miércoles, noviembre 21, 2012

Avantgarde good, middling and bad: From Schönberg to Cage

             Many people don´t seem to realize that throughout the history of music we have always had avantgarde, if by that term we define those special artists that have advanced towards the future. They weren´t called that way, but no matter: they innovated validly (both words are equally important). Pérotin, Machaut, Monteverdi, Berlioz, Debussy: all of them were avantgarde. But the term seemed to really jell in the immensely productive and creative first half of the twentieth century.  And a division came about: those who created new worlds firmly based on the past and those that wanted to destroy everything and start from zero; the latter category was basically nihilist and little good could come from them. Unfortunately, some had a huge influence and now are feted as if they were in the same plane. Schönberg, Stravinsky, Ives are those that deserve a high place in history; Cage, Feldman and Sciarrino are those that are ruining music .

            As I have written in previous years, Martín Bauer, Director of the Cycle of Concerts of Contemporary Music of the Teatro San Martín, has a sad penchant for the latter group and a very biased look of contemporary music. However, he does have a balancing feature: each year he pays homage to great ones of the past. Last season it was Varèse; now two concerts gave their due to Charles Ives, Arnold Schönberg and Pierre Boulez, and whatever else may happen in these weeks, those occasions, both conducted by Alejo Pérez, will remain as high spots of the year.

            "Contemporary" certainly doesn´t apply to those greats that I mentioned above, with the exception of Boulez; and as for the nihilists, both Cage and Feldman are dead. The cycle should rather be called "XX-XXI". If one person can be called the King of Pioneers, it was Charles Ives: his incredible adventures in sound were ahead of anything happening in Europe. This New Englander, brought up on hymns and marches, was soon imagining astonishing clashes of sound, harmonies and timbres never heard before. Buenos Aires is still far behind in its comprehension of Ives: the only pieces that have been heard with some regularity are his "Concord" Sonata and "The Unanswered Question".  

            His symphonies have had rotten luck: except an isolated performance of the Second about 35 years ago, none of the other three were heard, nor the fascinating "Holidays Symphony". And there seemed to be a jinx on the Fourth, the most complex, for it was programmed both in 2010 and 2011 and plans came apart both times. And even this year, it was supposed to be played by the National Symphony and it then changed to the BA Philharmonic; the venue was first the Usina del arte, and then they had to accept that this symphony needed the Colón, considering its huge requirements. Finally it came about, in a marvelous programme that also included the premiere of Yannis Xenakis´ "Jonchaies" and the return of Cristóbal Halffter´s most famous piece, "Tiento de primer tono y Batalla Imperial" .

            There was a time when Xenakis was roundly booed in BA (that was when booing was accepted; what a distortion that now it is not...). He didn´t merit it, for both "Achorripsis" (Scherchen, 1958) and "Pithoprakta" (Le Roux) were arresting experiments in sound, such as this composer-mathematician-architect provided with great talent. But decades passed before we could hear his "opera" (of a kind) "Oresteia", one of Bauer´s good ideas. And now came "Jonchaies", which means "rushes"; not "Jonchaïs", as in the hand programme, which means nothing: 12 minutes of paroxysm, intense and fascinating. Halftter gives a twentieth-century turn to Late-Renaissance music, with an impressive decibel count.

            And now the Ives Fourth. By far the most difficult and disconcerting, it needs a big orchestra, three small ones , a solo piano and a mixed chorus. It was finished in 1916 but was premiered only in 1965 by Stokowski and assistant conductors. Why? Because often one of the small orchestras goes rhythmically its separate way from the main one. If the short Prelude and the final hymn tend to transcendence and Protestant tradition, the great Fugue pays tribute to the Baroque. But the so-called "Comedy" is an 11-minute hullabaloo of crossed rhythms and sundry quotations, fantastically complex. Pérez again showed his disciplined mind, obtaining a very good performance out of the BA Phil, complemented by Italian pianist Emanuele Torquati, assistant conductress Annunziata Tomaro and the Coro Lagun Onak (Miguel Ángel Pesce). One of the small orchestras was up in the central loges.

