miércoles, diciembre 26, 2012

End-of-season musical highlights

            The final concert of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic underwent a series of unwelcome changes, but it became a personal triumph for Nelson Goerner. The session was originally scheduled for November 1;  for some reason it was eventually offered on December 13. As the Phil, apart from a half concert at the Teatro 25 de Mayo, was completely free of engagements, its inactivity became an indictment of Colón Director Pedro Pablo García Caffi´s planning. Consider: he had at his disposal the second orchestra for the Colón "Ring"; instead, more than 80 musicians were hired for that event. So, the Colón paid for those but also for the Phil: an immense waste of money and an absurd underuse of a human resource.

            Another matter irked me deeply: the programme initially included the splendid and arduous Second Piano Concerto by Bartók; with no explanation it was replaced by Rachmaninov´s Third Concerto. And the much awaited full performance of Debussy´s "Images" was reduced to only "Iberia": the rarely played and fascinating "Gigues" and "Rondes du Printemps" were eliminated, presumably (bad thinking) because the concert would have been a bit long (Bartók lasts 25' , Rachmaninov 40'). Well, no: the programme as such ended at 10:15 p.m.

            The night started with a welcome novelty: the third part, "Transformation" (11' ) of a huge tone poem written by Pascual de Rogatis: "Zupay". (Weak joke: García Caffi sang in the Cuarteto Zupay for a long period;  Zupay was the quechua devil). It wasn´t technically a premiere, for the whole score had been played on September 29, 1910, but  it amounted to one. The music was never published, and the instrumental parts were found in the FENDOMA Archive of the National Institute of Musicology Carlos Vega, photographed by Julián Mosca and digitalized by Diana Fernández Calvo, who is head of the other Vega Institute, that of the Catholic University. Well, it was worth reviving: this shows (as do the "Huemac Dances" of the same composer) that even in 1910 there was a considerable amount of sophistication, technique and taste. The music flows beautifully combining impressionism with indigenist features.

            "Iberia" is a masterpiece, and it was quite well played and conducted (as was the preceding piece). Rachmnaninov´s Third is a favorite item in competitions and nowadays is more often played than the Second. Accompanied with care by the players and the conductor, Goerner showed a magisterial command of the intricate music, with his amazing technical control blended with  an unerring sense of form and tonal sensitivity. The pleasure was prolonged in three well-chosen encores: a lovely Debussy Prelude with a long title: "Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l´air du soir" ("Sounds and perfumes whirl in the evening´s air"); Rachmaninov´s Prelude Op.23 Nº 2; and a "trouvaille", Paderewski´s Nocturne, Nº 4 of "Miscellanea" Op.16,  refined music that Goerner played with a true singing tone.

            One of the positive aspects of the García Caffi period is the series of Sunday morning free concerts with local artists. The final two were among the best. By now it is commonplace to call the Estudio Coral de Buenos Aires directed by Carlos López Puccio our best chamber choir, but it happens to be true. Apart from the high quality of the voices (many are soloists) they have great discipline, and their director shows that he is a connoisseur of many styles. Also, he has a knack for programming interesting stuff. This concert was such a case. Called "Choral music of folk inspiration, 1870-1970", we heard music in no less than nine languages (good diction in all), mostly little-known and quite attractive.

            The list of authors is eloquent enough: Wilhelm Peterson-Berger (Sweden), Brahms, Vaughan Williams and Britten, Einojuhani Rautawaara (Finland), Veljo Tormis (Estonia), Schönberg, Poulenc, Georges Auric (France), Rafael Suárez (Venezuela), Chango Rodríguez (Argentina), Villa-Lobos, Robert Shaw-Alice Parker (USA), Ligeti (Hungary). The session was intensely enjoyable throughout.

            Pablo Saraví had a fine idea back in 2009: to form the Ensemble Instrumental de Buenos Aires, a group of first-rate (international quality) players dedicated to chamber music rarely played, emphasizing those for more than five artists and less than ten. As, except pianist Fernando Pérez (listed, but not present  in this programme), they are all from the Phil, they have a fluid, close relationship and a sense of mutual collaboration. Relaxed and fully professional, the Ensemble fulfils a real need of our medium.

            There was a very pleasant premiere: the Septet for strings and winds (1860) by Adolphe Blanc (1828-85), an obscure French composer of considerable charm and technique. The concise four movements showed a fine ear for timbre and melody. Mozart wrote four quartets for flute and strings; we heard Nº1, K.285, in a refined interpretation by Claudio Barile and Saraví (violin), Silvina Álvarez (viola) and Myriam Santucci (cello). The concert ended with the splendid Martinu "Nonet", a late example of his eclectic imagination. As in Blanc, it permitted  other players to show their command: Néstor Garrote (oboe), Mariano Rey (clarinet), Gabriel La Rocca (bassoon) and Fernando Chiappero (horn).

            A brief reference to a recital by Polish pianist Joanna Trzeciak for Amigos de Bellas Artes´ cycle. Unsure of herself in Chopin (a Polonaise and the four Impromptus), she was convincing in the following valuable and unhackneyed works : the intricate "Masks" by Szymanowski, ten of the twenty "Visions fugitives" by Prokofiev, and the one-movement Third Sonata by Miaskovsky.

For Buenos Aires Herald


domingo, diciembre 23, 2012

The Colón in 2013: some steps down

            As you may remember, Pedro Pablo García Caffi, the Colón´s Director, explained that the  performances of the Colón "Ring" were reduced from four to two because he had received an order to cut down costs due to financial difficulties. If it was true and not a dissembler for poor box office, it can be taken as an omen of what results from analyzing the 2013 season. It was merely mailed to me; there was no press conference (too much risk of embarrassing questions).

            Some general conclusions: a) Opera: miserable productivity: just seven titles and one of them Argentinian (I don´t count as opera –it isn´t, though included in the subscription series- Britten´s "War Requiem"). The very minimum should be ten.  b) Although the Colón budget wasn´t officially determined -it had to be treated by the Legislature as part of the total budget- of course the theatre had known for months unofficially that the money would be a good deal less in real terms (as it is expressed in pesos, the very least it has to augment  just to be the same as 2012 is about 25% inflation). c) The principal culprit for 2013 is the total elimination of the wrongly named "Abono del Bicentenario", which offered  -albeit with enormous prices- fantastic artists this year. There will be high-priced sessions outside of any subscription of two surefire numbers: the Israel Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta (August 25 and 27, featuring Strauss´ "Thus spake Zarathustra") and the Simón Bolívar orchestra led by Gustavo Dudamel on April 3, with another big Strauss, the "Alpine Symphony".


            A gigantic mistake: after the pitiful Colón "Ring", García Caffi apparently believes that there is no need for Wagner in the bicentenary of his birth!

            1) BIZET. Carmen. Back after ten years. Oksana Volkova, Thiago Aracam, Inva Mula, Rodrigo Esteves. Conductor (C): Marc Piollet. Producer (P): Emilio Sagi. April 16, 17, 19, 20, 21, 23.

            2) RACHMANINOV. Premieres: Aleko / Francesca da Rimini. Surely the most interesting choice of the year. Sergei Leiferkus, Irina Oknina, Leonid Zakhozhaev, Maxim Kuzmin, Hugh Smith, Guadalupe Barrientos. C: Ira Levin. P: Silviu Purcarete. May 14,17, 19, 21.

