert´s Octet in the cycle Música en Plural (Centro Nacional de la Música); pianist Valentina Díaz-Frénot (AMIA); and Aquitanian Liturgical Chant of Xth and XIth centuries (Claudio Morla-IUNA).

lunes, enero 09, 2012

A concluding concert panorama, Part One

    Wrap-up time for the concert season, a roundup of interesting concerts that somehow didn´t find place but deserve mention. To start,  four Midday Concerts at the Gran Rex. Twenty-year-old  platense" pianist Tomás Nessi won the Shell-Festivales First Prize in 2009; this  recital proved his mettle with two masterpieces: Chopin´s Op.25 Etudes and Prokofiev´s Sonata Nº 7. Strong fingers, a clear mind,   concentration; perhaps too impersonal but he´s very young. The Heath Quartet (debut,  England), formed in 2002, is intense and precise, as shown in a fascinating combination of scores:  Janácek´s Quartet Nº 1, on Tolstoi´s "The Kreutzer Sonata", and Schubert´s Quartet Nº 13, called "Rosamunde" because it quotes a famous melody from that incidental music. The flexibility and  attention to detail of the Heath gave full value to both admirable pieces. No less convincing was the String Sextet of Milan´s La Scala Academy (debut), whose players   offered complete understanding and technical command of dissimilar and lovely musics: the one-movement sextet that opens Richard
Strauss´opera "Capriccio" ( certainly a unique instance in the history of the genre) and Tchaikovsky´s "Souvenir de Florence", a  light-hearted homage written with consumate ability. Finally, the very professional Orquesta Sinfónica Municipal de Caracas (debut) conducted by Rodolfo Saglimbeni (debut) executed a colorful Venezuelan score, "Santa Cruz de Pacairigua", and then accompanied well a master pianist, Peter Donohoe, in Rachmaninov´s virtuosic Third Concerto, played with stunning firmness and musicality.
    From time to time comes along a perfect, exquisite recital of unusual repertoire. This was the case of the closing Sofitel-La Bella Música occasion. Four expert, talented people concocted an ideal  panorama of Sixteenth-century Italian Baroque: baritone Víctor Torres in his very best form, mezzosoprano Mariana Rewerski showing much progress after a long European stay, and two great players: Juan Manuel Quintana (viola da gamba) and Dolores Costoyas (theorbo). Famous names (Monteverdi,  Caccini, Fescobaldi) but also plenty of  little-known ones, mostly trouvailles as Barbara Strozzi, Luigi Rossi, Sigismondo D´India, Dario Castello and Biagio Marini (the hilarious "La vecchia vecchia innamorata").
    The last concert of the Bach Academy brought yet another premiere of a Bach cantata, Nº 127, "Herr Jesu Christ, wahr´ Mensch und  Gott" ("Lord Jesus Christ, true man and God"). Rather short, in five fragments, it has a rich orchestration: trumpet, two recorders, two oboes, strings and continuo. The best parts are the initial Choir, the soprano aria and the dramatic interplay of baritone and trumpet in the recitative and aria Nº 4 with the same text as "The trumpet shall sound" from Händel´s   Messiah". Fine singing from Mónica Capra and orberto Norberto Marcos and a distinguished account of his part by trumpeter Fernando Ciancio, also the soloist in the preceding Fasch Concerto in  D. Nice work from the conductor, Mario Videla, the other players and the GCC-Grupo de Canto Coral led by Néstoltor Andrenacci.
    Ars Nobilis has changed its style in recent years; instead of subscription concerts, now they are free. The quality is variable, but some a good, are good, such as the only one I could attend, at the Jockey Club, featuring the excellent guitarist Isabel Siewers. She chose  a Spanish programme of composers who knew inside-out the secrets of the guitar, that intimate and expressive instrument: Fernando Sor (both his Variations on a theme by Mozart and his Grand Solo Op.14), Moreno Torroba´s Sonatina, three pieces by Tárrega, De Falla´s subtle  "Homage to Debussy". Then, an Italian specialist of the guitar, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, in a number from the series "Platero y yo", based on    uan on Juan Ramón Jiménez. Finally, the charming "Fandango Quintet" by Boccherini, where Siewers was partnered by the Schubert Quartet, a bit  green.
    The Fundación Música de Cámara has been led artistically for decades by the distinguished   Guillermo Opitz. He always programmes and  prepares concerts with two qualities: valuable but  unjustly neglected material and the promotion of promising young artists. Another  characteristic is the special venues selected. Thus, the magnificent Palace Sans Souci was the cadre for "Cancionero argentino", an ample digest of songs from earlier generations, starting with the nineteenth-century Esnaola. Aguirre, De Rogatis, Boero, Gianneo, J.J. Castro, Caamaño, Lasala, Ginastera and Guastavino were witnesses of the richness and quality of our song repertoire. Two works had special  scorings: Lasala´s "Serranas", for tenor, flute, piano and "caja"; and Guastavino´s "Indianas", for vocal quartet and piano. Many songs werem new to me and quite welcome. Among the singers I would single out bass Walter Schwarz, soprano Jaquelina Livieri, tenor Santiago Bürgi, mezzosoprano Javiera Paredes and soprano María Goso. The pianists and flutist  Da Dalt accompanied well         
    For the last concert, "Bach and Bachianas", as it included works by Villalobos, the cogent choice was Brazil´s splendid Embassy, although in the in the hall the sightlines were dicey. The night started with Johann Sebastian Bach´s  Suite Nº 2 for flute and strings, with an impeccable Patricia Patricia Da Dalt accompanied by just five strings (led by violinist Pablo Saraví) and harpsichord. Then, three scores by Villalobos: Prelude Nº 3 for Nº 3 for guitar, beautifully done by Víctor Villadangos; an arrangement for soprano and guitar of the first movement of Bachianas Brasileiras Nº 5   (I much prefer the original with eight cellos), where Livieri didn´t quite sustain the final high note; and a perfect performance by Da  Dalt and Gabriel La Rocca of the Bachianas Brasileiras Nº6. Finally, an agreeable staged (by Lizzie Waisse) Bach "Coffee Cantata", Nº 211, with Livieri, Schwarz and tenor Mauro Di Bert recounting the ingenuous anecdote and singing the deliberately simple music with engaging ardour. The players went along in the proper spirit.