            It seems unbelievable that Schönberg´s "Pierrot Lunaire" is centenary this year, for its modernity remains whole and astonishing, an atonal expressionism of marvelous workmanship on the sharp gallows humor of Albert Giraud´s poems. Its companion piece was "Le marteau sans maître", a masterpiece of total serialism by Pierre Boulez on René Char´s strange surrealistic short poems. Again wrongly claimed as a premiere (Bauer should check such things far better) it was first offered here by Ernst Huber-Contwig in 1970 for Amigos de la Música; it dates from 1957. Firmly handled by Pérez, the players were very good in both scores. Mezzo Margriet Van Reisen (debut) was outstanding in Boulez and Rosa Domínguez understood the theatricality of "Sprechstimme" ("Singspeak") though she overdid the shrillness in high notes. This was at the Sala Casacuberta of the San Martín.
For Buenos Aires Herald


Operatic names: Onegin, Tosca, Amina

             Operatic names tend to be rather peculiar and in many cases the protagonist´s coincides with the opera´s appellation. Either directly or indirectly, that was the case in three recent performances. "Eugen Onegin" (Tchaikovsky) was revived by Buenos Aires Lírica at the Avenida; in the same venue, Juventus Lyrica offered "Tosca"; and at the Roma (Avellaneda) Bellini´s "La Sonnambula" (Amina) was staged. All of them from the Nineteenth Century.

            Tchaikovsky´s "Evgeny Onegin" has been appreciated rather often since its 1977 revival at the Colón; that theatre gave it again in 1997, Buenos Aires Lírica presented its own view in 2006 and last year the Argentino staged it as well.  I saw all of them, plus two performances in different years in Vienna, one at the Moscow Bolshoi and one in Paris. So the piece must really be considered habitual repertoire by now, even more than the other important Tchaikovsky opera, "Pique Dame" (Colón, 1981, 1987 and 1995). It is valuable that all performances were in Russian.  An added chore for Latin singers, but the artistic gain is enormous.

            These "lyric scenes", as the composer called them, are true to the spirit of Pushkin´s novel in verse (in itself a special genre); the music is lovely and although the libretto could be improved, it respects the impassioned personality of the writing, influenced by Byron and by Richardson´s "Pamela", ultra-Romantic  indeed, although with some folkish touches. BAL had done a good musical job back in 2006, though with modernistic touches in Rita Cosentino´s production. Although I believe that such a young institution shouldn´t insist with the same title only six years later, I came out of the theatre quite contented, for the music was admirably sung and played, and the production by Mercedes Marmorek was much better attuned to the 1820´s Russian ambience. Small mistakes apart (no writing desk nor inkwell in Tatiana´s Letter Scene, a rather botched duel), the acting was sincere and accurate, the country scene was nice (stylized trees in the pleasant María José Besozzi stage design), the ball was agreeable (with correct choreography danced by two couples) and the costumes by Lucía Marmorek aesthetic and according to the period.  Good lighting too (Alejandro Le Roux).

            Javier Logioia Orbe handled the small orchestra quite well and there were beautiful flute and oboe solos. The Chorus under Juan Casasbellas was convincing. The protagonists sang with real quality, although they are unfortunately far from having the "physiques du rôle". But the singing of Carla Filipcic Holm was of international caliber, and Fabián Veloz was vocally very good, although Onegin´s introspection wasn´t quite there. Chilean tenor Pedro Espinoza was a dramatic Lensky, even if I would have preferred from him a less open voice, one with more light and shade. Elisabeth Canis was an excellent Filipievna (the wet-nurse), and both Alicia Alduncín (Larina, the mother) and Vanina Guilledo (Olga) were satisfactory. To my mind Walter Schwarz lacks the deep Russian-type voice for Gremin, but he sang acceptably. Sergio Spina did an appropriately mannered Triquet (Louis XVI style) and the fine voices of Emiliano Bulacios, Ricardo Crampton and Sergio Vittadini were pluses.

            There has never been a shortage of "Toscas" and I wasn´t particularly keen on seeing it yet again, but there were some good points in Juventus Lyrica´s revival. Foremost, Antonio Russo´s eminently musical phrasing with a responsive orchestra. Good choral work (prepared by Russo). And Sabrina Cirera as Tosca, whose voice has vastly improved and now, with her vibrato under control, her true Italianate timbre and temperament, she provided us with a convincing Tosca. I saw the last performance, with Mariano Spagnolo as a stiff, metallic Cavaradossi, and Mario De Salvo, a bass, miscast as Scarpia, a dramatic baritone. Good work from Leandro Sosa (Sacristan), a rather tense Angelotti (Cristian de Marco), a sonorous Spoletta from Sebastián Russo, and Augusto Nureña (Sciarrone) and Nicolás Secco (jailer) in the picture. The kids of the Coro Nacional de Niños (María Isabel Sanz) did well.

