lunes, abril 29, 2013

Fond recall of “Cucucha” Castro, admirable musician

          As readers know, I usually do only reviews, but in this case I want to give you my fond recall of the recently deceased admirable musician, María Rosa ("Cucucha") Oubiña de Castro.  Pianist, pedagogue, but also a tireless promoter of young talents and founder of the Martha Argerich Festivals, she was generous, warm  and positive.

            She probably was the person that did most to make known the methods of her famous teacher Vincenzo Scaramuzza, he of the terrible temper but marvelous results. However, she also absorbed in her European studies the wisdom of such different teachers as Madeleine Lipatti (the widow of Dinu, one of the greatest pianists of his generation), the American Abbey Simon and the Russian Nikita Magaloff (both much appreciated here) and Hans Graf in Vienna, where she obtained a scholarship of the State Academy. 

            She played recitals and concerts with orchestra both in Argentina, in Spain and Switzerland, but her deeper vocation was to teach. And she taught at the principal conservatories: López Buchardo, Manuel de Falla, Juan José Castro and Gilardo Gilardi, as well as the Institute of the Universidad del Litoral at Santa Fe. Her fame went beyond our country and she gave courses at universities in Geneva, Rome, Naples, Strasburg, Brussels, Paris and Madrid. Two valuable books from her pen have been very useful for students: "Elements of pianistic technique. Analysis and pedagogy", and "Teachings of a great master: Vincenzo Scaramuzza".

            Born in Santiago del Estero from Spanish parents, she kept a special accent from her breeding. And she was "de Castro" for she was married ten years to the pianist and conductor Roberto Castro, son of the illustrious Juan José. Her daughter María Rosa Castro is a distinguished member of the coordinating team of the National Symphony.

            She founded the Escuela de Altos Estudios Pianísticos and the Centro de Estudios Pianísticos, institutions that gave an integral preparation for young artists. She also produced concert programmes in radio and TV (I collaborated with her and Julio Palacio in  a short-lived late-night TV show dedicated to important twentieth-century music rarely played; one sample: Bartók´s Sonata for two pianos and percussion with no less than Gerardo Gandini and Antonio Tauriello; I am the sole survivor).

            During many years she organised at her apartment informal and charming concerts with young players, and I was invited to some of them. Their ambience was of artistic fraternity, with no tension, just the pleasure of playing, talking about and hearing good music. I had fun in every one of them.

            But probably the general public got the greatest impact from her founding of the Argerich Festivals. She was a great friend of Martha, and she managed to convince the very reticent master pianist to come back to Argentina (she had been absent for decades) doing what she liked: playing varied programmes with her friends. But also, there was an Argerich Competition  that gave prizes to pianists from all over the world. There was a preselection jury and I had the privilege of being a part of it in three seasons, sharing many hours with specialists and "Cucucha", evaluating videos. It was a wonderful experience and the period in which I was closer to "Cucucha". Afterwards some misunderstandings soured the Argerich Festrivals, and unfortunately labor troubles took Argerich as a target (she was quite innocent); she didn´t come back to BA (last year she was persuaded to go to Rosario and Paraná but refused to play here).  

            "Cucucha" has left a lasting heritage in our midst and she will be lovingly remembered.

Pablo Bardin

Back to routine: “Carmen” at the Colón

             A sign of maturity in a city with an operatic tradition is renovation, by which I mean not only new material but valuable works from the four centuries of the genre that are being unjustifiably neglected. It can go overboard, as happened last year at the Colón, when five out of seven titles were unknown here. This year, if we discount an Argentine opera, there´s only one premiere, a double bill of Rachmaninov. Too little.  The very low productivity has a lot to do with the lack of enough rotation: there´s a huge amount of worthwhile operas awaiting their turn, but with only six foreign opera titles  against the eighteen of Valenti Ferro´s years (late Sixties) we are irretrievably falling behind. And what is lost in culture is never recouped.

            Bizet´s "Carmen" has been often put on by non-Colón groups in recent years and in generally poor versions, although last year I was surprised that a condensed concert version could be so dramatic, with the artists "acting" from their places in front of the orchestra. The Colón was in a sense justified programming it, for at that theatre the last production was ten years ago (a purely Argentine cast of good quality) and "Carmen" is a very essential piece of the repertoire. But surely the first cast of the new presentation was below the standards of our great theatre.  I couldn´t see the second cast but very reliable connoisseurs told me what I imagined, that it was much better.

            This opera stands or falls by its two protagonists: Carmen and Don José. For some unexplained reason, Bielorussian mezzo Oksana Volkova, originally on the first cast, was supplanted by the Puerto-Rican Jossie  Pérez. She has her merits though she isn´t quite first-rank. The voice is rather big but her timbre isn´t for all tastes; she sings reasonably well and she acts with earthiness; not a great personality: however, she is plausible in the difficult part, so Spanish and gypsy although with a French libretto.            

            But where this revival was unacceptable was in Thiago Arancam´s José. The Brazilian tenor making his debut is far from having the vocal means for this dramatic part (the voice is murky and only opens up in high notes) and he is a poor actor, so that memories of Jon Vickers (twice) and Neil Shicoff (1994) or Domingo in the Losey film, put him out of court. I certainly believe that Enrique Folger (second cast) should have been in the first, for he was excellent last year in the aforementioned concert performance: dramatic timbre and fierce acting were to be expected from him.

            There were welcome debuts from the singers of Micaela and Escamillo. She was the Albanian Inva Mula, who is having a fine career in lyrical sweet soprano parts, and was the only one with good French (Arancam was unbelievably primitive in his diction). Mula´s timbre wasn´t as beautiful as I expected from DVDs but she sang with taste and accuracy; a pity that she projected mostly to the audience without interrelating with the other artists. The Escamillo was the Brazilian Rodrigo Esteves; he has the right type of voice, that of a bass-barytone; the quality of sound is good; he sings in tune, and has  presence, perhaps a bit lacking in swagger.

            The smaller parts were on a high level. Frasquita and Mercedes, Carmen´s friends, were very nicely sung by Marina Silva and Florencia Machado. They and the smugglers (Alejandro Meerapfel, Dancaire, and Sergio Spina, Remendado) gave character and a sense of fun to that pure fragment of "opéra-comique", the Smugglers´ Quintet (with Carmen). Finally, both Zúñiga (Fernando Radó) and Morales (Norberto Marcos) were strongly cast.

            There are two versions of "Carmen": the original was as an "opéra-comique", which combines spoken parts with sung ones; but for Vienna, and after Bizet´s death, his friend Ernest Guiraud composed recitatives that are quite apposite and made the opera wholly sung. This has been the most often used and I think it works better, for the spoken parts are generally quite distorted in their diction outside France and Guiraud followed Bizet´s style admirably. Not always adherence to the original is the better choice, but unfortunately that´s what the Colón chose.