miércoles, enero 04, 2012

The multiple worlds of chamber opera

      Opera was born in 1597 at the Camerata Fiorentina, whose name indicates that at first it was an art form designed for a small audience in an intimate hall. Eventually the exiguous Late Renaissance orchestra grew into a sizable one   during  Baroque times and public theatres welcomed opera. Even then, there were big pieces such as Cavalli´s "Ercole amante" with great stage machines and a quest for splendor, and "intermezzi" such as Pergolesi´s "La serva padrona", with just two characters.  Classicism was a time for refinement and Mozart´s "Così fan tutte" is the perfect example of a chamber opera.  The expansion of Romanticism gave the genre little space, but nevertheless there are such pleasant small operas as Donizetti´s "Rita".  In the Twentieth Century chamber opera sometimes came about as the result of restricted financial resources, and the same author, Benjamin Britten, could write the ample "Peter Grimes" and such chamber pieces as "The turn of the screw". Ideally this repertoire should be done with the small orchestra most composers require, but sometimes the originals are so "chamber" that they make do with just a piano, and at other times money (the lack of it) imposes the piano as a replacement.
            In 2011 we´ve had a good sampling of the genre, even if Pedro Pablo García Caffi scrapped two years ago the Colón Chamber Opera . But at least the ISA (Instituto Superior de Arte) has followed the good tradition established by Ana Massone during her many years with the Colón formative institution; now led by Eduardo Ihidoype, it offered a charming work by Valentino Fioravanti (1764-1837). The chosen opera has two versions: as "Le cantatrici villane" ("The gross singers"), in two acts, it was premiered in 1799 and in BA, the old Colón Chamber Opera offered it in 1970 with a splendid cast. This time we heard and saw the local premiere of the second version, reduced from two acts to one: "Le virtuose ridicole" ("The ridiculous virtuosi", not "The conceited ridiculous girls", as the "Argentine"-style put it: "Las vanidosas ridículas"), premiered in 1801. It was sung  in "Neapolitan" Italian, and unfortunately dislodged in time and place to an approximately Fifties small town in the Province of Buenos Aires (the 1970 "Cantatrici" left things as they should be in time and place).  The venue was the Teatro Margarita Xirgú, adequate for the purpose.
            Two blots: no references on the work in the hand programme, and especially no supertitles! (by now they are a must). The adaptation of the  libretto by Giovanni Palomba is by Betty Gambartes, who also produced. I certainly enjoyed the  text of "Le cantatrici villane" and I presume that the one for "Le virtuose ridicole" was equally funny. The music is fresh and accomplished in the spirit of "buffo" Paisiello. The basic idea has surely been preserved: a sham maestro appears in a small village and in no time three local girls pretend to become prima donnas; this, plus some Romantic shenanigans with two suitors, is the whole plot.  If you accept the transposal to 1950s Argentina, Gambartes´ production was fast and funny, and her collaborators were in the spirit of the farce: Gerardo Pietrapertosa (stage design), Alicia Gumá (costumes) and Gonzalo Córdova (lighting).
            The Orquesta Académica del ISA was led with charm and professionalism by Carlos Vieu. There were two casts, I write on the second. Fernando Grassi was a splendid Don Bucefalo, he has perfectly assimilated the "buffo" school of his father Oscar. I was well impressed by the "ladies": María Eugenia Coronel Bugnon, Beatriz Quinteiro and Verónica Cano moved and sang nicely. A talented tenor looking like a young Pavarotti, Gastón Oliveira Wekesser, should have a fine career. And Claudio Rotella was a convincing Marco.
            Earlier in the season, the plucky independent Lírica Lado B presented for the first time in Argentina an opera by Vicente Martín y Soler: "L´arbore di Diana".  And recently they presented in eight performances the premiere of another opera by the same Spanish author: "La festa del villaggio", at the Manzana de las Luces, the same small amphitheatre they used in 2010 for Haydn´s "L´isola disabitata". "La festa…" has a libretto presumably by Ferdinando Moretti; he as well as Martín y Soler were residing in 1798 at Saint Petersburg, where Italian opera was much liked (both Paisiello and Cimarosa stayed there a number of years). The libretto presents typical comedic equivocations between three couples, plus a Marquis officiating as  a Cupid; the music is always pleasant and classical, though hardly memorable.
            There were two casts who intermingled; I write on the one I saw (the fifth performance). The men were mostly good: baritones Juan Pablo Paccazochi and Gabriel Vacas and especially tenor Christian Casaccio; I disliked the foppish and mannered Marquis of Esteban Manzano. Of the girls I preferred soprano Milagros Burga to Mercedes Olivera and  found mezzosoprano Tamara Odón below par. An added dancer seemed superfluous.  The 20-strong Orchestra was weak in the violin department but otherwise responded acceptably to conductor Camilo Santostefano, who has a good sense of style. A 9-member Choir was more enthusiastic than accurate.
            Again I don´t respond favorably  to the ideas of producer Diego Rodríguez; I find him arbitrary in the extreme and often tasteless, with outlandish ideas passing for imagination. A pity, for Lírica Lado B is bringing to us new pieces worthy of better treatment.