            3) R.STRAUSS. Die Frau ohne Schatten (The Woman without a shadow). Very important reprise, after 34 years. Stephen Gould, Manuela Uhl, Iris Vermilion, Jukka Rasilainen, Elena Pankratova, Jochen Kupfer. C: Levin. P: Andreas Homoki. Co-produced with De Nederlandse Opera Amsterdam. June 11, 14, 16, 18.

            4)  VERDI. Otello. 2013 is also the year of the bicentenary of this composer´s birth, and the Colón duly celebrates. After singing Otello in 1999, José Cura does the title role again, and is also the producer. Valuable debuts of Barbara Frittoli and Carlos Álvarez. C: Massimo Zanetti.July 18, 21, 24, 27, 30.

            5) MOZART. Le Nozze di Figaro. Chris Maltman/Fabián Veloz, Maija Kovalevska/Natalia Lemercier, Julia Novikova/Marisú Pavón, Erwin Schrott/Fernando Radó, Serena Malfi. D: Roberto Paternostro. P: Davide Livermore. August 13, 16, 17, 18, 20, 21.

            6) BRITTEN. War Requiem. Carla Filipcic Holm, Enrique Folger, Víctor Torres. D:  Guillermo Scarabino. September 24, 27, 29, October 1.

            7)  PERUSSO. Bebe Dom o La ciudad planeta. Premiere. I find it an excess to premiere  an opera by Perusso so close to his "Fedra"; either another living composer or the reprise of, e.g., Ginastera´s "Don Rodrigo", would have been fairer. C: Mario Perusso (the composer). P: Marcelo Perusso. Gustavo López Manzitti, Torres, Florencia Machado, Victoria Gaeta. September 25, 28, 30; October 3, 5. A rare closeness of dates with Britten.

            8) VERDI. Un Ballo in Maschera. For the first time here we see the Swedish locale (the murder of Gustave III), which is the right thing to do. P: Alex Ollé (from La Fura dels Baus). Coproduced with Sydney Opera House, Brussels´ La Monnaie and Oslo Opera. C: Levin (an absurd insistence for the third time in the same season). Virginia Tola, Giuseppe Gipali/Marcelo Puente, Luca Salsi/Veloz, Susanna Andersson, Marianne Cornetti. December 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.  The Colón takes a full 65 days to prepare the final title! Time for another two operas...


            A poor year, based mostly on repeats. We need a Ballet Director that really will begin the arduous reconstruction of  so much lost repertoire.

            1) NEOCLASSIC TRILOGY III. Vivaldi en concierto (Choreography –Ch-, Lidia Segni; music  -M- , Vivaldi). Fuga técnica (Ch, Eric Frederic; M, Alexander Balanescu). Sinfonía en Do (Ch, Balanchine; M, Bizet).  March 17, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23.

            2) CARMEN. Overkill, in a year that incluyes the opera. Ch, M. Wainrot. M: Bizet, Albéniz, Turina. June 30, July 2, 3, 4, 5.

            3) ALICIA EN EL PAÍS DE LAS MARAVILLAS. Ch: Alejandro Cervera. M: Mozart, Purcell, Satie, Rameau.  A potpourri on Carroll for kids. July 20, 23, 26, 28.

            4) DON QUIXOTE. Ch: Segni on Petipa. M: Minkus. One of the most overdanced of all ballets. September 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 (farewell perfomance of Silvina Perillo). 

            5) INTERNATIONAL GALA, to be announced. A yearly event, not a title. September 11.

            6) CINDERELLA. Ch:Renato Zanella. M: not the habitual by Prokofiev, but "Aschenbrödel" by Johann Strauss II. The most interesting thing of a year that needed in addition some important new ballet of the Twentieth Century at the very least. Or worthwhile great ballets premiered here decades ago. November 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17.

            7) SWAN LAKE. Ch: Peter Wright (new). M: Tchaikovsky. December 17 to 22, 26, 27, 28.

            No guests except for the gala, which is lamentable. But at least the Colón Ballet will do two tours, one in the Provinces and the other in the Arab Emirates (May).

                                                           BUENOS AIRES PHILHARMONIC

            Good news: the subscription concerts will be 19, against the miserly 16 of 2012. Not so good: too many are conducted by Enrique Diemecke (12), and the invited foreign conductors aren´t  hot: Mikail Jurovski, Adam Medveczky, Daniel Raiskin, Pavel Kogan.  Some interesting foreign soloists: pianists Barry Douglas, Sergio Tiempo and Pascal Rogé, violinist Vadim Gluzman; quite fewer than in 2012. The season will start on March 7 and finish on November 20. The repertoire is much lamer than this year, and there is a howling lack of first-rate premieres (and my God, there are dozens missing!).

            A selection of valuable scores that aren´t overfamiliar: Górecki, Third Symphony; Tchaikovsky´s Second Piano Concerto; Poulenc´s Piano Concerto; Rachmaninov´s First Concerto; Bruckner´s Symphony Nº 5; Nielsen´s Flute Concerto; Villa-Lobos: A Foresta do Amazonas; R:Strauss: Aus Italien; Vaughan Williams: Flos Campi; Prokofiev: Symphony Nº 7; Khachaturian´s Cello Concerto; Vaughan Williams´ Oboe Concerto. Nice, but far from enough. And very conservative indeed. Oh, those wonderful Fifties and Sixties full of surprises, most of them enriching...

                                     CETC (CENTER FOR EXPERIMENTATION)

            I´m afraid that recent years of the CETC have been poor in quality of the projects themselves, and risking prejudice the announced programming impresses me very little; so I won´t detail it, save for three piano integrals: the Gandini Sonatas,  Elliott Carter and the  Berio.

                                   COLÓN CONTEMPORÁNEO

            This project is partly in tandem with the Contemporary Cycle of the Teatro San Martín; those events where the Colón intervenes are valuable. The Arditti Quartet is quite extraordinary (April).  There will be worthwhile Xenakis monographic concerts conducted by Arturo Tamayo in june 13 and 15. The Ensemble Modern is first-rate and will play an experimental piece by Heiner Goebbels, "Black on White", in July. I am not attracted by Sciarrino, but he  is a "name" nowadays; the Colón Orchestra under Tito Ceccherini will play two of this composer´s scores in November. Surely the most important item is the premiere of Nono´s "Prometeo", a two and a half hour opera that will be played by the London Sinfonietta under Baldur Brönnimann.

                                               ARGENTINE INTERPRETERS

            This free cycle will continue two Sundays a month at 11 a.m. with well-chosen artists; at least two concerts will include non-classic music, and I certainly don´t agree. But most will be classical and feature, e.g., the Camerata Bariloche, the Petrus Quartet , the Ensamble Instrumental de Buenos Aires and the Estudio Coral de Buenos Aires.

            Unfortunately, as happened this year, the Colón Orchestra won´t offer some Saturday concerts as it did in 2011.

            Of course, as I explained in an earlier article, the Mozarteum Argentino will have its season at the Colón, which will also receive for certain sessions Nuova Harmonia and Festivales Musicales.

For Buenos Aires Herald

Shen Yun, an uneasy mix of dance and theological politics

            Shen Yun is a show of traditional Chinese dance interspersed with some theological hymns. It was established in New York not long ago, in 2006, and it is the artistic expression of the Falun Dafa theological movement. It has expanded from the original company to three. They change programme each year and they have already visited us, although I didn´t see them at the time. Now they are offering an ample series of performances at the Opera City. Shen= divine, divinity. Yun= dancer´s bearing, style and movement significance.