              Emilio Sagi´s production had some good points. The hand programme states that it originated in Santiago de Chile but what we saw was only partially so: the stage designer, Daniel Bianco, the choreography by Nuria Castejón and the lighting by Eduardo Bravo come from there (duly adapted to the Colón´s proportions, almost doubling Santiago´s stage) but not the costumes by Renata Schussheim, who had also done them in 2003.

            A moot point was the transposition of the action to the years immediately following the Civil War, with franquista soldiers. I don´t find it necessary but it doesn´t kill "Carmen" as long as it keeps the basic story, and Sagi does that. I object the unnecessary violence in several passages, the excessive aggression (at times almost dangerous for the artists) but there was agile movement (the kids really have fun in their Little Soldiers´ chorus) and real dramatic action. The raked and abrupt stage suggested an unreconstructed Seville. It was silly to add a transvestite to the Smugglers´ Quintet, the choreography was excessive as well as too noisy and I don´t like "acted" interludes: the music is quite enough. But some things were very good, such as the colorful pageant of the Fourth Act, and the Spanish ambience was obtained. I think unit sets are a bad idea but this one was better than most in suggesting different environments.

            Marc Piollet (debut) led a vigorous and well-contrasted performance, with the orchestra in fine shape and both choirs responding with enthusiasm. Miguel  Martínez, lately of the Teatro Argentino, has replaced Peter Burian as Director of the Choir.
For Buenos Aires Herald

The Renaissance, Bach and Dresden are alive and well

            With a hiatus of four days the Academia Bach (the Daughter) and Festivales Musicales (the Mother) started their seasons. There was an anxious time last year when it was a moot point whether they would continue their existence. Happily, a vigorous campaign attracting paying music-lovers to a new Circle of Friends made possible a normal season for the Academy and a rather modest one for Festivales. For years, and quite unfairly, sponsors diminished, demonstrating it seems to me, two things: a) a weaker number of true maecenas; b) an impending sense of economic and financial slump. For the first item I  believe that cultured society has been steadily veering for the worse  in information, sensibility and broadness; for the second, all indicators are bad for the immediate and perhaps mediate future. When, e.g., has there been so much ill-timed applause between movements in all our institutions? And those selected deafs that don´t hear the admonition "turn off your mobile phones"?

            A general consequence is  a lack of enterprise in programming. A cursory perusal of concert programmes of the Fifties, Sixties and  Seventies proves that they were then much more disposed to renovation in our orchestras and concert associations (even the very consevative Wagneriana at least had a choral-symphonic season). And Festivales in particular did some wonderful things, like the Purcell-Britten Festival. A number of years ago it lost artistic focus and began to injure its identity by programming pell-mell instead of choosing a theme for the year. To my mind this should be a transition year and in 2014 there should be signs of recouping their adventureness, as true successors of that marvelous organism of the Fifties and Sixties, Amigos de la Música.

             There is a new President of Festivales this year, Horacio Fischbarg; my good friend David Martin remains in the Board of Directors but having relinquished his Directorship will now be their Treasurer. Another excellent friend, Architect Alberto Bellucci, has entered the Board as a Member. Mario Videla, of course, remains as Artistic Director. I wish them all well.

            Yoy may think me contradictory if I say that the first concert of Festivales was a true contribution with a beautiful selection of Renaissance vocal and instrumental music, unfortunately rarely heard here. However , out of their ten concerts only two  have great programming quality: this one and that of the Estudio Coral de Buenos Aires under Carlos López Puccio. Otherwise, it´s routine: the umpteenth "Carmina Burana", "Waldstein Sonata", "The Four Seasons", the "Emperor" Concerto, the "Kreutzer Sonata", "Messiah". This should not be Festivales´ orientation.

            A great round of applause for the belated but most welcome return of  the Pro Musica Antiqua de Rosario led by its founder (in 1962) by Cristián Hernández Larguía, still incredibly spry and communicative at 92. A pity they didn´t come last year for their 50th anniversary. The leader of the group has always trod a middle ground as an interpreter, avoiding extreme historicism and opting for lively, sensitive phrasing. The big group he brought now (26 singers, 15 players) contains youngsters and such faithful veterans as the subtle contralto Susana Imbern. The assistant director, Néstor Mozzoni, has been with CHL for ages.

            As usual, CHL talks to the public in an easy, humorous way, but sometimes he overdoes it, and in what was the only serious blot of the evening, he eliminated no less than eight Di Lasso pieces because, he admitted, he had lost awareness of time speaking of instruments and other matters. We heard the whole family of recorders, the nasal Krummhorns, the sackbut (antecedent of the trombone), a small table organ, a dulcian (it will become  the bassoon), two shawms (a strident oboe), three viole da gamba, a lute, a guitar and assorted percussion.

            The well-chosen pìeces came from the great Franco-Flemish composers between 1440 and 1594: Josquin des Prés, Heinrich Isaac, Adrian Willaert, Nikolaus Gombert and Orlando Di Lasso, lovely sacred and profane vocal scores. Plus two series of dances  compiled by Pierre Phalèse and Tielman Susato. Encores: Di Lasso´s "Matona mia cara" and Arcadelt´s "Il bianco e dolce cigno". A beautiful night at the Auditorio de Belgrano.

            The Bach Academy started out very nicely. Its subject this year is quite interesting: Bach and the Dresden Court. In this initial concert, in its  usual venue ( the Iglesia Metodista Central), there were two segments. At first, Francesco Maria Veracini´s Overture VI in G minor (premiere); the composer played in the Dresden Court Opera Orchestra from 1717 to 1723. Fresh, energetic Baroque, finely played by the Soloists of the Academy. Then, the same chorale melody  in three versions: curiously it first appeared in the chanson "Il me suffit" by Claudin de Sermisy, who wrote it in 1529; afterwards adapted by Sethus Calvisius, who was Kantor at Leipzig´s Saint Thomas Church, as "Was mein Gott will, das g´scheh allzeit" ("What my God wants always happens"), later magnificently developed polyphonically by Heinrich Schütz in 1648, and finally by Johann Sebastian Bach in his Cantata Nº 111, premiered on this occasion. 

            The cantata is made of a splendid initial chorus, a baritone aria, a contralto recitative, a duet for contralto and tenor, a soprano recitative and the final Chorale. The soloist were middling (tenor Matías Tomasetto) and good (baritone Walter Uranga, countertenor Damián Ramírez and soprano Natalia Salardino), the instrumentalists excellent, and the Grupo de Canto Coral under Néstor Andrenacci first-rate, all under the expertise of Mario Videla, who also gave an erudite explanation on the scores.
For Buenos Aires Herald

domingo, abril 14, 2013

Mozarteum starts out, famous singer disconcerts

            Or should I say "famous singer disconcerts me? For another veteran reviewer wrote an opinion 180 degrees separated from mine; which goes to prove that we critics are a very mixed bunch, and you have to choose with whom you agree. Criticism should be based on knowledge and perception, but it is always a risky proposition, even after 47 years of steady work. So feel free to disagree if you were at either of the two debut concerts of Vesselina Kasarova opening the Mozarteum season at the Colón.

