viernes, enero 11, 2013

Money troubles curtail theatrical plans

            Lyric theatres are expensive by definition. In our country a full organisation -orchestra, choir, ballet, production- can only be supported by public funds. It´s an investment in culture, an obligation of good government. The European trend in recent years has been to attract private sponsors and convince them that sharing the total cost enhances their public image as benefactors of the arts. Foundations both at the Colón and the Argentino make a valuable effort but still their support is a small percentage of the total budget. Ticket sales and other commercial ventures (DVDs, CDs, radio) also do their part but the deficit is big, even with the huge Colón prices (those at the Argentino are quite low).

            Back in 2001 the economic crisis ran havoc with the Argentino: their international opera subscription series was scrapped midway and the subscribers never got their money back (in the following season they were given free tickets to compensate). This year there was no subscription, but the announced season was ambitious. However, by July it was clear that trouble was brewing, for the budgeted money wasn´t arriving.  A reprogramming meant the elimination of an opera, a ballet and a concert, affecting the rights of valuable artists, foreign and local. But even this wasn´t enough: in October we were told that Wagner´s "The Valkyrie" would be postponed for next year. And some weeks ago we had the stunning news: Alejo Pérez, the Argentino´s Musical Director and the best conductor of his generation, was resigning.

            Now more information has transpired, and it shows a disastrous mismanagement: mind you, NOT the fault of the Argentino´s Directors Leandro Iglesias and Marcelo Lombardero, not even of the Province´s Cultural Institute (who oversees the Argentino), but of the Provincial Finance Minister.  Pérez had expressed that he could no longer tolerate a situation of which he wasn´t responsable, the lack of payment since March of those players that are under contract (the regular staff touched their salary).

            Consider: the proposed  production budget for this year was 20 million pesos; as early as February, it was diminished to 15,5 million. But only 1,8 million had arrived by December 1st!   Now, reacting to the public scandal -for at long last the personnel made known its situation after showing great patience- the amount is 4,5, which is still less than 30% of the approved budget.

            Until June the President of the Cultural Institute was Juan Carlos D´Amico; in July Jorge Telerman took over. His recent statement smacks of a master of the absurd: "We went through a rough situation which, thanks to the responsibility and prudence of the Province´s Government, we have been able to solve". False: the Government ruined the Argentino´s season; and the situation is far from solved.  As Martín Bauer, Director of the Tacec (the experimental unit of the theatre), said: "It would be a disrespect to announce next season when this year´s salaries aren´t paid yet".

            Telerman promised that in January  what remains unsolved of "the 2012 budget will be paid". Good, but late, news. He also said that the theatre´s authorities would give him their plans for next year. According to the cultural structure, they will go through two filters: Telerman and the Province´s financial authorities. But in 2012 the authorities approved a budget and then didn´t honor it; it´s hard to be confident. And, as I know by direct experience, two things are essential running an opera house: the right amount of money at the proper moment, and a calendar that is met day by day with no changes. As the province has severe financial strictures due to curtailments by the National Government of their correct amount of coparticipation, the future isn´t rosy; but at least, if the assigned money is lower keep your promises, otherwise the theatre´s reputation falls and falls. Now Telerman tells us that the budget will have around  a 20% raise: well, it´s almost the inflation; it was 65 million in 2012, it would be 78 next year. Low if you compare it with the Colón: 240 million (2012), 301 (2013). And not strictly comparable, for they aren´t opera houses, 91 and 128 the Complejo Teatral and 57 and 70 the Teatro Nacional Cervantes. To my mind, the Argentino´s budget is too low for the intensity and quality of their seasons to be maintained; it should be around 120 million. Bear in mind that the Argentino has a staff of roughly 800 people and the Colón, 950, not so different.

            Colón vs. Argentino: in theoretical terms, it´s the difference between what should be a top international opera theatre (now it isn´t quite that) and a very good provincial theatre. Two parallels: Paris and Lyon; Berlin and Dresden. The first is autarchic, a plus; but this condition needs a better law than the current one, which should be strongly modified. I think autarchy would benefit the Argentino, liberating it  from an often uncooperative provincial institute, though only if it is backed by an intelligent law that would guarantee a workable budget. 

            Lombardero is on the right track when he proposes a net of Mercosur opera houses interchanging productions, as well as sharing some European ones; it extends the Argentino´s influence and it is an intelligent way of holding down ever increasing production costs. But of course it would need a much stronger impulse from cities that should have longer and more ambitious opera seasons.