            I am of two minds about the results. They offer a big, luxurious, technologically advanced spectacle, and the dancers are admirable, both women and men. The ladies are refined, beautiful, of similar physiques, elegant, and they handle with admirable ease draperies, parasols, pieces of cloth,  in fast, seemingless effortless movements. The men are incredibly agile, as much acrobats as dancers, and have assimilated diverse age-old theatrical routines. Another definite plus is the quality of design and realisation of the variegated costumes, in exquisitely harmonised hues. And the projection technology is amazing, for they have managed to produce uncanny effects of celestial beings that come at high speeds from the screen and suddenly materialize as dancers on the stage, aided by three steps at the back of the stage that permit their concealment. The marvelous landscapes of China form a lovely backdrop for most tableaux.

            They are not attempting pure historicism; rather, they are keeping the essentials of long centuries of tradition in which an unbroken succession of masters -and disciples that gradually become masters- bring to us old tribal dances or evocations of legends from different dynasties, plus some pieces inspired by their particular beliefs. The glossy hand programme has  bilingual Chinese/Spanish details of each tableau plus some generalisations about Falun Dafa. For me it seems an extremely simplistic "theology"; basic ideas: we come from Heaven and  people are benevolent and peaceful. But in two danced tableaux and one hymn they present the current Chinese Government as viciously cruel against the Falun, even with women that are meditating in Tiananmen. I do know that they are persecuted for they are perceived as enemies of the state. But I can vouchsafe that in my Chinese visit of May 2012 I visited the monastery of Labrang, where a vast monastic Buddhist city is being financed by the civilian city, and I also saw a splendid active mosque. So  freedom of cult is nowadays a far cry from the horrible situation at the time of the Cultural Revolution, a misnomer if there ever was one. The Tibetan situation (that has nothing to do with Falun) is political rather than religious; if they keep their secessionist aspirations in check, the Tibetans aren´t attacked for their cult.

            As for the music, it is credited to current Chinese composers and orchestrated for a mixed ensemble of Occidental and Oriental instruments led by the Oxford-born Antonia Joy-Wilson. It sounds mildly Chinese and agreeable, and the players are excellent. The hymns seemed to me very poor in their texts and music, and of the four vocal soloists (with piano accompaniment) only the most veteran passed muster. Everything is amplified with good quality.

            First Part. I will mention those tableaux that I preferred. Two concern the Tang Dynasty (618-907): "The Battle Formation" and the humoristic "Thirteen monks protect Emperor Tang". The "Bai Ethnic Dance" was charmingly done by the girls. It is a minority group of the extreme South, close to Myanmar. The Mongol bowl dance shows equilibrium and grace.  

            Second Part. The monk Sha receives wisdom: a funny story involving an ogre who becomes a monk, a Monkey King, a man-pig and celestial kids, plus a flowing river and an immense fish that swallows people; one flaw: the lack of characteristic masks. Dance of the divine phoenixes, with a beautiful display of fluttering drapes. The Imperial countenance of the Great Han Dynasty (206 b.C.- 220 a.C.) was an impressive display. The Dance of the Yi people (Southwest Yunnan)  in honor of the divinities takes advantage of the five-colored costumes. The promenade of Emperor Tang Xuanzong on the Moon Palace: feathery rainbow-hued costumes are worn by the ladies in this poetic dance. Spring comes early: in a luminous dance among cherry trees in bloom, the girls handle  their kerchiefs with consumate skill.

            Forget the proselytism and enjoy the rest of the show! It may be less authentic than Beijing Opera but it is easy on the ears and the eyes and quite beautiful, even if occasional touches of kitsch seep in.  

            In total contrast, "Trazas sobre trazas" ("Traces upon traces") is a minimalist choreographic exercise by Diana Theocharidis on music by Martín Matalon, an Argentine living in Paris, a part of a diptych completed by "La rosa...", "scenic work" on texts by Borges (which I didn´t see), both at the CETC (Centro de Experimentación del teatro Colón), the uncomfortable cellar that served as a difficult venue (columns and askew sightlines make vision arduous). The music, very well played by the French Ensemble Ars Nova conducted by Philippe Nahon, was interesting: six "traces" in which varied textures alternate; in each "coexist the presence of the live instrument and its electronic transformation", "the traces that each instrument leaves in its trajectory".  The choreography was hermetic  and gave essential importance to the interplay of the dancer with water.
For Buenos Aires Herald

domingo, diciembre 16, 2012

Strange sounds from Kagel and Sciarrino

            The concerts of contemporary music organized by Martín Bauer for the Teatro San Martín have sometimes two characteristics: a) the events leave their "mother house", the Casacuberta (San Martín), for other venues; b) they can have a strong histrionic element that may dwarf the musical interest. Such was the case in two concerts this season.

            "Zwei-Mann-Orchester" by Mauricio Kagel (1931-2008) appeared in the hand programme as "Dos hombres orquesta" ("Two men-orchestras"), but I believe it can be construed both in this way or as "two orchestras played by two men"; the difference may be subtle but it exists. As readers probably known, Kagel was an Argentine musician that spent most of his life in Germany and became very widely known for his experiments in theatrical music. He does have valuable "music as music" but he liked to be a "provocateur". When he came to BA some years ago after a long exile we had both sides of him.  

            "Zwei-Mann-Orchester" had a long elaboration between 1971 and 1973. Kagel wrote an introduction for the Donaueschinger Musiktage 1973, where it was premiered. "The idea of a soloist-acrobat who...handles an inconceivable quantity of instruments seemed to me both fascinating and revealing. It stimulated my permanent desire to transgress norms and ridiculize them. The work depended on adapting the details of the machine to the corporeal mass of the two interpreters" (so, the piece is very much "ad hominem").  The machine was drawn by Ursula Burghardt, the composer´s wife, who thus gave Kagel a construction model.  And it was built by Klaus Schaefer with the aim of providing the audience a similar view from both sides. Kagel used a special type of analytical notation which fixes separately "the basic melodic, rhythmic and harmonic structures, but lets the player chose freely among them" (so every performance is different, aleatoric). "The artist becomes a polyfacetic automat,...a man who represents musical actions in an assembly line"; in certain bits a synthesizer helps. Each man plays about a hundred instruments of all kinds, even some very extravagant ones. And he doesn´t "travel"; he stays put in a chair and gets to far-off instruments with levers and hooks.

            Wilhelm Bruck and Theodor Ross premiered the piece, and almost two decades later, in 1992, they did it in Kassel. In 2011 a third version was built in a joint effort of the Paul Sacher Foundation, the Basel Academy of Music and the Tinguely Museum. This time Bruck was accompanied by Matthias Würsch. The Goethe-Institut of Buenos Aires decided to bring this version to BA. And what was dubbed last year the Colón Contemporáneo (basically a collaboration with the Bauer cycle)  was the purveyor of the venue, the so-called Sala del Bicentenario, which turned out to be the Sala Benavente of yore in the third cellar of the Colón, traditionally the great hall of stage design, unfortunately converted into an all-purpose rehearsal room in recent years, and now open for a performance for the first time. It worked very well as such and proved to have good acoustics.

            As the two men multiplied themselves, I heard indeterminate sounds, clashes, percussions, short melodies, a bicycle wheel, a Singer sowing machine, an aulos, a saw, string and wind instruments, et al. For 66' it went on , and then it was over. Well, I had fun, far from the prevailing aridity in these concerts, but of course I wouldn´t think of hearing this music in a CD; 80% of the experience was visual, a tour de force from the two guys who put their best effort (but I´ve certainly heard better violin or guitar playing elsewhere). But the machine in itself was a memorable contraption.