            But before I get "in medias res" concerning Ms Kasarova, some paragraphs on other important matters. Jungle drums had already told me that Luis Alberto Erize is the new President of the Mozarteum Argentino, replacing his mother, Madame Jeannette Arata de Erize, who is now ninety, and I have no doubt to proclaim her as the most valuable personality ever in the field of concert giving in our country. She is now "emeritus", and words fail me to enumerate her merits. But at least this succinct phrase says it all: six decades of quality music by great artists, offered with absolute honesty towards both artists and public, in this incredibly uncertain country.  It is at least twice as difficult to do so here than in France or Canada. As to Luis Alberto Erize, he´s had the best possible teacher, his mother; and as I know him well and consider myself a true friend of his, I extend here a complete vote of confidence in his orientation and capacity for the arduous job ahead. He will have the invaluable support of Gisela Timmermann as Executive Director, as Jeannette had during decades.  

            In 2001 the Mozarteum brought us the very welcome first visit of the Camerata Bern led in that tour by Heinz Holliger, then the foremost oboe player in the world. It was a memorable visit both for Holliger and the Camerata; the organism, created in 1962, already had a rich trajectory. Cohesion, taste, tradition and strict professionalism were then  appreciated. This time they are led by a very good violinist, Florian Donderer, who has been the concertino of various celebrated ensembles. Although he played few solos, he is obviously very capable as a player and the 25 instrumentalists, mostly Swiss, respond as one. I believe the first flutist, Cecilia Muñoz, is Argentine.

            The purely orchestral scores were from three composers. First, two pieces premiered, written by Fabian Müller, a Swiss born in 1964), in "Schwyzer Deutsch": "Maden, Motten und das Muotathal" and "Ein Berner namens...". Amiable and humoristic, they might be termed "folkish with dissonances". Ten minutes of light and pleasant stuff in a parade of galop, Jodl, Ländler, polca and march. Sandwiched between Mozart arias, the splendid Haydn Overture to "L´isola disabitata", with its reminiscences of "Sturm und Drang". And in the Second Part, the probably greatest Mozart symphony, Nº 40, with sung Rossini before and after. As is the trend now, rather fast tempi, which agree with the "Finale: Allegro assai", and with the "Andante", but not with the initial movement, which, although marked Molto allegro, benefits from a slower tempo and especially, a characterful expression of the main them, here lacking;  the Menuetto is an "Allegretto" and here sounded "Allegro". But of course, quite well-played throughout and very disciplined.

            And now to Vesselina Kasarova. I know her through DVDs and CDs but had never heard her live. Bulgarian (as Christoff, Ghiuselev and Ghiaurov), she was brought up under the rigid Communism typical of that country, by far the most USSR-oriented of the Iron Curtain; musical training was very good although freedom was non-existing, and she did piano and singing. She was launched by Von Karajan in 1989 and her career was meteoric in the following fifteen years. Her singing in that period, although quite personal, was interesting and accurate. She sang a lot of Mozart and Rossini, as well as the Baroque. But in later years she went on to a dramatic repertoire of Carmen and Eboli and adopted quirks  that diminish the quality of her style and singing of the classical period. Well, the Camerata Bern asked for that earlier repertoire for this tour, and I´m afraid she is no longer adequate for it.

            She does plenty of strange things, but basically the objections come from three points: a) the classics need a steady line, which means continuity in the phrasing and in the dynamics: the two Cherubino arias from Mozart´s "Le Nozze di Figaro" suffered from inconsistency, so that a part of the phrase was sang "forte" and another part "piano", with rests (silences) where they are not marked. She fared better in the two Sesto arias from "La Clemenza di Tito", another trouser role but originally for "castrato". Lovely clarinet solo in "Parto" from Dimitri Ashkenazy (Vladimir´s son?). b) glottal, guttural attack may be an acceptable procedure if applied sparingly in Donizetti´s Queens (e.g., "Anna Bolena"), but it certainly doesn´t do for the contralto trouser roles of Rossini, who was still a Classic. So, although the arduous florid singing was acceptably managed, hard  attacks disfigured the line much too often. It was useful to hear her in two operas which are unaccountably quite forgotten here, "Tancredi" and "Semiramide", but her interpretations were very uneven. What I found completely wrong was her encore, Rosina´s aria "Una voce poco fa" from "The Barber of Seville", with a very distorted version of the score and an arch manner. I am sorry to say, Kasarova´s present form is far from what she could do in the past.
For Buenos Aires Herald

Controlled primitivism, mystic minimalism

            In 48 hours the Colón was guest to the most extremely dissimilar symphonic experiences. There was the most welcome return of the Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar de Venezuela conducted by Gustavo Dudamel in two masterpieces of controlled primitivism: Igor Stravinsky´s "The Rite of Spring", and "La noche de los mayas" by Silvestre Revueltas. And in a concert of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic led by Arturo Diemecke with soprano Carla Filipcic Holm we were given the strange phenomenon of Henryk Górecki´s "Symphony Nº 3, of the sad songs", a supreme example of mystic mimimalism. The astonishing technical and emotional range of symphonism was ideally expressed in such programming.

            This was the third visit of the Orchestra and Dudamel, who at 32 is probably the best conductor of his generation and a brilliant result of Venezuela´s unique System of children and youth orchestras, imagined by José Antonio Abreu (now about 90, present in the stalls) more than 40 years ago. The pyramidal structure of orchestras from all over the country means that the members of the Bolívar are the very best  in a pure meritocracy. Great European conductors like Rattle and C. Abbado have been stunned and declare that interpretive symphonic renovation comes from Venezuela. Considering that so much goes wrong in that country, the Bolívar Orchestra is even more astonishing.

            And no less so is the fact that Dudamel at 32 has been their Musical Director for 14 years! Now he holds the same post at the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He and the Bolívar Orchestra are now exclusive recording artists for Deutsche Grammophon, and their most recent CD couples the two works they  played  in BA. When they first came here ten years ago two things were stressed: they dressed with the colors of the Venezuelan flag; and the Bolívar  was called Youth Orchestra. Their second visit was more sober: they played for the Mozarteum and featured Mahler´s Seventh Symphony; the "Youth" was dropped, and so it was in this third time. Now they dress normally in dark suits  and they don´t dance on stage, as they did with Bernstein´s mambo the first time around.