            Leonor Manso showed a strong sense of the stage and I would only question the excessive manhandling of Tosca by Scarpia. The curious but not unpleasant stage designs by Gonzalo Córdova seemed inspired by De Chirico (and Maddalena´s picture by Modigliani).  Fine costumes by Ponchi Morpurgo and adequate lighting by Córdova.

            I looked forward to the revival of Bellini´s "La Sonnambula", for, though it has a weak Felice Romani libretto, the music is the purest bel canto and the opera was seen only twice in the last half-century: in 1979 at the Colón (Bonifaccio, Alva) and about a dozen years ago, in a concert version at the Roma, with Rizzo and Ayas. This time it was  staged: Boris´ production was simply abominable, as tasteless as can be imagined and 180 degrees away from the right conception of a tender pastoral fable. But it was quite well sung by Laura Polverini, a bit shrill in very high notes but otherwise very professional; tenor Gastón Oliveira Weckesser looks like a balding Pavarotti but he has a tender lyric tenor voice and good style.  Alejandro Meerapfel was first-rate as Count Rodolfo, and Marina Silva gave great relief to the intriguing Lisa. Norberto Lara, now a baritone, was a competent Alessio. With the enthusiastic Coro del Instituto de Música de Avellaneda (Armando Garrido) and Roberto Luvini´s stylish conducting of the uneven Orquesta Sinfónica Municipal de Avellaneda, the musical side was well handled.
For Buenos Aires Herald


viernes, noviembre 16, 2012

Superstars in BA: Renée Fleming and Itzhak Perlman

            Paradoxically in this year of declining economy we have had very important artists in recital. At the  end of the season two illustrious visitors were back after  long absences. Renée Fleming is considered by many to be the best lyrical soprano nowadays, and Itzhak Perlman´s trajectory as violinist has few parallels. She closed the Abono del Bicentenario at the Colón, whilst he played the same benefit programme at the Coliseo and the Colón. I give pride of place to the lady.

            Fleming was the Countess in Mozart´s "The Marriage of Figaro" in 1991, in a production by Sergio Renán which she remembered fondly in a recent interview. She was then at the start of her international fame, although  already an accomplished artist. Unfortunately we missed her during the succeeding years, in which she was a radiant Mozart and Richard Strauss soprano, but  also shone in French parts or Dvorák´s "Russalka". Blessed with beauty, a lovely timbre and an innate good taste, she demonstrated now that she is equally at home in a varied programme of wide range.

             Her accompanist of many years was Gerald Martin Moore (debut), who proved to be excellent: perfect mechanism, sensitive touch, impeccable ensemble with the singer and  sharp stylistic sense. Music lovers surely know Gerald Moore (no kin), the legendary partner of the greatest singers during golden decades, but Gerald Martin Moore is  a worthy successor.        She chose three of the six exquisite "Ariettes oubliées"  by Debussy on Verlaine´s wonderful texts, and  immediately showed her feeling for the idiom, with admirable French diction and the elusive charm this repertoire needs. It was surely a useful decision to include all texts in the hand programme with adequate translations. Then, three of the refined arrangements of Auvergne songs by Joseph Canteloube, sung in dialect with easy fluency. Korngold came next, first with an arrangement of a Johann Strauss Jr. waltz, "Frag´mich Oft" ("I often ask myself") from the potpourri operetta "Walzer aus Wien" ("The Great Waltz"), where I would have liked a bit more of Viennese innuendo. But Marietta´s aria from "Die Tote Stadt" ("The Dead City") fits her like a glove, her gloriously creamy sound honeying every line.

            A Richard Strauss group of selected Lieder started the Second Part, and she was predictably marvelous in the dexterity of the "Serenade", the suspended ecstacy of "Morgen" ("Morning") and the exuberance of "Zueignung" ("Dedication"). Then, the doleful music of Verdi´s Desdemona in "Otello": the whole scene of the Fourth Act encompassing recitative, "Willow Song" and "Ave Maria", her vivid sense of drama meshing with the sweetest vocal emission. In complete contrast, two arias from the "other" "Boheme", Leoncavallo´s, changing the announced order thus: "Musette svaria sulla bocca viva", sung by "Mimì", and "Mimì Pinson, la biondinetta", sung by "Musetta"; jolly pieces both, where Fleming adopted with versatility the Parisian inflexions of the characters. And finally, a model version of Cilea´s gorgeous aria from "Adriana Lecouvreur", "Io son l´umile ancella".

