Although Pietro Mascagni was a prolific creator of operas, only the initial one has held the stage. But “Cavalleria Rusticana”, premiered in 1890 at 27, was the parting shot of “verismo”, and so it holds a distinguished place in the history of the genre. It was soon followed by another one-act opera of great success, Ruggero Leoncavallo´s “I Pagliacci” (1892), and as both are short they soon came to be coupled in the theatres of the world: “Cav-Pag” has been a feature of the repertoire ever since. However, it doesn´t follow that it should always be done like that, and the coupling of two Mascagni operas written in immediate vicinity makes sense: “L´amico Fritz” dates from 1892, and although written in three acts, it is shortish (92 minutes), so it makes a reasonable (slightly long) evening, if you add the 72-minute “Cav”. That was the decision of Ana D´Anna and Antonio Russo to start Juventus Lyrica´s season at the Avenida. “Fritz” was poorly done at the Roma (Avellaneda) some years back, but within the limits of the capital was last heard at the Colón in 1955.
Alas, only a marvelous cast and orchestra can partially redeem the mediocrity of the plot; based on a novel by the Alsacians Erckmann and Chatrian, the libretto by P. Suardon tells in mediocre language an elemental love story between Fritz Kobus, wealthy and generous feudal lord (no definte date is stated and I wonder about feudal lords still existing in late nineteenth-century Alsatia), and Suzel, a shepherdess; a matchmaker Rabbi (!), a young gypsy (Beppe, trouser role) and a couple of friends also intervene. Almost nothing happens, though some of the music is charming, especially the Cherry Duet, and the interlude is rather interesting. Thin stuff.
D´Anna seemed aware of the lack of dramatic substance, and so invented two expedient: a wagon carrying performers (but “Fritz” isn´t “Pagliacci”!), and the duplication of the characters by puppets handled by visible puppeteers; however, this was more distracting than useful. Sebastián Russo´s timbre isn´t beautiful enough, though his singing was generally acceptable. On the other hand, Sonia Stelman, a Mozartian “soubrette”, has expanded her voice to a reasonable lyric register, and she does have charm and musicality. Cristian Maldonado had too much vibrato as the Rabbi. Verónica Canaves sang the gypsy well and has the right slim physique for the part. The two friends were agreeable (Iván Maier and Juan Feico) and Laura Benítez coped nicely with the small intervention of Caterina. An Orchestra made up mostly of Colón players wasn´t as accurate as expected, though Russo knows the style.
However, “Cav” proved enjoyable and showed again that it is an attractive and sincere opera. In this I found D´Anna´s work very good, with authentic ambience and natural performances, and a minimalist but convincing scenery. The Orchestra was much better here, and the Choir was very good in both works (prepared by Russo, and Hernán Sánchez Arteaga in the off-stage choir of “Cav”).
Sabrina Cirera showed great progress as Santuzza, her singing always intense and controlled. Darío Sayegh has the voice for Turiddu, although he was too unyielding vocally and in his acting. Maldonado was much better as Alfio. Canaves didn´t seem comfortable as Mamma Lucia, and Mariana Artaza sang a sexy Lola with a rather light voice.
The Buenos Aires Philharmonic presented a valuable concert with the debuts of Italian conductor Marcello Panni and British cellist Julian Lloyd-Webber (brother of the ultra-famous Andrew). Panni is Roman, born in 1940, and has had an important career. He showed command, a personal baton technique and good stylistic comprehension in three divergent twentieth-century works. Penderecki´s “Threnody for the victims of Hiroshima” dates from 1960 and I feel this music has aged; it didn´t affect me like it did forty years ago, and now the title seems opportunistic.
For many people the definitive version of the Elgar Cello Concerto is the partnership of Jacqueline Du Pre and John Barbirolli. By that standard the interpretation of Lloyd-Webber seems too tame and intimate, as compared to the enormous drive and intensity of that famous partnership, and although Panni is a good musician, he doesn´t have the Elgarian phrasing in his bones. But on its own smaller-scaled, at times chamberlike way, the playing was refined and beautiful; Lloyd-Webber is a sensitive artist with a true sense of melody and his tone is always in tune ; he has the fluid technique for the fast bits, too. His encore was that melancholy Piazzolla piece, “Oblivion”, with pianist Marcelo Ayub.
The splendid Second Suite from “Romeo and Juliet” shows Prokofiev´s genius at his best, and I listened with fascination to the seven fragments, going from lightness to high drama. Panni and the orchestra gave us a fully convincing reading.
A brief reference to the National Symphony´s second concert at the Bolsa de Comercio. It provided an agreeable surprise, for the conductress, 33-year-old Yeny Delgado, who hails from Cuba and is currently Assistant Director of the Salta Symphony, did a very professional job, having the measure of Franck´s complex symphony and of such a different piece as the Danzón Nº 2 by Márquez. She also accompanied proficiently Carlos Ovejero in the premiere of Gordon Jacob´s Trombone Concerto, a rare occasion to hear as soloist this difficult brass instrument; Ovejero is indeed an expert and the score falls pleasantly on the ear.