            However, their exuberance remains unmatched: they are probably the most exciting orchestra on earth (not quite the best, though in the golden bunch of them). They may have occasional fluffs (especially the horns) but one´s blood tingles hearing them, for they are inhabited by rhythm. The orchestra is still youthful, even if one sees some prematurely balding and silvery heads; and there are plenty of girls among the men. They are an enormous orchestra: the hand programme lists 163 players against the habitual 100, which only makes sense if the players take turns (certainly 15 trumpets would otherwise be an aberration). And no soloists are identified.

            It is amazing to think that "The Rite of Spring" is centenary, for this score (maybe the most important of all in the Twentieth Century) remains astoundingly modern, and its fascinating rhythmic revolution has been unmatched ever since. As perfectly described by Pola Suárez Urtubey based on Messiaen´s analysis: the composer takes minimal units (e.g., a quaver) and multiplies them into asymmetric complexes, a true polymetry, the exact reverse of what had been the procedure during centuries.  

            The first introductory minutes were a trifle cold, but the orchestra soon found its stride and I was lashed with boiling rhythms served with electrifying precision and vast sound; Dudamel tightly controlled the proceedings with clear gestures and great respect for the composer.

            It was a pleasure to hear again "La noche de los mayas", premiered here (very well) by Enrique Ricci and the Buenos Aires Phil more than twenty years ago. We have to thank José Ives Limantour, who in the Sixties remodelled the music composed by Revueltas in 1939 for a movie directed by Chano Urueta. Revueltas is the great Original of Mexican music, and his fresh ideas are expressed with the richness of a Villalobos in this strong half-hour piece, culminating in the "Noche del encantamiento" with an impressive array of indigenous percussion instruments (nine percussionists!) in an aleatory section where Dudamel stopped conducting. The audience was almost floored by the unleashed decibels of the last five minutes.

            In the encores there were two admirable homages to Wagner in his bicentenary: an exuberant Prelude to the Third Act of "Lohengrin", and a deeply introspective "Liebestod" from "Tristan und Isolde", demonstrating that the Bolívar can match such contrasting textures as those of Stravinsky and Wagner. I would have preferred to stop there, for it was jarring to go from "Tristan" to "Alma llanera", the famous Venezuelan song, although agreeable in itself. And finally, a celebration of Argentina, with the most dashing Ginastera Malambo (from "Estancia") I´ve ever heard. Immense success.

            Górecki´s Third Symphony is a strange phenomenon.  Lasting 48 minutes in Diemecke´s interpretation, it is based on three sad texts: a lamentation by the Virgin, an appeal to her mother by an incarcerated teenager, and the dirge of a mother about the murdering of her son. The musical language is tonal and minimalist, based on age-old forms as the canon. Premiered in 1977 with a rather uncomprehending reaction from an avantgarde-conditioned audience, the work took flight with the recording by soprano Dawn Upshaw and the London Sinfonietta conducted by David Zinman, selling a fantastic two million copies especially in the USA. It struck a hypnotic, Nirvanesque chord in people. Deeply spiritual and introspective, it was offered with concentration and musicality by Diemecke and the Orchestra, and Filipcic Holm was fine in her songs. The Symphony was premiered by Calderón and the National Symphony some years ago, with Mónica Philibert as soloist.

            I was sorry that the concert started with Britten´s "Simple Symphony", charming in itself but quite incompatible with Gorecki. It was nicely played, but something deeper and longer was needed, like the English composer´s "Sinfonia da Requiem".

Por Buenos Aires Herald

martes, abril 09, 2013

Encounter with the unique Sydney Opera House

            In a recent trip Sydney was on my itinerary. And of course, like all tourists I saw the Opera House from the Bay. My stay was limited to two days and I couldn´t catch any show. But sometimes serendipity helps; due to a change of plans I came back to Sydney on February 12, and bingo! I could attend the final performance of Verdi´s "Un Ballo in Maschera".
            The facts about this amazing building are surprising and worth a synthetic survey. Back in the early Fifties, the prestigious Australian conductor Eugene Goosens felt that Sydney merited a really important musical center and he convinced the authorities of New South Wales that it would be a valuable advance for the city´s quality of life. He had the inspiration of choosing the Bennelong peninsula as its site, though Fort Macquarie had to be destroyed to build the opera house.
            The competition started in 1955; 233 projects (!) were presented, and Danish architect Jörn Utzon won, firmly backed by one of the juries, the great Eero Saarinen. It was felt that Utzon´s concept was audacious, innovative and beautiful. And indeed all this was true, but the final building, although still stunning, corresponds only partially to Utzon´s ideas, for he had to deal with different governments of opposing views, as well as having to conciliate with capable engineers such as Ove Arup, who saw structural problems that needed solving.
            There was trouble from the start, when the project wasn´t quite finished and nevertheless the Government began the first stage of building. The initial cost was 7 million Australian dollars and the finishing date was 1963; 102 million were really spent and the end came only in 1974... In 1965 Utzon resigned due to basic changes made against his ideas. "Malice in Blunderland", he said. His planned acoustics were for a 2.000-capacity hall, and it would have served both for opera and concerts; but the Government wanted two halls, the larger one holding almost 3.000 and destined for concerts; also, two chamber  halls were added.
            On the outside view, great concrete shells that look like sails are taken from the same semispherical shape. No less than 580 pillars sustain the whole thing and are sunk 25 mts below sea level. More than a million ceramic tiles coat the roofs. The whole thing measures 183x120 mts.  The interior was completely redesigned after Utzon left. Granite and wood dominate. Vaults are sustained by fans (as in Wells Cathedral).
            The Sydney Opera was inaugurated by Queen Elizabeth on October 20, 1973 with Beethoven´s Choral Symphony conducted by Van Otterloo. The first opera was Prokofiev´s "War and Peace" (October 28); and the Concert Hall started the following day with the Sydney Symphony under Mackerras with Nilsson as star singer. 
            The Australian Opera had the benefit of Joan Sutherland´s presence in many seasons. In 1999 came the reconciliation with Utzon, named adviser, and some parts of the vast project were modified following his ideas. In 2007 UNESCO recognized the Sydney Opera as Patrimony of Humanity. Currently four million people visit the vast project annually.
            This is a tally of the current buildings known by the collective name of Sydney Opera: Joan Sutherland Opera Theatre, 1547 capacity, home to Australian Opera and Australian Ballet Company; Concert Hall, 2.679 cap., with the largest pipe organ in the world (10.000), home of the Sydney Symphony; Drama Theatre, 544; Music Theatre, 398; Studio Theatre, 364.  Administered by the Opera House Trust of the Art Ministry of New South Wales.
            Contrary to what I thought (considering our BA mores) the Sydney Opera is active during the Summer. I was really sorry I couldn´t hear the Sydney Symphony three days later than the Verdi opera, for Ashkenazy was scheduled to conduct Sibelius´ mighty "Kullervo", a great score unaccountably never heard here.
            They seem to be quite conservative in their programming: Verdi´s "Falstaff" and "Un Ballo in Maschera", Puccini´s "La Boheme", Offenbach´s "Orpheus in the Underworld" (the only slightly offbeat choice). The hand programme doesn´t give the repertoire but includes the roster of artists and I see  few well-known names in any category. Prices are very steep (Australia is an expensive country). My tickets were back in the stalls and I was warned I wouldn´t see the supertitles (the floor rises from the pit and close to the back is rather high and has an overhanging roof). You enter the stalls from the sides at various places.  I wasn´t impressed by the acoustics (it´s one of the points protested by Utzon): the orchestral sound is muted and dry, though the voices are better heard.
            The cast had one strong point: Georgian soprano Tamar Iveri, fresh-voiced and dramatic. Mexican tenor Diego Torre, overweight and rather crude, has the notes but not the style for Gustav III, King of Sweden. José Carbó was a correct Count Anckarström (Renato in the Boston version); he is an Argentine living in Australia! Spry and precise, I liked Tanya Fiebig as Oscar; and Mariana Pentcheva, though vibrato-ridden, had authority as the fortune-teller. The others were in the picture and the choir was good.
            Alas, the production was by La Fura dels Baus and unfortunately we´ll see it in November here. Utterly Un-Verdian, with nothing that suggests Sweden, cold and arbitrary, it showed the worst of current trends. Why bother to give us the original Swedish version instead of the ludicrous habitual Boston setting when so little is made of it?
For Buenos Aires Herald