For Buenos Aires Herald

miércoles, enero 02, 2013

A final concert roundup brings some renovation

             This final roundup of last year´s concert life is quite heterogeneous although with the accent put on choral music. However, I start with the first session of a cycle called "¡Vivan Debussy y Ravel!", in continuity of similar cycles of previous ¡Viva! Cycles of preceding years (Brahms, Mendelssohn, Schumann, et al.), a way to pay homage to great composers in carefully devised programmes always organised by Haydée Francia and Barbara Civita at AMIJAI. I could only hear the first out of three and it was very pleasant.
                Debussy´s marvelous late Sonata for flute, viola and harp was the reason for the formation of the Trio Luminar years ago and it remains the basic score of their repertoire. This wasn´t quite their best performance, especially from violist Marcela Magin, but the players know it inside out and give a true reading of this magical music; flutist Patricia Da Dalt and harpist Lucrecia Jancsa have lovely tone and phrasing.
                Ravel´s "Histoires naturelles" are five picturesque songs on texts by Jules Renard describing five different birds (a fox –"renard"- writing on birds!). Alejandra Malvino did a a professional job, though there´s more point to the text than she offered. Fernando Pérez at the piano was his usual admirable self. The concert ended with a splendid performance of Ravel´s tricky and wonderful Trio, played by Freddy Varela (violin), Stanimir Todorov (a steadfast cellist indeed) and pianist Paula Peluso showing impressive command.
                To offer an all-Stravinsky concert is certainly enticing and meritorious, especially if the pieces chosen are uncompromising. Such was the case with the session offered at the Auditorio de Belgrano by the Agrupación Sinfónica Municipal de Morón (why not "Orquesta"?) and the Coro Polifónico Nacional, under the leadership of Roberto Luvini.
                Certainly the "Ebony Concerto" is audacious, for it was written for the progressive jazz orchestra of Woody Herman; as usual with Stravinsky, he can write for the most varied textures and his music is immediately recognisable; somehow his imagination integrates jazz sounds seamlessly into his style.  Very rarely done, the composer recorded it with the Herman band  and that interpretation remains the basic reference; I´m sorry to say that the Morón group fared mediocrely in this work.
                Things perked up in the strange Mass, often Medieval-sounding, written for choir and double wind quintet, the work of a deep believer. And the level was satisfactory in that acknowledged masterpiece, the Symphony of Psalms, bleak but exciting, with an orchestration that leaves out violins, violas and clarinets; the work of the choir and orchestra was correct and Luvini showed understanding and command.
                For me one of the most productive and fascinating concerts of the year was given to a small audience by the Conjunto Musica Prohibita conducted by Pablo Banchi at the Crypt of the Santísimo Sacramento Church, for it helped fill –albeit minimally- one of the most grievous gaps of our concert life: that of the marvelous Renaissance polyphonic masses. It may come as a surprise, but the following statement is right: the Mass was the most important musical genre of the period 1450-1600. And the most abundant was the motet. But our musical medium, although it teems with choirs, ignores the Rennaissance mass almost totally although it does include some motets. This is irresponsable and wrong. And that is why I applaud Banchi´s enterprise ; he and his noble group try to diminish the distance between the public and this music, and they do it with fine voices and the right style imparted by Banchi, certainly one of the most talented choir directors of his generation.
                The programme was entitled "Josquin Des Prez and the Flemish Polyphony". It gave us at the start the magnificent "Missa Hercules Dux Ferrarie", by Josquin (1440-1521), a half hour of intricate polyphony, followed by a long psalm by Josquin, "Miserere mei, Deus" (Psalm L). And then, other great names: Adriaen Willaert (1490-1562), "De Profundis" (for eight voices); Cipriano de Rore (1515-65), "O altitudo"; and Roland de Lassus (1532-94), "De profundis" (Psalm CXXIX). It is a moot point whether instrumental support is necessary (there were recorder, chamber organ, archlute and viola da gamba), although it helps intonation (it merely doubles), but some feel that it impairs the appreciation of the pure vocal lines. Any way, this concert was pure gold and left me desiring much more.
                A very different choral concert was given at the church San Miguel Arcángel, with premieres of Italian tonal composers. Two years ago Adelaida Negri sang Licinio Refice´s "Cecilia" for the first time since Claudia Muzio. Now she intervened in two scores: the "Stabat Mater" by the young Giovani Panella (born 1985) and another Stabat Mater but by Refice. The concert also included "Neve non tocca" by Domenico Bartolucci (born 1917!). All this music fell gratefully on the ear and showed that good tonal music can be written even in these times; paradoxically Panella sounded more traditional than Refice, who has some more advanced moments.
                The good Ensemble Vocal Cámara XXI prepared by Miguel Ángel Pesce was conducted by Panella quite vividly. Pianist Giovanni Valle was very useful in the difficult Refice accompaniment. I didn´t enjoy the wavering voice of Negri, at the end of her important career, nor the bleat in tenor Pablo Selci. The others did well: Bibiana Fischy (mezzosoprano), David Basualdo (tenor), Alejandro Schijman (bass-baritone) and Marta Rossi (soprano).
For Buenos Aires Herald