            I´m not a friend of Salvatore Sciarrino´s music, much promoted by Bauer. His morose speculation with the limits of audibility generally bores me. However, his "Studi per l´intonazione del mare" were described as written for a hundred saxophones, a hundred flutes, four flute soloists, four saxophone soloists, one voice and percussion, an  array vastly impressive that could be interesting enough in terms of pure timbre. So I went. And I was also lured by the possibility of getting to know the Usina del Arte, the transformed factory inaugurated this year as a multipurpose auditorium. Placed as it is in front of the freeway at the very margin of La Boca, it seems an unlikely venue. The building is very handsome from the outside and has been completely renovated in a modern way inside. And the City Government has made an effort with adequate signs to orient the driver; however, the parking places aren´t enough and you don´t get cabs easily. The acoustics of the main hall seemed pretty good. They lack a proper ticket organisation and we had an unacceptable delay of 40 minutes for a work that lasted...40 minutes.

            The numbers were hardly what Sciarrino wanted: 27 saxophones and 58 flutes. But the sound was convincing enough for my ears. As a purely timbric experience it was interesting, with stereophonic effects, for the soloists were up front but the massed flutes were up on the  right and the saxophones on the left. The substance seemed to me very thin, but the piece offered visual attraction and sound novelty. The artists were quite good, especially the Lost Cloud Quartet (saxes from Italy) and the singer Virginia Majorel, all led by Santiago Santoro with two assistants.

lunes, diciembre 10, 2012

A bouquet of valuable concerts

            In its final weeks the season still provides interesting concerts. The Buenos Aires Philharmonic gave an unusual programme at the Colón  made up of just two scores by prominent British composers, and in each case it was only the second time these creations were heard here. It also brought us the debut of a talented Chinese conductor, Tao Fan, and the return of an appreciated British cellist, Natalie Clein. Benjamin Britten composed his Symphony for cello and orchestra, Op.68, in 1964 for Mstislav Rostropovich, who premiered it in Moscow. Here the artists involved were Arto Noras and conductor Steuart Bedford with the Phil on October 12, 1998, a fascinating day in which there were five British pieces heard for the first time, including Bax´s "Tintagel" and Holst´s "The Perfect Fool".

            This Britten work is tough and intense, lasting almost 35 minutes in four movements. We are far from the accessibility of "Peter Grimes" or "Variations and fugue on a theme of Purcell", and close to the hermetic strength of "Phaedra" or "Death in Venice". It was admirably played by Clein and very well accompanied, Tao Fan showing himself to be a prime specimen of Oriental adaptability to Occidental art. Clein played a lovely encore, "El Cant dels Ocells" by Casals.

            It was again Bedford with the Phil  who let us know in 1979 the magnificent and ample First Symphony by Edward Elgar, written in 1908, lasting 50 minutes and going much beyond the meritorious pioneer efforts of Sullivan, Parry and Stanford. This is noble, majestic Postromantic music of great inspiration, and it was beautifully done by conductor and orchestra. It opened the way to later great symphonists such as Vaughan Williams and Walton.

            The final concert of the Bach Academy was offered in the ideal ambience of the Museo de Arte Decorativo by the best Argentine historicist ensemble, La Barroca del Suquía led by violinist Manfredo Krämer, in a splendid Vivaldi-Bach programme. It was a lovely concert throughout, featuring a talented Norwegian mezzosoprano, Marianne Kielland, who had done the same programme in the Córdoba Festival of the "Estancias Jesuíticas", an admirable yearly feature initiated by Krämer some years ago.

            The Vivaldi pieces are little-known. A short Symphony "Al Santo Sepolcro" in just two joined movements (not the habitual three), and a very attractive Motet "Cessate omai", RV 584, two recitatives and two arias about the pangs of love in typical Baroque exaggeration, beautifully sung by Kielland, who unites a very pleasant timbre with true musicality. The three Johann Sebastian Bach works presented one famous score, the Concerto in C minor, BWV 1060, for violin, oboe, strings and continuo, and two less heard, the very expressive "Sinfonia" from the great Cantata Nº 21, with oboist Diego Nadra, and Cantata Nº 170, whose title fully corresponds with the music: "Vergnügte Ruh" ("Pleasurable calm"), with Kielland and Nadra in oboe d´amore.

            Nadra took some time to find his best form (he is an Argentine working in Amsterdam) but from the Concerto on did a specialist´s job both in oboe and in its related instrument, lower and sweeter, the oboe d´amore. Krämer showed his uncanny ability in the Concerto, Kielland was even more comfortable in Bach than in Vivaldi and the others (two violins, 1 viola, 1 cello, 1 bass, and Federico Ciancio in harpsichord and organ) executed their parts with fine professionalism. There was an encore: Nº 7 from Cantata Nº 64. The concert was a true occasion: a gala for the 30th anniversary of the Bach Academy; may they continue for long in the future:  this institution is indispensable.

              La Bella Música, led by Patricia Pouchulu, provided important choral-symphonic concerts in earlier seasons. Last year there was an important change: the concert was conducted by Pouchulu, who, apart from being the active organizer of two series of concerts at the Sofitel and at the so-called Salón de los Pasos Perdidos of our Congress, has studied conducting with local and foreign maestros. She fights the prejudice -that shouldn´t exist- about lady conductors, but the concert last year and the one she offered now show that she has real qualities for this activity. The venue was the Avenida.

            A deep thanks for having chosen the complete incidental music by Mendelssohn for Shakespeare´s "A Midsummer Night´s Dream", for the whole thing is wonderful: an Overture and nine numbers. I remember with delight a concert about 35 years ago conducted by Peter Maag, but I don´t recollect any recent performance. Both the incredibly precocious Overture (written at 17) and the ultra-famous Wedding March are standards, but all the rest is worth hearing many times; two pieces have vocal solos and children´s choir. The ad-hoc picked orchestra led by concertino Grace Medina responded to the orthodox and sensible conducting quite well; Soledad de la Rosa (soprano) and Mariana Rewerski (mezzo) were the renowned soloists, and the Coro Nacional de Niños under María Isabel Sanz was very agreeable.

            Perhaps Beethoven´s most often played Symphony is Nº 7, and understandably so, for its rhythmic drive is irresistible. The main problem is that the music must never flag, and by and large Pouchulu obtained this; she was right in playing the second movement at the marked Allegretto instead of the generally adopted Andante. There was an unexpected and welcome encore, the Barcarolle from Offenbach´s "Les Contes d´Hoffmann". For next year, why not a complete oratorio?

The hard ways of classical music since 1940

            In recent weeks the cycle of contemporary music organized by Martín Bauer for the Teatro San Martín has dominated concert life. Prior to that there were many homages to John Cage due to the centenary of his birth. This is a very personal review of some of these sessions, for it is a field where critics tread on thin ice and their points of view may be completely contrary to those of other colleagues. There is no "truth" on these matters, but one has to have the intellectual honesty of passing judgment no matter what. And that´s what I will do.

            I first met John Cage´s music when I heard a record of his "Sonatas and interludes for prepared piano" (1948) back in 1956; at the time I found the novel sounds interesting, but better in short doses. In the Sixties he came to BA providing the music for his longtime companion, choreographer Merce Cunningham; I saw the show, I was intrigued by the abstract dance and found the music a good support for the visuals but not viable by itself.  Later I disliked his iconoclastic Piano Concerto and gradually I got quite angry to find that a whole "progressive" generation thought that Cage was to music what Duchamp with his Urinal had been for the Arts; later still  I got even angrier when many art critics thought Duchamp´s "work" more important than Picasso´s "Les demoiselles d´Avignon". "Conceptual art" has devastated the visual arts and now we have conceptual music: once you understand the concept, nothing is left, and a second audition is a thankless endeavor.