The Colón Ballet dances again

             As usual in March, the Colón Ballet dances again. After their ample holidays, they start rehearsals in late February and by the middle of March they are ready to tread again the theatre´s stage. The directress of the organism, Lidia Segni, choses the programme. If it is a long ballet, she recurs to the fairly immediate revival from last season. Otherwise she must do a combination of short ballets that can be prepared within a month. Thus the "Neoclassic Trilogy III" presented last week.

            "III" because we had "II" in 2012 and "I" in 2011. "Neoclassic" because it uses the vocabulary of academic dance formed in the Nineteenth Century  (not since Louis XIV´s time, as wrongly put by Laura Falcoff in the hand programme) but with some renovation. The programme put together three dissimilar pieces, with one of them in the fringes of Neoclassicism.

            Segni is sometimes choreographer. Her "Vivaldi en concierto" was created in 2010 for a Summer season at the Anfiteatro de Parque Centenario. She had been freshly named as Directress and the Colón was yet to be reopened. "I chose various sections" (movements) "of Vivaldi Bassoon Concerti" (they aren´t identified in the hand programme; there are many!). "It is a choreography for twenty dancers". The work is considerably long, about 30 minutes, and shows a complete knowledge of academic dance; alternating slow and fast pieces, and expressive solos and duets with brilliant ensembles, I find it a pleasant and accomplished piece. It has the added bonus of letting us know some beautiful but little-known Vivaldi, and in this case it was brilliantly played by a young German, Hubert Mittermayer, apparently brought for the occasion (he isn´t a member of the accompanying Buenos Aires Philharmonic,  led by Carlos Bertazza). I saw the second cast on March 19 and I found it quite satisfactory, both in the well-meshed ensembles and in an Adagio danced with beauty by Nadia Muzyca and Matías Santos.

            I don´t agree with the revival of the strangely named "FugA­­_technica", seen last year in the "Trilogy II". First, each new trilogy shouldn´t repeat earlier ones; there are plenty of pieces to chose from and some are missing unaccountably in the Colón repertoire.  Second, the piece doesn´t have enough substance to bear repetition. The repetitive music of Alexander Balanescu was well-played but it is a thankless job. As to the choreography, my reaction this time is that it wears thin, though I was positive last year: "the dancing moves were brilliant, very imaginative and dynamic, with mostly modern steps plus some token academic ones ironically mixed". Although well danced, its 20 minutes with the monotonous Balanescu music were too gymnastic. But the younger people in the audience seemed to liked it more than  I did. I assume that this reprise was decided on practical terms: the dancers know it already, they did it last October; it needs little rehearsal. Balanescu wasn´t present as last year: I didn´t miss him.

            But the evening ended with a glorious Balanchine: "Symphony in C", on Bizet´s Symphony. The great choreographer (to my mind the best of the Twentieth Century and an epitome of Neoclassicism) created it in just two weeks for the Ballet of the Paris Opera in 1947 with the title of "Palais de Cristal", renamed "Symphony in C" when he revived it in New York for his own company. In Paris the costumes and stage design were by the Argentine Leonor Fini. And I´m proud to say, among the solo dancers was Micheline Bardin (no kin, but I admired her when she was in BA with the Ballet de l´Opéra three years later under the helm of Serge Lifar).

            Falcoff is wrong when she writes that three other Balanchine ballets were premiered by the Paris Opera Ballet: "Serenade" on Tchaikovsky´s music was done in 1934 for the School of American Ballet, and the two Stravinsky ballets, "Le Baiser de la Fée" and "Apollon Musagètes", date  from 1928   and were created by Balanchine for the Ida Rubinstein Ballet as guest of the Paris Opera and for the Ballets Russes of Diaghilev at the Parisian Theatre Sarah Bernhardt. Further, it´s an absurdity to write that Stravinsky and Balanchine collaborated more than thirty times.

            Back to "Symphony in C", on the lovely music written when Bizet was 17-years-old. Balanchine repeats several bits of the music so that it lasts 35 minutes rather than the habitual 28, so as to allow for his complex filigrees of movement. " There is no stage design", says Falcoff; yes there is, two refined chandeliers hover over the dancers.

Mario Pasi gives this description of the choreography: "this ballet is one of the most adequate to exalt the quality of the soloists and the corps de ballet following a modernised classic style"; he also refers to the "high level of invention". I could add that the lyricism of the slow movement is exceptional as well as the virtuosity of the ensembles of the last.

            The best thing in this revival (for this ballet has been offered before, though not recently) was the precision and enthusiasm of very young dancers recently incorporated and the general ability and fine bodies of the whole ensemble. Of the soloists I would especially mention the elegance of the long-legged Gabriela Alberti. The Phil under Bertazza gave a very nice performance. A rather good evening, all told.

For Buenos Aires Herald

The Met opens to the world

             I have had a sporadic but intense relationship with New York´s Metropolitan Opera, and I have no doubt that it was and is the most important opera house in the world. No, I´m not forgetting the Vienna Opera, the Milan Scala or London´s Covent Garden. The Met has had consistently  impressive casts and stagings,  and productivity has always been high. The two Mets, the Opera and the Museum, have always been irresistible magnets for me and for an enormous amount of people, from the USA and from all over. They represent the best of New York´s art and help to make it an indispensable city for the cultured people.