            The packed house (at very high prices) gave her a rousing reception and five encores ensued. No one sings Dvorák´s "Russalka" ("O silver moon") so beautifully as Fleming; it was one of the highest achievements of the night. Then, an amazing "Summertime" from Gershwin´s "Porgy and Bess", where she, a white singer, has internalized the inflexions of Southern Negros with uncanny realism.  She then said  she has never sung in Spanish, so this was the first time: she chose "No lloréis ojuelos", a florid "Canción amatoria" by Granados; her diction will improve with time. Of course, "O mio babbino caro" (from Puccini´s "Gianni Schicchi") is ideal for her. And she sung goodbye with a fast, jubilant interpretation of Delibes´ "Les filles de Cadix". Please let us have her in a complete opera soon!

            It would be redundant and silly to retell here the career of Itzhak Perlman, certainly one of the most feted violinists of our era. He was here just once, seventeen years ago, for a recital and, with the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, Tchaikovsky´s Concerto. At the time he was 50 and at the top of his form. That visit was memorable. Now 67, he came by invitation of Jabad Lubavitch Argentina in benefit of social programs. He was accompanied by his partner of many years, the talented Sri Lanka pianist Rohan De Silva. Perlman chose a rather short programme of unhackneyed scores by great composers.

            Mozart´s last Sonata, K. 526, started the proceedings. The pianist was absolutely immaculate; the violinist not quite so: the articulation was correct but the sound was rather small and lacklustre. I thought maybe that is his view of Mozart, but alarmingly the same thing happened in Fauré´s First Sonata, a fine example of French late Romanticism; the pianist was mechanically sound but not quite in style, and Perlman played well, yes, though without the lusty, full timbre one remembered from him. The objective, Neoclassic Stravinsky of the "Italian Suite" (based on his "Pulcinella") suited both artists much better.

            Encores: no less than seven! Kreisler´s "Tempo di Menuetto in the style of Pugnani"; the heartfelt "Hebrew Melody" by Achron-Heifetz, perhaps Perlman´s best performance; the Albéniz-Kreisler Tango from "España"; the brilliant Scherzo-Tarantelle by Wieniawski; the Theme from "Schindler´s list" by John Williams; the Spanish Dance Nº2 from De Falla´s "La Vida breve" as arranged by Kreisler; and Bazzini´s virtuosic "Ronde des lutins" ("Goblins´ Round").  

For Buenos Aires Herald

sábado, noviembre 10, 2012

Variable prospects for the 2013 musical season

            For private institutions the economic and financial conditions are paramount. Crises here and elsewhere mean cancellations or crucial changes. In recent years European problems have been such that institutions of long repute cancelled unilaterally and at the last moment, and this happened even in Germany, theoretically the strongest country of the area. Costs of USA orchestras have become prohibitive, especially because that country has no  subsidizing tradition (Europe has). Countries that years ago could help Argentina now can´t help themselves.

            Back to our country. The "Rodrigazo" caused at the time an essential problem: or subscription holders accepted in midseason to pay substantially more due to the devaluation or the institutions would go under; some did. January 2002 was another low point; the atrocious and unnecessary devaluation (the convertibility law had the remedy and it wasn´t used) again changed conditions drastically and some institutions had last-minute help to be able to go on (e.g., Harmonia became Nuova Harmonia and depended on the financial support of the Italian Government). As the years went by, the positive tail wind in commodities meant that we had a better scenery. But from 2009, after the Lehman Brothers disaster and the mortgage and regulations fallout, Argentina, supposedly isolated from Northern troubles ( a pariah default nation floating on a high-price commodity mirage), fell into a dollar crisis. And as we all know, it is deepening daily.

            You may think, why a music reviewer is writing about all this? Well, because international seasons depend on global conditions and the dollar situation. We don´t live on a privileged oasis even if that is what we are asked to believe. I don´t buy. So, be warned: already this year there were signs of trouble in the musical institutions, and 2013 will be worse. Nevertheless, we will still have some very good things due to the financial savvy and ingeniousness of some instutions.

            Again, as so many times before, the Mozarteum Argentino presents an important plan under difficult conditions. The Dutch Government is sponsoring a global tour by the Concertgebouw Orchestra in its 125th anniversary, often voted the best in the world; its concerts in two seasons under Haitink have left here indelible marks; now it is led by Mariss Jansons, a maestro often feted here. Pianist Denis Matsuev will come with them. June 28, 29.

            Another remarkable orchestra, the Montreal Symphony, gave memorable sessions here under Dutoit; now we will have the pleasure of welcoming the local debut of a great conductor, Kent Nagano. April 29, 30.