            Out of many concerts consecrated to Cage I chose a very long one offered in a strange venue, the Colón´s main foyer. I only heard half of it. The evening started with the complete Sonatas and interludes for prepared piano, 1 h 10' ; it proved  that the musical material is thin and that what holds the attention, more than the melodies or rhythms, is the instrument itself, the piano intervened with bolts and nuts to give a gamelan-like timbre. It was beautifully played by a talented lady, Aki Takahashi. Then singer Joan La Barbara voiced "Experiences Nº 2" (1948), "Aria" (1958) –an unexpected good tune-, and with piano, fragments of the 1970 "Songbooks". This alternated with "Freeman Etudes Nos. I, III, VII & VIII" (1977-80, 1989-90), played by violinist David Núñez. Apart from the Aria, the rest was ugly experimental stuff based on odd uses of the voice and the violin. After this I decided to leave; there were more pieces for voice and for violin, and  then four percussion scores plus something called "58", referring to the quantity of players.

            Another trend of the last forty years is minimalism, and I have little sympathy for it. The relentless redundancy of small tonal cells soon becomes boring, but it connects with some endless nirvanas of progressive popular music and it has its fans. I, along with most people, booed lustily when Terry Riley´s "In C" was premiered here about four decades ago conducted by Lukas Foss (the concert also included Cage´s Piano Concerto). Then came Philip Glass and I rather had fun with his descriptive music for the film "Koyaniskaatsi"; as support, it works; by itself it fails. And so does most of Glass´ prolific output; when he came alone as a pianist I skipped the event. The mystic minimalism of some Eastern Europeans is better, and I respect some of Arvo Pärt´s and Henryk Gorecki´s production. As for the Americans, there are two that have had higher quality than Glass: John Adams with his political opera "Nixon in China", and Steve Reich, who was present recently in our city for a concert dedicated to his works.

             He made some statements in an interview, and I was glad he called Cage´s music ugly. "I don´t tolerate music without a whistlable melody and a marked rhythm",

 he also said. The concert started at the Casacuberta with a very simple piece: "Clapping music" (1972; he and a girl clapped. "Nagoya marimbas" (1994) was short (5') and agreeable. "Proverb" (1995) was longer (16' ) and more varied: five voices, two chamber organs, two vibraphones. And "Tehillim" (1981), in two parts, was quite long (33´) and showed the catholicity of his taste, for he made a synthesis of modern elements with different traditions, such as the Notre Dame Medieval School, African drums and Jewish klezmer. Sometimes the interest flagged, but most of it was intriguing  and listenable. Brilliant executants: Synergy Vocals (six splendid British singers), Ensemble Perceum (an excellent Uruguayan percussion group) and thirteen Argentine players, all conducted with precision by Pablo Druker.

            Great players are certainly essential to give avantgarde pieces their full due, so I welcomed the occasion to hear the famed Klangforum Wien, one of the best specialised ensembles. Indeed they are fantastic both in their individual playing and perfect interaction. But even them couldn´t save their second programme (in the first there were Xenakis and Ligeti, two important composers, but I couldn´t hear it) at the Colón. I can understand their faithfulness to Beat Furrer, for he founded the ensemble; however, I found "Still" a mere exercise in manipulating sounds. Georg Friedrich Haas´ "Monodie" was of similar aesthetics. Finally, the long (37´) "Monadologie XII" by Bernhard Lang was hard to take in its arid experimentation.
For Buenos Aires Herald

domingo, diciembre 09, 2012

Valuable Midday Concerts, uneven Chopiniana sessions

             The Midday Concerts of the Mozarteum Argentino have arrived at an incredible 53rd season, always giving valuable one-hour free menus of good music. I have written this year about several of them, and I will now comment on three more (the last two conclude their activity until 2013). The matte, mediocre acoustics of the Gran Rex are always a hindrance, however.

            Very few artists have had such lasting influence as the long-lived violinist, conductor and pedagogue Ljerko Spiller, the molder of several generations of Argentine violinists and other players. In a concert delayed due to unforeseeable circumstances, his son, the oboist Andrés Spiller, and violinist Haydée Seibert, coordinated after Ljerko´s death a splendid homage  in an all-Mozart programme. A pity that the date change meant that another of his sons, violinist Antonio Spiller, had to be replaced by José Bondar.

            The lovely Quartet for oboe and strings was magisterially played by Andrés Spiller and quite well by Bondar, Gustavo Massun (viola) and Diego Sánchez (cello). The marvelously expressive Quintet in G minor, K.516, was very cleanly played by the Cuarteto Buenos Aires (Seibert and Grace Medina, violins; Marcela Magin, viola; Edgardo Zollhofer, cello) plus Julio Domínguez (second viola), but I missed some extra intensity. Finally, it was quite moving to hear the overplayed Divertimento K.136, simply because it was offered with heartwarming sincerity by a much ampler group than usual for this work, 42 players-disciples under Andrés Spiller.

            Readers will remember earlier reviews in which I made reference to the wonderful work of eighteenth-century Jesuits in two isolated regions of Bolivia, Moxos (in Beni) and Chiquitos (to the East of Santa Cruz), and the fortunate retrieval of vast amounts of musical manuscripts, a treasure of Colonial Baroque. The Ensamble Moxos under Raquel Maldonado Villafuerte comes from San Ignacio and has visited us before. I remember an admirable concert a couple of years ago at the Museo Fernández Blanco. This time at the Gran Rex it was more a sociological show than a straight concert, with plenty of stage effects and entrances through the stalls corridors with Indian paraphernalia. The emphasis was clearly on the indigenous side rather than the imported European Baroque, but it was a wild success.

            The traditional "Moxeño" pieces began and closed the session: "La Fiesta del Barco" and a very animated "Velorio". Apart from two identified European pieces, Jan Josef Ignác  Brentner´s "Gloria et Honore" and a Sonata Chiquitana by Ignazio Balbi, the rest was anonymous, from Moxos or Chiquitos. The singers and players were disciplined and convincing under the strong guidance of Maldonado, who also spoke to the audience. Some instruments were indigenous and curious.

            The Orquesta Sinfónica del Neuquén is the most Southern of our Republic and of the world and it was founded in 2000. Since 2006 it is led by Andrés Tolcachir. Now the Mozarteum brought it to our capital for the third time, and it was a pleasant event, as were the first two visits. It is  a small orchestra, only 41, so it should be classified as a chamber orchestra, but for that size Tolcachir´s choices were right: the beautiful Overture "The Hebrides" by Mendelssohn, and the most smiling of Beethoven´s symphonies, Nº 6, "Pastoral". Completely orthodox interpretations played with convincing professionalism; again the acoustics didn´t help, and Tolcachir´s temperament seemed too restrained at times, although technically good.