            In my young years I went often to the old Met Opera, "The Golden Horseshoe", so beautiful and with warm acoustics; I was studying in Wahington and went for Christmas and Easter holidays.  After I returned to BA came the decision to build a new Opera at the Lincoln Center (in fact, two operas plus a concert hall); the Met was now bigger and had better sightlines, for the horseshoe opened up, and the acoustics were a success (not so the Avery Fisher Hall). It may be a little kitschy, but it is functional and has worked well for several decades. My visits there were quite satisfactory though not frequent; curiously I was in New York at the time of a labor conflict and got to hear a "non-inauguration concert" at an open-air auditorium next door to the Met.

            For decades the Met´s destiny was  in the talented hands of Joseph Volpe as General Manager and James Levine as Music Director. But Mr. Volpe retired, Peter Gelb took over (I think about three years ago) and Levine fell ill, so the Principal Conductor was for a time Valery Gergiev and lately the helm passed to Fabio Luisi. Although Levine has made a slow recovery from spine troubles and will lead three operas next season, his reign is over. And so is Mr. Volpe´s.

            The Volpe/Levine era was blessed by a healthy respect for good tradition and the Met had great productions uncontaminated with the gross experiments that  infected Europe and have ruined the art of opera (and it has spread to Buenos Aires). But unfortunately Mr. Gelb has decided to follow the trend, and now sanctions horrors like a "Rigoletto" transplanted to Las Vegas. Casts aren´t quite as resplendent mainly because there is a shortage of truly great stars worldwide, but all that count are there, and you will suffer the same phenomenon if you go to Paris or Vienna. The few outstanding ones are fiercely fought for by the managers.

            If Mr. Gelb has drastically lowered the visual aesthetics of the house, the musical side remains pretty good within the limitations of the current artistic situation. And he has lately originated a new way of extending the Met´s influence: indeed, it now opens to the world, presenting its productions in  videos in theatres and cinemas of multitudinous cities of the USA and the world, simultaneous with the live performances. The system  arrived in BA two years ago, and selected operas were shown at the Teatro El Nacional by the Fundación Beethoven. After some initial performances that needed some adjustments, now the system appears to be working quite well, if the recent Wagner "Parsifal" is typical of the offered quality. I haven´t written before on the subject for the Herald, and I must say I was deeply moved and left the theatre elated, after almost six hours counting the long intervals partly occupied by interviews to the artists.

            I was attracted for several reasons: a) I deeply love this opera, which I first met through the magnificent records with Windgassen and Mödl, conducted by Knappertsbusch,  in 1951. This "sacred festival" contains Wagner´s loftiest ideas. b) Unfortunately the Colón last staged it as far back as 1986, and my hopes of a revival in this Wagner year were vain. So I felt the need to experience it again. c) I wanted to see and hear how filmed opera worked.

            I chose well: the cast was magnificent, conductor Daniele Gatti was a revelation, the sound was quite good; I have reservations about François Girard´s production, but it has its positive aspects. Three artists were marvelous; I expected much from René Pape´s Gurnemanz and Jonas Kaufmann´s Parsifal, and with excellent reason: for me they are the best bass and tenor nowadays. Not only the moving vocal quality and perfect musicality but their strong dramatic presence were ideal. I was surprised, however, by Peter Mattei´s intense and anguished Amfortas, the best I´ve heard since George London. Katarina Dalayman was a redoubtable Kundry, maybe Wagner´s richest female role, and Evgeny Nikitin was a dark and expressive Klingsor (the magician). The Met Orchestra remains the very best, and Gatti showed himself a mature and noble conductor.

            Girard at least respected partially Wagner´s purpose, and some scenes had the proper weight and solemnity. However, to this opera may be applied the phrase from the TV series "Merlin": "in a land of myth and at a time of magic". I want a deep Medieval Monsalvat for the Grail knights, who should have proper garb, not white shirts and modern black coats as here. Such moments as the Flower Girls trying to seduce Parsifal or the Good Friday Enchantment need light and beauty, not oppressive darkness. And the bed, as well as Parsifal´s naked torso, cheapened the piece. Even so, such was the power of the singers, the choir and the conductor that the flaws were compensated.

            I give an enthusiastic thumbs up to this initiative which certainly enriches our music lovers´ knowledge.

For Buenos Aires Herald

“Così fan tutte”, fascinating and ambiguous

       There was a time when "Così fan tutte" (loose translation, "Thus do all women") was considered a trivial comedy with wonderful music, and an unsavory subject unfit for Nineteenth-century audiences. In the Twentieth, before 1930,  three great personalities were champions of the piece: Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss and Bruno Walter. But it was Fritz Busch who really vindicated the work with the Carl Ebert 1934 production at Glyndebourne; shortly after it was presented in Buenos Aires as a belated premiere and with a different cast. I cherish the Glyndebourne 1935 records, passed from 78 rpm to 33 1/3 rpm, that entered triumphantly my collection when I was 12 as LP album Nº 2.

            Sixty-two years later, after no less than a dozen live performances, several other recordings in LP and CD and the DVD conducted and produced by John Eliot Gardiner, I have no doubt that "Così..." is fully on a par with the other two Mozart-Da Ponte collaborations: "Le Nozze di Figaro" and "Don Giovanni". After WW II a reappraisal took place and "Così..." fastly became a favorite of the repertoire and among the most often performed operas. And with good reason, for the music is exquisite and the play is now appreciated as, indeed, "fascinating and ambiguous".

            It is a late product of the world of rococo cynicism, epitomized by Choderlos de Laclos´ "Dangerous liaisons" (remember the wonderful picture with Close, Malkovich and Pfeiffer?) and Sade´s "The philosophy of the boudoir".  And it carries  artificiality very far; in fact, the characters are puppets handled by the master puppeteer Don Alfonso, a fully rounded character. The wager between him and two soldiers is that disguised they will enamour crosswise their fiancées: Ferrando will conquer Guglielmo´s girl (Fiordiligi) and Guglielmo, Ferrando´s (Dorabella). Despina, their maid, will help in the project. It succeeds after several tries and eventually prove Alfonso´s motto: "Così fan tutte".

            There are two main problems in the staging of this chamber opera: a) the verisimilitude: disguises of both soldiers and of Despina as the Doctor and the Notary have to be convincing enough so that we the spectators don´t take the sisters (Ferrarese ladies) to be perfectly stupid. b) The ending: do they return to their fiancés or decide that the crossover is after all for the best? Of the productions I´ve seen only Michael Geliot took the second option. On the other hand, Walter Legge in his witty notes for the Busch records says: "it doesn´t matter". Personally I like the Geliot solution: it is an audacious play and it needs an offbeat outcome. It is richer psychologically also, and relieves some of the puppetlike behavior, giving greater warmth to the piece.