            Other numbers: Camerata Bern with the famous mezzosoprano Veselina Kasarova (April 8, 9); pianist Dejan Lazic (May 6, 7); Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra with flutist Emanuel Pahud (May 27, 28); Atos Piano Trio (June 17, 19); the return of the great soprano Karita Mattila (July 29, 31); violinist Joshua Bell (September 9, 10); the interesting debut of the Finland Lahti Symphony (Okko Kamu) with violinist Elina Vähälä (October 11, 12); and Combattimento Consort Amsterdam directed by Jan Willem de Vriend with cellist Quirine Viersen (October 28 and 30). All at the Colón.

            Nuova Harmonia will present a good cycle, not quite so starry. In recent years the institution is no longer so Italian-oriented as in 2002-5, which I welcome for it shows a salutary cosmopolitism. They start with the debut of the Lithuanian National Symphony under Vladimir Lande with Japanese pianist Xiayin Wang (Coliseo, April 22). Then, Russian Virtuosi of Europe, a string ensemble (Coliseo, May 2). The London Festival Orchestra led by Ross Pople makes a welcome return (Coliseo, June 4). Ditto the Lucerne Festival Strings (Coliseo, June 26). The Pinchas Zukerman Chamber Players are a tradition here (Colón, August 12). Then, the debut of the Ensemble Umberto Giordano under Gianna Fratta (Vivaldi and Pergolesi, Coliseo, August 21). Our pianist Nelson Goerner at the Coliseo on September 18. The valuable NDR Hamburg Orchester under Thomas Hengelbrock with Korean pianist Hyu-Jung Lim (Colón, October 4). The Interpreti Veneziani will be at the Coliseo on October 17. And the season ends with the combined debuts of the Bucharest Symphony, conductor Benoit Fromanger and violinist Erik Schumann (Colón, November 2).

            There was serious worry about the continuity of Festivales Musicales, but a group of Friends have managed to put together a reasonable season, though almost totally local and based on hits; I hope they will gradually recover. They need a splendid lobbyist to catch sponsors that steadily diminish. No dates given, nor venues. We will hear Xavier Inchausti (violin) with Carmen Piazzini (piano), the Asociación Coral Lagun Onak (Miguel Ángel Pesce), pianist Horacio Lavandera, Handel´s "Messiah" (Mario Videla), La Barroca del Suquía with countertenor Martín Oro, the Estudio Coral de Buenos Aires (Carlos López Puccio), the Orquesta Académica del ISA del Colón (British conductor Michael Seal with Lavandera), Videla (organ) and Pro Musica Antiqua Rosario (Cristián Hernández Larguía).

            On the operatic side, the private companies have announced their repertoire, at the Avenida. Buenos Aires Lírica, as this year, will offer only four operas, but two are quite interesting: "Lucreazia Borgia" (Donizetti) in May and "Jenufa" (Janácek), in Czech, in October. Also, Mozart´s "Così fan tutte" in March and Verdi´s "Nabucco" in August. Unfortunately Juventus Lyrica is reduced to only three operas, and too well-trodden: Mozart´s "The Magic Flute" (April), Rossini´s "The Barber of Seville" (June-July) and Puccini´s "La Boheme" (September). I hope for better conditions in 2014.