            Chopiniana is a cycle of piano concerts centered on Chopin and led enthusiastically by Martha Noguera year after year. This season the venues were much better, the Avenida for the first concert, about which I also wrote (six Polish artists playing Chopin´s concerted pieces), and the Casacuberta at the San Martín for the rest, an ideally intimate amphitheatre with fine acoustics. The second concert was atypical; for the first time there was no piano. But the session by the Polish Prima Vista Quartet was justified by a special reason: the first score was written by Chopin´s teacher Jozef Elsner, a very agreeable Late Classicist Quartet Op.8 Nº 3 in D minor and three movements, certainly a premiere, which also applies to Moniuszko´s melodic First Quartet (he was the author of a beloved opera, "Halka"). I found Karol Lipinski´s Polonaise Nº 3 commonplace, but Szymanowski´s Second Quartet is innovative and inspired. The members of the quartet are talented veterans and they did a fine job, undeterred by the  sparse audience: Krzystof Bzowka and Josef Kolinek, violins; Piotr Nowicki, viola; and Zbigniew Krzyminski, cello.

            Frederic Chiu is an American of Chinese descent and he visited us some years ago. I had rather liked his recital,  as it turned out a good deal more than the one he gave this season. His playing was very square and cerebral, lacking the flexibility and tonal charm Romantic music requires. One interesting choice was Mendelssohn´s Sonata Op.6, which turns out to be from 1826, when the author was 17, and is a four-movement score of considerable quality (no details in the hand programme). The rest was normal repertoire: Four mazurkas Op.17 and Nocturne Nº 13 by Chopin, Liszt´s "Sposalizio" and Schumann´s "Fantasia". The encore was unusual: an arrangement by Chiu of Prokofiev´s Troika from "Lieutenant Kije".

            Finally, Martha Noguera was her reliable self  in a difficult programme of standards: Beethoven´s Sonata Nº 8, "Pathetic", and Sonata Nº 23, "Appassionata"; and Chopin´s complex Four Ballads. The encores: more Chopin: Nocturne Nº 2 and the "Heroic" Polonaise.

sábado, diciembre 01, 2012

The Colón-Ring, a sorry fiasco (I)

                During this year Herald readers endured three articles of mine about what is the event of the year: the Colón-Ring. Finally the great day arrived: November 27.  The proof of the pudding is in the eating: I got a massive indigestion of which I am partially recovering. And not because it was long but due to the bad quality of some ingredients.

            Picture it like an artistic tripod in which two of the legs have fallen irretrievably: the disastrous production and the indefensible mutilation of the original by Cord Garben. The third leg –the musical interpretation- had its good points, but it couldn´t save the always doubtful enterprise.

            What a pìty that it was dubbed "Colón-Ring", for now our theatre has its institutional stamp attached to a sorry fiasco. It transpired that in 2013, the Wagner birth bicentenary, the Colón won´t stage a work of his, a true aberration. If the Colón´s artistic Director, Pedro Pablo García Caffi, thought that with this strange conflation of an immense original, the tetralogy "The Ring of the Nibelungs", it was enough, he is dead wrong. Especially considering that the Colón (and the city) hasn´t seen "The Mastersingers" since 1980, "Parsifal" since 1986 and "Tannhäuser" since 1994. And of course we won´t see in the next years the complete "Ring".

            The hugeness of the event (7 hours of music plus two hours of catering in the intervals) plus the equally huge prices (higher than Salzburg or Bayreuth) give it a special place in the season. The theatre was about 80% full in the first of only two performances; the other two were scrapped, as I told in a previous article. There´s so much to analyze that I have been allowed an unprecedented two long reviews in consecutive days. I will dispose them thus: a joint analysis of Garben´s and Carrasco´s work, and afterwards a musical analysis of the interpretation.

                                   DAS RHEINGOLD (THE RHINEGOLD)

            Showing the weakness of Garben´s convictions, he had said in a press conference that "The Rhinegold" would be included within "The Walkyrie" as a compacted flashback, which seemed at the time unacceptable. Someone convinced him that the "Ring" ought to start with the beginning...which seems pretty evident. Garben doesn´t understand that the crux of the matter in Wagner is the Leitmotiven, the colossal net of leading motifs associated with characters or objects or ideas with which he builds masterfully, with enormous intellect and sensibility, the gigantic Ring, which has no parallels. This is a Medieval fantastic tale with an admixture of Wagnerian innovations in the libretto, influenced by the historic facts of his time (the 1848 Revolution, the socialistic ferment). It has three levels: the subterranean (the Rhine Daughters, the Nibelungs), the surface (human beings, giants) and the high reaches (the Gods). And one basic plot: pacts based on lies fail.

            The Prelude starts with the chord of E flat major in the horns: we are in the waters of the Rhine. It blends with the First Tableau. We are supposed to see the Rhine daughters playing and swimming. What do we get from Valentina Carrasco? Three washerwomen, no evidence of water. The decor (by Carles Berga on the original design by Frank Schlössmann, of the Katarina Wagner team) shows laterally a two-story modern house with balcony and glass, and center stage platforms with steps and a metal stairway. Hardly the Rhine bottom... Alberich the Nibelung comes in; he looks like a normal man, not an ugly dwarf as depicted by the Rhine daughters. A basic principle of Valentina is that everyone should look common: dwarves, giants, gods, they all have nothing to distinguish them. Alberich tries to seduce the washerwomen , is refused by them, and then renounces love by taking the "gold": a baby! Yes, you read right: a baby is the gold...

            In the Second Tableau we are supposed to be in a meadow and Wotan, the Supreme God (equivalent to Zeus-Jupiter) is looking at the Walhalla, the great castle built by the Giants. But here Wotan has an Argentine military costume, the Walhalla is a miserly modern construction and there are big curtains. His wife Fricka comes in to reproach him for his frivolous disregard for the goddess Freia. Then Freia steps in, dressed in casual pants, followed by the Giants, and surprise! Fafner is a cripple in a wheelchair... Another Valentina principle, taken from La Fura dels Baus: add people where none are wanted;  the Giants come accompanied by a whole group, in the clothes designed by Nidia Tusal, generally (during the whole evening) ugly and mediocre.

            Donner, the god of storms, and Froh, the god of joy, should burst in, but they don´t: the "assembly"  will never have them in this version. But we do have Loge, the god of fire, looking modern and nonchalant in a raincoat, giving no hint of who he is, and carrying a portfolio. Big cut. The Giants carry Freia away, and Wotan and Loge decide to look for the gold in Nibelheim (where the Nibelungs live). The Interlude has an internal cut, but at least we do get the hammering on anvils, and the only well-imagined scene in the whole evening with interesting lighting by Peter Van Praet.

            Enter Mime, Alberich´s hapless brother and the forger of the magic helmet, whimpering. Alberich appears; now he is a terrifying dictator. Here is Valentina´s grossest mistake: the Nibelungs are boys tortured and killed by Alberich´s minions! In what seems to me not only wrong but stupid, we are supposed to consider them as victims of "El Proceso". So who is Alberich in this ridiculous Argentinization?

            Big cut. Loge instigates Alberich to put on the helmet and become something huge (a hydra) and then small (a frog);  he is caught in a net when he resumes his normal appearance. After a shortened Interlude, we are back in the decor of the Second Tableau, although we are supposed according to the libretto to be in an open space. Big internal cut; Alberich is forced to obey and bring his gold, multiplied magically and patiently in the Nibelheim. Another "streak of genius" from Valentina: the gold isn´t ingots but children... Now Garben´s good judgment disappears: Alberich´s Curse is the high point of "The Rhine Gold" and is here reduced to a minimum.