            Buenos Aires Lírica´s last season was rather below par. This year, although the stepdown from five to four productions remains, the titles are quite well chosen. "Così fan tutte" was logical, for it completes the Mozart-Da Ponte operas presented in other years by BAL. And the chronological projection of the other three operas is a further merit, for they are all interesting: Donizetti´s "Lucrezia Borgia", Verdi´s "Nabucco" and Janácek´s "Jenufa", a splendid idea.

            The musical side of this "Così..." was outstanding and proved that we have fine Mozartians in our midst. Six singers of quality singing in generally pure style and showing the results of long and accurate rehearsal. The sisters were admirable: both Oriana Favaro (Fiordiligi) and Cecilia Pastawski (Dorabella) meshed ideally and sang very well their arias, as well as acting vivaciously;  they are young, fresh and beautiful. Despina was Marisa Pavón, fully up to the singing demands but unfortunately victim of  producer Pablo Maritano: the pert, picaresque soubrette maid was so vulgarly overdrawn that she seemed a part of a Tinelli show. Iván Maier showed vast improvement in his Ferrando over last year´s Belmonte in "The Abduction from the Seraglio", singing with good line and clean emission, even if his timbre isn´t ideally plangent. Norberto Marcos was an excellent Guglielmo, both vocally and as an actor of vast resources. It isn´t their fault that instead of the dashing Albanian cavaliers (their disguise) they were chastised with awful clothes by Sofia Di Nunzio (surely following directives of the producer) with particularly irritating capes out of the Flintstones. Finally, Omar Carrión was ideal as the old cynic, master of every inflexion and gesture.

            Juan Casasbellas was for many years the first-rate director of BAL´s choir; now he was promoted to conductor, and the move was a complete success: he has strong musical preparation, sense of style, taste and clarity of gesture, and the ad hoc orchestra responded very well.  He also handled the choir, who sang pleasantly. I disagree in two points: some recitatives should have been cut; and vocal ornaments were excessive (as Gardiner, Karajan or Böhm have shown, they are not necessary).The "secco" recitatives were accompanied not by a harpsichord but by a piano that sounded somewhat like a fortepiano.

            Alas, as the reader has already been aware, there were problems with the production. Other big mistakes: a) the mixture of period clothes with current electrical appliances; b) the unpleasant instant video of the audience´s women as exemplars of Guglielmo´s misogynistic aria; c) the tasteless and frequent phallic symbols throughout as well as intimations of sexual performance between Guglielmo and Dorabella; d) the bad makeup and the lack of moustaches make the verisimilitude afore-mentioned quite impossible; e) the constant presence of people walking on both sides of the central scene is distracting and serves no purpose. f) True, some clothes are good (the soldiers in full attire and the ladies in rosy gowns) but the tasteless attires of Despina and the choir are not. g) And the shouts and cackles diminish the music. Some parts were well handled, however, and Maritano understands the waverings of fidelity. The stage designs of Andrea Mercado, though agreeable, took no account of the necessary presence of gardens and the sea, as specified in Da Ponte´s libretto.

            But the music saved the evening; it is gorgeous and was well served.

For Buenos Aires Herald

Domarkas and Gergiev: same teachers, opposite personalities

             The long Summer drought of classical music finally ended on March 7, when the Orquesta Filarmónica de Buenos Aires (for us, the Phil) offered the first  of its 19 subscription concerts. The illness of Mijail Jurowski´s father forced a replacement, and we were lucky in getting a septuagenarian Lithuanian that proved to be worth knowing: Juozas Domarkas. Just four days later, there was a completely unforeseen event: a hastily coordinated Tchaikovsky programme with the Colón´s Orquesta Estable under the famous Vladimir Gergiev, who brought with him two young singers of Saint Petersburg´s Mariinsky Theatre.

            Curiously I knew Domarkas through a Naxos recording in which he presents two symphonies by his compatriot Balakauskas, and with his orchestra, the Lithuanian National Symphony, in which he has had a very long tenure since 1964.  (Another curiosity: this organism will make its Argentine debut shortly under Vladimir Lande for Nuova Harmonia). He respected Jurowski´s programming in its two main scores: Tchaikovsky´s "Romeo and Juliet" and Shostakovich´s Symphony Nº 10. The only change was  that Jurowski planned premiering a piece by his grandfather, whilst Domarkas chose to begin with three light fragments of Georgi Vasilievich Sviridov (1915-98), "Snowstorm", taken from the concert suite he concocted in 1975 based on his  music (1964) for the homonymous film made by Vladimir Basov on a Pushkin original, "Tales of the extinct Ivan Petrovich Belkin".

             The music (of course a premiere, Sviridov is quite unknown here) proved very tonal and basic, though pleasant (he was a typical "cultural ´apparatchik´ ") and was played in a different order than that of the hand programme: "Winter road", "Waltz" and a "Romanza" with several soloists. What a pity that Domarkas didn´t bring us some Lithuanian music, say by Ciurlionis: it would have been instructive for the Baltic countries´ music is quite neglected in BA.

            Domarkas soon showed his mettle in a brilliant but controlled version of Tchaikovsky´s marvelously evocative music, capturing its opposed moods and getting a precise but expressive performance from the Phil, whose players seemed in fine shape. The tough and long Shostakovich symphony was his defiance of Stalin, who had died on March 5, 1953, months before the premiere of the Tenth. Resolutely autobiographic, its motto is a four-note motif based on the composer´s surname, and it permeates the whole symphony. A great work, on a par with the Fifth, it had an admirable performance with the firm, clear-minded leadership of Domarkas, who certainly deserves to be much more recognised in the musical world. The house was full (an encouraging fact) and enthusiastic.

            I counted the listed members of the Phil in the hand programme and I find their current number quite excessive: 115 (strangely no piano/celesta player is found, though he was in the stage); no orchestra needs six oboes, six clarinets and six bassoons, nor five trombones.  Only 12 are under contract, the rest are permanent members ("estables"). Very few scores demand such an inflated staff; in those cases you contract the extra players.

            As intimated in the title of this article, both Domarkas and Gergiev studied with the same professor in Saint Petersburg, but they can´t be less alike: Domarkas lacks charisma but has precision, sweep and well-assimilated experience; Gergiev has the strangest gestures, molding the music with expressive but rather dishevelled arms; but he has charisma and communicates readily with his players. May I remind the readers that Gergiev was memorably here in 1998 with the whole Mariinsky troupe (soloists, chorus and orchestra) in 1998, conducting two performances only, one of Mussorgsky´s original version of "Boris Godunov" and one of his "Khowanshchina". This new visit is part of a cultural-political interchange between Saint Petersburg and Buenos Aires, and the important result was that there is a chance that the Mariinsky will come back in 2014; I fervently hope so. A political delegation from the Russian city was here, and Chief of Government Mauricio Macri made a rare Colón appearance.

