jueves, septiembre 13, 2012

Mercadante and Muti, a package from Europe

            In this frankly exotic Colón opera season, apart from a Verdian standard ("La Forza del Destino"), we have seen the premieres of an oratorio (Golijov´s "Passion according to St. Mark"), Enesco´s "Oedipe", a concert version of Händel´s "Rinaldo" and Szymanowski´s "Hagith" as well as  the revival of Schönberg´s "Erwartung". As if there weren´t enough novelty for one year, a wholly imported package from Europe gave us the premiere of a Saverio Mercadante comedy, "I due Figaro".

            Pros and cons of this enterprise:
1)      After about 120 years, our city gets to know a Mercadante opera. In the second half of the nineteenth century, several of his dramatic operas were seen in our old opera theatres. But the twentieth century forgot him entirely in our midst.
2)     This premiere is the result of an investigation by Paolo Cascio (who gave two lectures in BA these days), of the Musicology Department of the Madrid Universidad Complutense, who found the music and prepared the edition with the help of Víctor Sánchez Sánchez (UT Orpheus Editions).
3)     As the result of an intrigue by a prima donna, the opera couldn´t be premiered in 1826; the madrileños finally heard it in 1835 at the Teatro Príncipe. And then, oblivion.
4)     Cascio made his discovery known to one of the greatest opera conductors we have, Riccardo Muti, and he took it upon himself to lead a coproduction that would include (apart from the Colón), the Ravenna Festival, Salzburg´s Easter Festival and Madrid´s Teatro Real.
5)     A valuable young  cast was assembled, along with the Orchestra Giovanile Luigi Cherubini founded by Muti in 2004 and the Philharmonia Chor Wien, founded in 2002 by Walter Zeh.
6)     The producer is Emilio Sagi, a Spaniard born in Oviedo, well-known here for his refined view of zarzuela. The Argentine Daniel Bianco, who lives in Spain, created the stage designs; the costumes are by Jesús Ruiz, and the lighting by Eduardo Bravo. Choreography design by Nuria Castejón. In other words, a "castizo" view of  a Sevillian plot.
7)     The librettist, Felice Romani, was one of the most active and recognized of those times, and this libretto had been written for an earlier opera (1820) by Michele Carafa.
8)     The Colón only lends the theatre, the whole thing is an imported package. This means that, considering that there was no production in Golijov and Händel, the Colón workshops have very little work this year and I can´t help believing that this is a deliberate decision to minimize them.
9)     As the style of the opera is a carbon copy of Rossini, the choice of "La Cenerentola" as the following opera of the season is frankly objectionable. With only six operatic titles (I discount the oratorio and the "compact Ring") better planning is needed.
10)   Muti has long been a champion of forgotten operas. Appreciated here live only as a concert conductor with the Philadelphia and La Scala Orchestras, we finally had him in the pit and all the lucidity, balance and elegance of his style transpired in his beautiful reading with an orchestra shaped by himself, a sterling example of what a youth organism should sound like: disciplined, immaculate and dynamic.
11)    The Viennese choir meshed nicely both in its fluent singing and practiced acting with the soloists in creating an authentic atmosphere of early nineteenth-century operatic comedy.
12)   Is Muti´s enthusiasm justified? Partially. The music certainly falls easily on the ear and is very well written in the Rossinian style, but there are sections where the artisan rules rather than the artist; however, there are inspired arias and skillful ensembles. And the libretto? It is substandard Romani, being particularly silly that Cherubino should be a second Figaro, considering that this purports to be  a sequel of "The Marriage of Figaro" (Mozart/Da Ponte on Beaumarchais). I do like the introduction of Plagio, a poet that is looking for "il soggetto di una comedia" (the second title of this opera), similar to the poet in Romani´s libretto for Rossini´s "Il Turco in Italia". But otherwise the amorous shenanigans rarely are interesting to watch.
13)    The cast let us meet several vocalists of good quality and young. I especially liked the refined Susanna of Eleonora Buratto, but Annalisa Stroppa (Cherubino), Asude Karayavuz (Countess) and Rosa Feola (Inez) all were worthy of the Colón. Of the men, tenor Saimir Pirgu (The Count) was the best, though Omar Montanari gave point and charm to his Plagio. A notch below were Mario Cassi (Figaro) and Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani (Torribio).
14)   The production was blessedly traditional and tasteful; I was only bothered by the columns that sometimes obstructed the view but otherwise this was period opera the way it should be done.
15)   Should we further investigate Mercadante? By all means, but putting the accent on his mature dramatic operas: "Il Bravo" and "Il Giuramento".

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