            The Giants appear; Fasolt demands that Freia be completely covered from view by the gold. All of it (a mass of children) is put before Freia, including the helmet, but Freia´s gaze still blind Fasolt: he demands the ring on Wotan´s finger. And here comes Garben´s incredible decision to scrap Erda´s Warning, an essential part of the whole Ring.  Wotan is gently induced by Fricka and lamely accepts it, instead of ceding to the Earth-Goddess (who will be the mother of the Valkyries after being visited by Wotan, who wants "to know more"). Fafner gets up from his wheelchair and kills Fasolt... As there is no Donner, we get no hammer blow nor a Rainbow route to the Walhalla. Bodies are strewn meaninglessly around. The Gods enter the miserable "castle". Bad taste in the mouth, interval.

                                         "DIE WALKÜRE" ("THE VALKYRIE")

            Act I. The Prelude is respected. Siegmund comes in, exhausted after being persecuted. Sieglinde , as is seen after a while, has a rope around her neck and can´t stand up; her husband Hunding treats her like a vile slave in Valentina´s view. The architecture, instead of being a hut with a big elm in the middle (it´s no less than the World Elm and in its trunk Siegmund will find Notung, the sword implanted there by Wolfe-Wotan), is similar to that of "The Rhinegold", plus acres of hanging polyethylene or something like that. When Hunding comes in he carries a pistol; you have to be coherent: although Siegmund is his enemy, the Medieval sacred right of hospitality prevails (it doesn´t now, at least in Europe); pistols in the Middle Ages? Enormous cut. The final duet gives us only the second part of Sieglinde´s aria "Die Männer Sippe", part of "Du bist der Lenz" (Sieglinde), another big cut and we get to the final two exhilarating minutes, when the revelation of the twins´ love explodes. Tomorrow I will complete this account.

For Buenos Aires Herald

The Colón-Ring, a sorry fiasco (II)

            Part I of this review ended with the First Act of "The Valkyrie". Act II was startling in a negative way: Cord Garben eliminated both the few lines where Wotan summons Brünnhilde, and her famous War Chant "Hojotoho". And he cut the whole of the basic Wotan-Fricka duet in which she wins her essential point: Siegmund must die. She does say a few words to Brünnhilde, preparing her for the news. Brünnhilde looks unkempt and unattractive. The setting: a stepped platform and a stairway. Wotan´s narration to Brünnhilde, though with internal cuts, still infringes one of Garben´s sayings: it tells the audience something we already know. The solemn "Todesverkündigung" ("Death announcement"), in which Brünnhilde tells Siegmund that he will die like a hero and be transported to the Walhalla, is heavily cut, but at least we get to hear that Siegmund is ready to sacrifice his sister-lover and commit suicide so that both will be together, which decides Brünnhilde to save him in his duel with Hunding.

            The final scene is poorly solved. In those times warriors fought clean, one against the other, but Hunding comes with a group of supporters ( La Fura dels Baus´ mania with filling up scenes with superfluous people;  Valentina Carrasco remains a member of the company). The few lines in which Brünnhilde convinces Sieglinde to follow her are cut (silly thing to do) so what is in itself a strong, compact section lost focus.

            Oh my, the Ride of the Valkyries! (beginning the Third Act). What a mishmash. The girls are supposed to come from a battlefield whence they will lead heroes to Walhalla. The confused, messy staging was hard to fathom, but seemed to involve (I may be wrong) Gurkhas and Argentines. The music was cut by half. Brünnhilde and Sieglinde come in, the latter flees into the woods.  Then Wotan comes in, always in military costume (well, he is the Lord of Battles, but in a different context). Several opinions around me in the intervals and after the ordeal seemed to think that Wotan was Perón and Fricka, either Isabelita or Evita. Freaky. I prefer Wotan.

            Now, with heavy cuts, after the Valkyries go out in despair, we have the marvelous final duet. Enough remained to make sense, and at least the final long Wotan monologue (perhaps the greatest music in the whole Ring) was heard fully. But again a ridiculous feature: instead of evoking the fire with lighting, an incongruous group comes in and puts candles around Brünnhilde...


            This was the most heavily cut of the Ring: 1 h 10' out of close to 3 h 50' . Logical, for it is the relatively weakest, but still some of the cuts were grievous. The First Act began with the final bit of the Prelude and showed Mime (Alberich´s brother), who has raised Siegfried after Sieglinde´s demise in childbirth. Supposedly we are in a miserable cavern, but no: same basic decor, an ugly big modern building, this time with indeterminate things hanging around. Siegfried bursts in and behaves as an arrogant bully throughout. Enormous cuts, including the whole Mime-Wanderer scene. (Wanderer is Wotan psychologically transformed; now almost powerless, he wanders about the world, waiting for the inevitable destruction of the Gods, the penalty for having broken sacred pacts guaranteed by runes). The Forge Scene is reduced to half, in a clumsy staging, whereas Wagner is painstaking in describing the whole process of forging the sword Notung out of the fragments broken by Wotan.

Act II. The cuts are phenomenal: everything from the start up to the battle against Fafner (the former Giant is now a dragon in custody of the Nibelungs´ gold hoard). So, no dialogue between Wotan and Alberich, no venomous exchange between the two dwarves (Alberich and Mime), no warning to the dragon; but unpardonably, no "Wood murmurings", the intensely poetic scene in which Siegfried shows his other side of close connexion with Nature. And when the battle comes, ridicule rises to unbeatable heights: the dragon is a group of people led by Fafner in a wheelchair (as in "The Rhinegold"). Another terribly clumsy staging, the "dragon" dies. Then Siegfried kills Mime. Following the instructions of a little bird, Siegfried scampers off, full of desire for the woman that sleeps on the top of a mountain.

            Third Act. As in "The Rhinegold", Erda is completely ignored. The action begins with the Wanderer as Guardian of the Rock trying to impede Siegfried from climbing. This Wanderer has a silly hat and a nondescript attire. Siegfried, instead of breaking Wotan´s sacred stuff inscribed with runes with Notung, just splits it against his knee.  The Wanderer´s part is reduced to about 5 minutes. Incongruously we keep on seeing a building where none should be.  Siegfried swifly climbs the mountain (big cut) and gets to the top. Miraculously  Brünnhilde, in deep sleep as at the end of "The Valkyrie", has changed position, the top of the mountain is a modern building, and the candles around her are now in the balcony! The long duet has internal cuts and the lighting is very bad (the invocation by Brünnhilde "Heil dir, Licht!" goes for nothing).


            The longest opera, 4 h 40', was reduced to 1 h 57', and again fundamental passages were omitted. Garben mentions "coherence" as his goal, but I don´t think he approached it. The Prelude and the Norns were cut, no big deal. The brilliant duet of Brünnhilde and Siegfried, "Zu neuen Taten", was included. The bare rock was instead a two-story modern house. The marvelous "Siegfried´s Rhine journey" was shortened, and incongruous images of a big modern boat sailing were mixed ahead of the action with the "palace" of the Gibich brothers, just another modern house. After the Prologue, we now have the sad remains of Act One, terribly cut, without the solemn oath of brotherhood between Gunther and Siegfried promoted by Hagen, Gunther´s half-brother and the son of Alberich, essential information that we are not given. And the whole Second Tableau is cut: in it, Siegfried, looking like Gunther due to the magic helmet, abducts Brünnhilde. Waltraute´s essential narrative telling Brünnhilde about the Gods´ decline is thus obliterated.

            Second Act. Big cut in the initial minutes. It avoids the Alberich-Hagen dialogue. Blissfully the only choral scene in the whole Ring is retained. When Brünnhilde thinks that she is betrayed seeing Siegfried with Gutrune, an absurdly damaging cut eliminated the dramatic Oath between Brünnhilde and Siegfried. At least the terrible Vengeance Trio is in, though not the final pages of the Act.