            It seems that Gergiev had a lone rehearsal and that the orchestra was prepared by Javier Logioia Orbe (not an official information but I believe it to be reliable); I shiver to think of the results if this previous work hadn´t been done, for even so there were some misadjustments. However, Gergiev knows this music inside out and the results were very authentic, if not always polished enough. It may be added that the Estable lacks the Phil´s know-how in concert-giving; they are a pit orchestra.  And some of their soloists are quite inferior to the Phil´s (horn, bassoon).

            Gergiev brought two young singers of some merit, though I´m afraid they aren´t future stars. Ekaterina Goncharova,  beautiful and fresh, was well-coached for her aria from "Iolanta" and the final duet from "Eugen Onegin", but her vibrato is very wide and her expression, though intense, lacks variety. Baritone Andrei Bondarenko fared better, especially in Yeletsky´s beautiful aria from "Pique Dame"; however, his light lyric voice spreads as soon as he sings loud. Fine accompaniments from Gergiev, naturally. On his own he gave us a rather lackluster Polonaise from "Eugen Onegin" and a much better Adagio from "The Nutcracker". I liked the musicality of his Fifth Symphony even if only the fourth movement proved completely convincing.

            This was a free concert and of course the house was bursting. It was called "The music of the White Nights".  The Estable´s players are (contrasting with the Phil) a moderate 85, including 16 under contract; why, when competitions to cover vacancies are quite recent?
For Buenos Aires Herald


La Plata´s Argentino faces a terrible crisis

             Four years ago a new team took over La Plata´s Teatro Argentino: Leandro Iglesias was the Director General, Marcelo Lombardero the Artistic Director and Alejo Pérez the Principal Conductor.  The first two had teamed at the Colón with good results. Their initial seasons at the Argentino were positive in many senses: audacious and renovated opera and concert programming, a full calendar, a reasonable budget that allowed a certain degree of internationalization, respected chronograms, institutes to form future artists, the first steps towards a system of opera houses that collaborate with each other, etc. There were mistakes provoked by Lombardero´s choice of producers that presented such fiascos as Tambuscio´s "Giulio Cesare in Egitto" (Handel) or Bieito´s "Pepita Jiménez" (Albéniz), though Lombardero thinks they were good! But many presentations were of high quality and firsts for La Plata, such as Lombardero´s own "Tristan and Isolde" (Wagner), or the presentation of a Strauss opera in La Plata ("Salome"). I didn´t like "The Rhinegold", initial opera of Wagner´s Ring, in Lombardero´s conception, but it was still a brave thing to do, as part of a projected complete Tetralogy. And Alejo Pérez presented Mahler´s mighty Eighth Symphony.           
 However, last year things began to come apart, in line with Scioli´s increasing financial difficulties; the first part of the season proceeded as planned, but in the second there were three important cancellations: Bellini´s "I Capuleti ed i Montecchi", "Wagner´s "Die Walküre" and the ballet "Zorba" (Llorca Massine on Theodorakis´ music). It transpired that numerous contracts weren´t honored and that labor unrest grew. By December the situation exploded: Alejo Pérez resigned (I wrote about it in the Herald) and the vague promises of Jorge Telerman  (at the helm of the Instituto Cultural) that in January financial matters would be solved weren´t believed by the employees. Indeed, the annual recess of the theatre came and went and nothing had changed. So by the end of February the situation exploded. Lombardero resigned, and was shortly followed by Miguel Martínez (the Choir´s Director) and Mario Galizzi (the Ballet´s Director). Of the main posts only Iglesias remained.

            Simultaneously the labor situation, still unsolved, led to labor conflict with the Government on a vast scale. A series of demands were transmitted to the functionaries of the Government, the Orchestra declared the status of permanent assembly, there were street demonstrations. Finally, Iglesias reacted by announcing the season, or rather the shrunk skeleton of one. What will really happen is anyone´s guess, but he said that rehearsals of Beethoven´s Ninth Symphony would take place this week, and on Saturday, March 16, the concert would take place under the Chilean conductor Pedro Pablo Prudencio.

            It is interesting that the parting shot was sounded by labor inside the Cultural Institute itself: the Internal Junta of ATE in the Institute denounced (January 25) the deplorable situation of the Argentino and supported the just claims of its employees presented to the authorities of the Government, the Institute and the Theatre: those that won legitimate competitions to enter the theatre as permanent members haven´t received their appointment; annual contracts haven´t been renovated; those under contract last year still haven´t  their payments; and the general condition of the building is bad due to mediocre maintenance (lack of hygiene and security).

            On March 7th I received a press release: "Workers convoke to participate of an embrace of the Argentino and of a street meeting": the latter went to the Administration and the Presidency of the Cultural Institute, to the Legislature and to the Provincial Government. This was decided by the Workers´ Assembly on February 21. Other points: they ask the authorities to carry out an audit that will reveal the real administrative, financial and patrimonial situation of the Argentino; the appointment of directors for the permanent artistic bodies; programming that includes all sections of the theatre; adequate budget; definitive approval of human structures and personnel; the resignation of Iglesias; and a legislative request  of relevant information, including the interpellation of the functionaries of the Cultural Institute.

            There is a new organism in the Province: the Complejo Teatral de Artes Escénicas. It is led by Juan Carlos D´Amico, Telerman´s predecessor at the Cultural Insititute. It includes the supervision of the Argentino, Mar del Plata´s Auditorium, the Comedia Provincial and the Babía Blanca Organismo Artístico del Sur (currently in dire straits). To my mind it is an unnecessary bureaucratic duplication of the Institute, typical of the convoluted functionaries´ minds nowadays. D´Amico and Telerman decided to send money for several matters that needed fixing at the Argentino: air conditioning reparation; installation of water pumps in the cellars; cleaning of the façade; and general maintenance. They also promise the normalisation of the theatre, but Iglesias stressed: we will have 20% more budget than last year, but the basic point is to receive the money when we need it (last year the Argentino got only 29% of the money allotted for productions).

            As to the very recent announcements by Iglesias. a) Appointments: the experienced Guillermo Brizzio as Artistic Director; Darío Domínguez Xodo as Conductor of the Orchestra; Esteban Rajmilchuk as the Director of the Choir; and Mario Silva as the Ballet Director. Except Brizzio, very new artists. b) the  conversations with labor ("paritarias") would start on March 21; c) the ballet announcements are by far the best: the three Tchaikovsky ballets plus Frederick Ashton´s "Birthday Offering" with Iñaqui Urlezaga; also Handel´s "Messiah" in Wainrot´s choreography. Opera: Verdi and Wagner will be programmed in their bicentenary year: "La Traviata", August; and "The Flying Dutchman" (premiere for La Plata: it aborted when announced in 2001), October. Nothing else is announced. Well, it´s better than nothing.
For Buenos Aires Herald