For Buenos Aires Herald

“Pepita Jiménez” and “La Sonnambula”: troubled women

            Wow, what a weekend! Women…enamoured of a seminarist (Pepita), lady kills satyr (Tosca), somnambulist almost falls into a mill (Amina). Albéniz, Puccini, Bellini. Teatro Argentino (La Plata), Teatro Avenida (Juventus Lyrica, Autonomous City of Buenos Aires), Teatro Roma (Avellaneda). For reasons of space I leave both"Tosca" and "La Sonnambula" for a future occasion.
            The American premiere of "Pepita Jiménez" by Isaac Albéniz takes pride of place. In fact, it is the world premiere in English of the second version, quite a privilege  for a provincial Argentine city. For, strange as it is, indeed the libretto was written in English by Baron Francis Money-Coutts, the wealthy banker that was the composer´s sponsor, provided he wrote the libretto. Believe it or not, Albéniz wrote under the same conditions "Henry Clifford" (an episode of the Wars of the Roses) and "Merlin", first part of an Arthurian trilogy he didn´t live to finish. In the case of "Pepita Jiménez", the subject was suggested to the librettist by the composer, for it is a controversial novel written in 1874 by Juan Valera. There was a first version in one act premiered at Barcelona on January 5, 1896, but in Italian, and a second version in two acts premiered in Prague in German (!) on June 22, 1897.
            Although the opera was offered in other cities, it was always in translations to other languages (except Spanish!) until Pablo Sorozábal produced in 1964 a polemic arrangement of the piece in Spanish, poorly done and with many changes. Now we finally have the original of the two-act version in the original English as revised recently by Borja Mariño por Editorial Tritó (tritone in catalan). The strangeness of the English language applied to a very Spanish love story, "andaluza" to boot, didn´t wear off as the evening progressed, but it must be said that the composer managed to write recitatives, ariosos and arias where the imbrication of the words and the music is perfect. Not easy, indeed, to imagine a Spanish version, as the accents of each language are so different; and certainly the music is the main thing and it must be respected, for there´s a good deal to be savored in its rather short 95 minutes: two exquisite interludes and fine arias for Pepita and Luis.
            Alas, the relationship of a seminarist with a rich twenty-year-old widow, an audacious subject in 1874, proved an object of desire to the Great Distorter, producer Calixto Bieito, famous for his outrageous opera and theatre presentations. He follows the golden rule of Administrator Gérard Mortier: opera must provoke always. This is Bieito´s first opera production in Argentina (last year he did a less agressive "La vida es sueño" by Calderón de la Barca at the Teatro San Martín in BA). In "Pepita Jiménez" we had a curious duality: a capricious but quite beautiful array of wardrobes imagined by Rebecca Ringst in four rows ( a bit like La Fura dels Baus´ "Oedipe" and Ana D´Anna´s "Don Giovanni") combined with increasingly blasphemous and perverse  ideas from Bieito, culminating in the full, harshly lighted (by Carlos Márquez) nude of the Virgin, paralleling the increasing hysteria of Pepita and against the grain of the music. Just one more example of Bieito´s obsessiveness: the transformation of well-meaning peasants into a bunch of Franquista-period prisoners. The costumes by Ingo Krügler followed Bieito´s conception. Another sign of the times: what is the need of what they now call a "dramaturgist"? (Bettina Auer). 
             Even Marcelo Lombardero, the Theatre´s Artistic Director, found it necessary to add a leaflet to the hand programme stating that "this piece contains scenes that may hurt and/or affect the audience´s sensibility. The access of people under-16 will only be permitted if consented by a responsible adult".  I would correct one thing: the culprit is Bieito, not the piece. This production will now go to Madrid.
            Nicola Beller Carbone and Enrique Ferrer made their debut at the Argentino two years ago in Zandonai´s "Francesca da Rimini"; I liked them better then, especially the tenor, who now sounded to me quite raw. The soprano certainly tried to give dramatic life to her difficult part, but vocally she was uneven.  That also goes for a sort of Celestina, the aged maid Antoñona, transformed by Bieito into a rather young and shapely woman, mezzosoprano Adriana Mastrángelo: she was intense in her acting but some low parts of her role couldn´t be heard. Gustavo Gibert was a firm-voiced, libidinous old man, Luis´ father Don Pedro de Vargas. The Canarian José Antonio García had presence but was rather woolly as the Vicar (for the anticlerical Bieito, a typical Catholic repressor). Good work in minor parts from Sebastián Angulegui, Francisco Bugallo and Juan Pablo Labourdette. 
            The young conductor Manuel Coves (debut) seemed reasonably well in charge and he knows the style, but at times he made it difficult for the singers to project their voices with an overloud orchestral texture. There´s only one big choral scene (most of the opera is made up of duets or trios), well sung by the Argentino Choir (Miguel Fabián Martínez) and by the fresh-voiced Children´s Choir (Mónica Dagorret).
            Unfortunately the mediatic emphasis was on Bieito, not on Albéniz as it should. But opera theatre directors all over the world seem to relish scandal and the public is lame. There is a bitter  crisis of values.
For Buenos Aires Herald

lunes, noviembre 05, 2012

The Colón Ring, Act II: Valentina replaces Katarina

            Last Tuesday I told you the First Act of the convoluted troubles involving the Colón Ring, Katarina Wagner and the Colón´s Director Pedro Pablo García Caffi. The Second Act occurred during this past week. Katarina returned, but not because GC had called her telling her that things were ready for rehearsal. Instead, what happened was that Katarina and GC decided to call it quits "with elegance", surrounded by lawyers. Valentina Carrasco, an alternative denied by GC just one week ago, had accepted the succession of Katarina. This is what happened in a nutshell, but there are plenty of details to be told, and they are juicy. 