            Third Act. The dialogue between the Rhine Daughters and Siegfried is cut.  Hagen, Gunther and other people join Siegfried, who with a new Hagen-provided drink

is no longer amnesiac and tells (with some cuts) the story of his life until in ecstasy he recalls waking Brünnhilde. Gunther now understands Hagen´s felony. The son of Alberich kills Siegfried (can you believe it?) with a golf club! 

            And now comes the worst job from Valentina. The sublime Siegfried´s Funeral Music is accompanied by projections of a cocktail of recent personalities, from Mother Theresa to Che Guevara. And then, the magnificent Immolation Scene (after Hagen kills Gunther) is completely boycotted: no immolation, no Rhine flood, no fire devouring Walhalla, and at the end a variegated modern crowd including children takes over the stage; I suppose they are the hope for the future...

                                                           THE MUSICAL SIDE

            Perforce I must be brief. The Colón´s Orquesta Estable was augmented: the normal 99 had an additional 86 under contract, and these uneasy blends alternated (what a waste of money: why not use the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, who has been idle these weeks?). They put in a brave effort with mostly good results apart from notorious fluffs, and they were well conducted by Roberto Paternostro (debut) who showed stamina and knowledge in his hard job. Professional work from the Choir under Peter Burian.

            Singers: all made their debut except Stig Andersen (Siegmund) who had sung Siegfried here in 1997. Unnecessary imports: the Rhine Daughters and the Valkyries; another waste of money for roles that could be covered by local singers; but they were  disciplined and correct. Best singers: Linda Watson (Brünnhilde), a strong voice with a long line; the excellent Loge of Stefan Heibach; the very musical Andersen; Simone Schröder (Fricka); Kevin Conners (Mime); Gary Jankowski (Fafner). Leonid Zakhozhaev (Siegfried) was firm and agile though not subtle; Jukka Rasilainen (Wotan) gave little expression to a plum of a role, though he has a serviceable voice; Daniel Sumegi is big-voiced but woolly (Hagen, Fasolt, Hunding); Marion Ammann was a communicative but vibratoed Sieglinde; Andrew Shore acts well as Alberich but lacks the black force the part requires. Sonja Mühlbeck-Witte was a correct Freia and Silja Schneider a too fluttery Bird. Gérard Kim was an adequate Gunther and Sabine Hogrefe a dull and dowdy Gutrune.

            There, I´ve had my looong say. I hope the Colón never insists with this line of conduct.
For Buenos Aires Herald

Females banned in “Kings of the Dance”

            Male dancers have traditionally deferred to the ladies in classical ballet, being reduced to holding or lifting her as she dominates center stage.  Men do show their abilities in their variation within a Pas de deux, but are often more opaque. Modern ballet tends to be more balanced, and there are sexy pas de deux where body contact goes beyond poses, towards an integrated couple.  And there are isolated cases where male dancers dominated, as in Béjart´s ballets conceived for Jorge Donn. Or parodies where men danced as girls, such as the very funny Trockadero Ballet.

            However, back in 2008 Sergei Danielian had the novel idea of gathering a small group of first-rate men and calling the show "Kings of the Dance". Its basic characteristic: females are banned.  Men dancing, alone, in duets, trios, quartets, quintets, are in themselves interesting enough. And so they prove, when they are well-chosen and are given intelligent choreographies.

            This show has been seen in many cities during recent years, of course with different dancers, for this is a flexible concept. Men are stronger, more muscular, and being free of "chevalier service", they can resort to innovative steps, in some cases adapted to the particular characteristics of certain artists. Dancing is an essentially physical art; such matters as height, weight, bone structure, sexual orientation, are essential elements in the dancer´s personality, as well as his culture, musical sensibility, charisma.   Two artists do with the same precision a pirouette, but one transcends and the other doesn´t; such is the mystery of communication.

            The show was presented in two performances at the Coliseo by the Grupo Ars and Galicia Éminent ending their subscription series. Most of the five dancers were known from earlier visits in other contexts and no less than three were from ST Petersburg theatres. For the public –and for me- the special star was the youngest and most spectacular: Ivan Vasiliev, born in 1989 in Vladivostok, the Siberian port. He is currently First Dancer at both the American Ballet Theatre (New York) and at the other great St Petersburg company, the Mikhailovsky. Both in a gala in 2011 and now, he showed indeed that he is "the boy that can fly". Vasiliev did a marvelous solo turn: an intricate, very difficult choreography by Patrick De Bana called "Labyrinth of Solitude", in a  romanticized version of Tomaso Vitali´s "Chaconne" (recorded, as everything else).

            Christopher Weeldon is considered one of the best current choreographers. Although I found his invention uneven, I was interested by what was the initial piece of the First Part, "For 4", based on Schubert´s Second Movement from his Quartet Nº 14, "Death and the Maiden", as orchestrated by Mahler. As it is a theme with variations, it allowed for different groupings and tempi, admirably danced by Vasiliev and the other three: the Ukrainian Denis Matvienko, born 1979, star of St Petersburg´s Mariinsky and very recently named Director of the Kiev Ballet; the also Ukrainian Leonid Sarafanov, b.1982, from the Mikailovsky; and the appreciated Guillaume Côté, Canadian, 1981, who has danced at the Colón. Both Matvienko and Sarafanov made their local debut.

            I have seen pieces by Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato with the Compañía Nacional de Danza de España (where he had a long tenure, 1990-2010) that I found powerful and dramatic, but "Remanso", on charming piano works by Granados, seemed to me more gymnastic than poetic, contradicting the music. It was beautifully danced by Sarafanov, Matvienko and the tall and strong Marcelo Gomes, b.1979, Brazilian.

            The second Part started with an attractive short piece, called "Quatro" though danced by only the two Ukrainians (Matvienko and Sarafanov) with splendid energy; both choreography (Edward Clug) and music (Milko Lazar) were fun either to see or to hear.

            "Morel et Saint-Loup" is a homoerotic duet from Roland Petit´s ballet "Proust", 1974, on the nostalgic music by Fauré, his Elegy for cello, with piano and later with orchestra (a collation of both versions). It is a sensitive, discreet treatment of the subject, and was danced tastefully by Côté and Gomes.

            The short "Dance of the Blessed Spirits" from Gluck´s "Orphée et Eurydice", provided the famous choreographer Frederick Ashton in 1978 with an opportunity to give the Royal Ballet´s star Anthony Dowell a Neoclassic solo of great elegance. It was Matvienko who danced it now, with the line of a true "danseur noble".

            The final piece, "KO´d", is a joint effort of Gomes as choreographer and Côté as composer to give all five a chance to dance together harmoniously, and so they did. Frankly, the music (Sonata Nº 4 for piano) sounded to me like bad Chopin, but it was a pleasure to see these five distinguished dancers collaborating with such equanimity.

            In the final analysis, this varied show with new pieces for our audiences proved its point: it is perfectly possible to have an evening of great dancing without the girls. (Ladies should take up the challenge and do a "Queens of the Dance"). We had four very good artists and an exceptional one, and at least the choreographies of Clug (a Romanian), Petit and De Bana were real finds.

             Our public is hungry for shows of distinguished international dancing. We do have our own stars and they must have more chances to show their talents, but it is essential to make contact with the greats of the world if we are to remain a vital focus for dance.

For Buenos Aires Herald