1)      It is interesting to imagine the talks between lawyers. Those for Katarina presumably would insist on her assertions that things weren´t ready when she arrived; but even if it were true, did she document the facts with convincing proofs? On the other hand, isn´t her acceptance of the Audi presentation in Germany on November 11 a flagrant breach of contract with the Colón?
2)     Last Wednesday conductor Roberto Paternostro arrived. The same day rehearsals began, as several singers are already here (though the exact information on this point is lacking).
3)     That same day Katarina was back and at midday met GC. On Thursday at the Hilton (both with lawyers at their flanks) some sort of agreement was arrived at, but the particulars remain to be told.
4)     And that day the costume designer Thomas Kaiser arrived. Carrasco would have to work with him, although a strange phrase in an article by Alejandro Cruz (La Nación) worried me: "she will come with her own creative team". If this only means that she comes with assistants, OK, but a lot of work has been done already and surely she will have to adapt (remember that GC said that 85% of the stage design was already executed, but on the other hand at the time of Katarina´s former visit she said that "costumes weren´t ready", although surely the sketches by Kaiser were already at the theatre). GC admits that indeed the Colón was behind schedule in this item, which gives some support to Katarina´s claims.
5)     GC also said this astonishing phrase: "We came to an agreement: she AND HER TEAM withdraw from the project due to the impossibility of going ahead with it". Well, does this mean that Kaiser and   Schlössmann are out? In that case, how can Carrasco get together a new team and the Colón execute the designs in just one month?  And why is it "impossible" to go ahead with Katarina and her team? Because she doesn´t want to? Because the Audi project will take too much of her time?  But GC contradicts himself when he says later on: "Valentina has been working for two weeks with the stage design people". And that means Schlössmann´s designs.  Again GC seems to forget that he denied connections with Valentina.
6)     Another GC statement surprised me (the man is a Pandora´s box): " there will be six hours of music". But from the very inception of the project Cord Garben said that there were SEVEN hours. It isn´t a small difference. How does GC arrive to SIX? Further cuts? How can this be if Garben is the author of the arrangement?  Who did the new cuts? If it isn´t Garben, isn´t the Colón infringing his copyright? But if there are six hours, this certainly makes it physically less terrible for the orchestra...and more comfortable for the audience. But at the cost of which scenes? So you see, that statement is anything but innocent. 
7)     And by the way, what about Garben? It is even more his project: but no mention whatsoever of the musician is being made, and he is not here! What does he think about this mess?
8)     The lawyer teams signed the agreement, very cordially. And Katarina is invited to the premiere... Still another "Believe it or not" from GC: "we hope to envision another project with Katarina for 2014".
9)     A further confusing statement from GC: Katarina and her team have already been paid  the amount that covers the elaboration of the project "and won´t be paid for the rest". Whose copyright is it? The team´s or the Colón´s? If Schlössmann and Kaiser won´t be here, that leaves all in the hands of Carrasco. Can she handle it? For she is a régisseuse, not a stage and costume designer.  And 85% of the stage designs already executed goes well beyond "elaboration".
10)   Carrasco arrived on Thursday, October 25, which means that GC had already decided on severing the agreement with Katarina; it stands to reason that this is the foregone conclusion, considering that the two ladies arrived with a 24-hour interval.
11)    GC told the legislators in a session where the Colón budget for 2013 was discussed that the Colón Ring´s production cost 7 million pesos (about 16% of the total production cost of the season).
12)   During this whole affair, not a word came from the singers who will be on stage for the two performances, nor from Paternostro. However, Salemkour complained to a German publication that the Colón pit isn´t big enough for Wagner´s orchestration (very strange, people like Wallberg, Decker or Leitner never complained) and that there weren´t enough harpists available.
      After all this, let´s hope for the best...

A survey of operas, pianists and chamber groups

            The Mozarteum Argentino ended its season with the debut of a very young organism: the Philharmonic of Minas Gerais, founded in 2008 with Fabio Mechetti as conductor (also debut). It is not very big, 80-strong,  enough for the Postromantic music chosen on this occasion, but would be a bit short for Richard Strauss or Mahler. The orchestra is very cosmopolitan in its integration, and it was soon apparent that Maestro Mechetti has built a very commendable body of players, brilliant and accurate. There were minimal faults and plenty of very professional playing in readings that were orthodox, vigorous and stylish. Presumably they have their home at Belo Horizonte, a fine, big city which I visited with pleasure years go (it is the perfect place  to start a visit to those wonderful colonial cities, Ouro Preto and Congonhas).
            The programme started with an emblematic piece from Imperial Brazil: the colorful and melodic Overture to "Il Guarany", the 1870 opera by Antonio Carlos Gomes. Curiously, the Brazilian name for the Overture form is "protofonia". Then, the splendid Brazilian cellist Antonio Meneses, well-known here from previous visits, gave us a mature, beautiful reading of what is certainly the greatest Cello Concerto ever griten, Op.104 by Antonin Dvorák. The Orchestra gave proper relief to its own admirable music and fit like a glove with Meneses´ phrasing. The cellist gave us as encore a perfect version of the Courante from Bach´s First Suite.
            Tchaikovsky´s Fourth Symphony has some very extrovert passages but also intense, dramatic material (especially in the first movement). The orchestra showed fine discipline and offered plenty of decibels, sounding a lot like Russian organisms do (particularly the trumpets). Mechetti was in full command. The encores were excellent: the final Rondo from Ginastera´s "Variaciones concertantes" (for me his best score) and the melancholy Prelude to Villalobos´ Bachianas Brasileiras Nº4.
            The Buenos Aires Philharmonic featured Nielsen´s marvelous Fifth Symphony, maybe his greatest, in a concert that was originally assigned to veteran Finnish conductor Jorma Panula; his place was taken (no explanation given) by our Carlos Vieu, and I must say he did very well in this difficult score, where the composer´s typical battle of tonalities attains rare peaks. The dense, closely knit music flowed logically and was generally quite well played. 
            In the First Part we had yet another piece from Alberto Williams, profusely feted by the Phil in the 150th anniversary of his birth; his Third Argentine Suite for strings is very pleasant, especially a tuneful Milonga and a long "Arrorró con variaciones". Then, following the scheme of the previous concert, space was given to two Phil wind first desks. Bassoonist Gabriel La Rocca played with fine technique and panache Weber´s Concerto for the instrument, and then trumpeter Fernando Ciancio dealt with Alexander Arutiunian´s Concerto (very much in the Khachaturian mold) with distinguished precision and sound. Vieu was flexible and exact. 
            Hungarian pianist Zoltan Féjervári is a real find. Quite young (26), disciple of Andras Schiff, he visited us last season for the first time (I couldn´t hear him then) and now was back for two recitals: one at the Biblioteca Nacional, and the other –which I was glad to catch-  at the small auditorium of Musicarte in Belgrano, a joint presentation with Ars Hungarica. The programme, without interval, was quite challenging: Liszt´s brooding, epic Second Ballad; Bartók´s tough, rhythmic Sonata; Debussy´s First Book of "Images", of quintessential impressionism; and Stravinsky´s  skillful and fantastically difficult  Three movements from "Petrushka", concocted for Rubinstein. 
            The playing of Fejervári was nothing short of amazing. He had a pretty good small piano, and the restricted hall didn´t give enough space for his enormous sound. His purely technical attainments are admirable; however, mere accuracy is certainly important but doesn´t transcend without a strong personality and faithfulness to the spirit of the scores. Here we had the tremendous Romantic side in Liszt, a motoric rhythm coupled with perfect dissonant chords in Bartók and Stravinsky, and  also ethereal textures when required in Debussy.  A lovely fragment by Janácek (from "On the overgrown path") was the encore which ended this memorable recital.
            The Trio Williams is of recent formation. One of our best pianists, Antonio Formaro, has teamed up with two string players from La Plata´s Teatro Argentino: Nicolás Favero, violín, and Siro Bellisomi, cello. They call themselves Williams as the composer I have already mentioned, and they played his huge Trio at the Colón in the useful series of 11 a.m. Sunday free concerts, certainly one of the better ideas of the current administration. That Trio lasts 30 minutes and is full of expansive ideas, one of the earliest chamber works by an argentine composer. Both in this and in the other well-chosen scores (Haydn´s Trio Nº 25, "all´ongarese", and Mendelssohn´s rich Second Trio) the artists were well-integrated and professional, although Formaro stands out as a very special player.
            The Trio Williams also provided a pleasant night at the Sofitel Soirée Musicale series presented by La Bella Música. There they played  one standard piece (Beethoven´s Trio  Op.70 Nº 1, "Ghost") but also two rarely heard scores: the one-movement "Elegiac Trio Nº 1"  by Rachmaninov, and the 25-minute, 4-movement Granados Second Trio, Op.50, not very Spanish but quite agreeable. . Again Formaro was a tower of strength; the others are quite correct but need to improve their sound projection and timbre.
For Buenos Aires Herald