jueves, julio 25, 2013

“Otello”, Verdi´s magical empathy with Shakespeare

Giuseppe Verdi was the greatest Italian operatic composer; moreover, he was the most shining example of gradual perfectionism in the history of music: his greatest operas were written in old age. And he thus produced the most tragic of operas, "Otello", and the most refined comedy, "Falstaff". 

            After "Aida" Verdi had retired to his farm, "Sant´Agata" near Busseto and close to Parma. He was rich and famous; he felt that his creative cycle was over. But his second wife, Giuseppina Strepponi, his publisher, Tito Ricordi, and conductor Franco Faccio, managed to bring Arrigo Boito to Verdi´s house.

            Boito gained Verdi´s confidence with the revision of "Simone Boccanegra" (1881) and his first draft of the libretto for "Otello" impressed the composer. Boito was a member of the avantgarde literary movement called "scapigliatura" ("bohemianism"), which would eventually influence futurism. His acute comprehension and admiration of Shakespeare, whom he adapts to the requisites of opera with exemplary respect, doesn´t preclude some inventions of his own, especially the magnificent "Credo" sung by Iago as the personification of Evil.

            Shakespeare based his play "Othello, the Moor of Venice" in "Il moro di Venezia", a novel by Giambattista Giraldi Cinzio (published 1565).  Curious facts: of the five acts, the first happens in Venice, the others in Cyprus. In Boito/Verdi, all four acts take place in Cyprus. In Rossini´s opera ( very attractive antecedent in opera), the three acts occur in Venice...

            As a character Othello stands as the perfect example of the psychopathic jealous. He is a dark-skinned Moor such as was the concept in Elizabethan times and a converted Christian, a strong warrior named by Venice to defeat the Turkish Muslims. But the Adriatic republic certainly doesn´t approve of his marriage to Desdemona .  Outstanding in battle, he remains vulnerable and profoundly uncertain; he is an easy prey to Iago, a true paradigm of the worst in human nature. And Desdemona, pure innocent, lacks that most feminine quality, intuition, which leads her to lethal silliness.

            What Verdi does is a continuous miracle of astonishing modernism, his music mirroring every possible expression of the text. There are no weaknesses anywhere (if we eliminate the "Ballabili" -composed for the later French premiere- as is generally and rightly done). And the tragic intensity simply has no paragon in Italian opera.

            Otello is the mightiest dramatic role and the demands, both as singer and actor, are overwhelming. There are very few Otellos of stature in any generation. Since 1950 Buenos Aires has seen three of the best: Mario del Monaco (1950), Ramón Vinay (1958) and Plácido Domingo (1981). The last revival was in 1999 and the protagonist was the Argentine José Cura. Now he came back in a triple capacity, for he was also the producer and stage designer, a tall order indeed.

            How did he fare? As a singer, at 50 his vocal method, always unorthodox, isn´t helping him: he does manage some exciting and moving moments but the emission  is erratic and the lack of line often leads him to unmusical details. As an actor he alternates between passivity and fury, not always cogently.

            Changing the natural order, I will refer to his stage designs prior to his producing, for in that sense I found him a pleasant surprise. The opera is presented in two acts and as the action needs both outdoor and indoor  spaces, the solution of a unit set, so often used nowadays, would be wrong. Cura does something better: a  set divided into three parts; the biggest is for the crowd scenes at the fort; the other two are rooms, one for meetings and the other a bedroom. They are done –blessedly- in reasonable resemblance to Medieval style and look attractive.

             They are all built within the huge gyrating platform of the Colón stage. Alas, Cura overdoes it, and he changes from scenery to scenery unnecessarily, which confuses things. As a producer, he falls into the trend of voyeurism, with an almost omnipresent Iago, even in that magical love scene of the First Act.  Some situations are well observed, but the final minutes are botched: Emilia is killed (she shouldn´t be), Iago doesn´t escape but is injured and stays on stage.  Also, at various moments Iago and Otello talk private things in front of uncalled-for other people.

            The costumes by Fabio Fernando Ruiz (debut) are correct but nondescript, and the lighting by Cura and Roberto Traferri, quite conventional.

            Spanish baritone Carlos Álvarez made his awaited debut after a very successful career. His singing is firm, clear and musical, his timbre quite adequate. But to my mind he lacks personality, both as an actor and a singer, and I missed both the satanic innuendo and the vocal expansion of a great baritone such as Giuseppe Taddei.

            I was sorry when I found that the announced Barbara Frittoli (one of the best Desdemonas nowadays) was replaced by Carmen Giannattasio (debut), but in fact she was a pleasant surprise, the best artist on stage: a rather beautiful lyric-dramatic voice, refined phrasing and good acting instincts.

            Guadalupe Barrientos was a very assured Emilia; Enrique Folger sang a good Cassio; and the others were in the picture (Carlos Esquivel, Fernando Chalabe, Mario De Salvo, Fernando Grassi). I found conductor Massimo Zanetti (debut) rather mild and not always accurate in his indications, with an orchestra and a chorus (Miguel Martínez) that responded acceptably but no more.

For Buenos Aires Herald

The paths of the musical Baroque

            The post-World War II years have seen a monumental increase in the knowledge and diffusion of the musical Baroque. Of course the background for such an explosion had been patiently prepared by researchers and specialist societies in the interwar years, but technological factors gave their great contribution: the long-play was essential in the period 1950-85. The Bach Guild in the USA and later the first integral recording of the sacred cantatas in Telefunken (Harnoncourt and Leonhardt) and the immensely influential I Musici for the Italian repertoire  were milestones. The Telefunken series inaugurated the historicist Bach movement, and later on the same trend started in Italy.

            Young people have mostly heard historicist Baroque; veterans like myself have experienced the whole process. Let us briefly define: the historicist uses period instruments or copies of them, gut strings, no vibrato, flexible rhythm, a variety of accents; timbres matter much more than in the pre-historicist era.

            However, if you take a recording that was a paradigm for decades you find many of the traits that have provoked enthusiasm in music lovers. I mean Vivaldi´s "The Four Seasons" as played by Félix Ayo and I Musici in the Fifties. I happened to see them live back in 1956 (New York) and the recording by the same artists (a part of the series "Il cimento dell´armonia e dell´invenzione") has remained treasurable for me.

            So I persist in my conclusion that it isn´t a matter of either/or: you can hear excellent or poor Vivaldi with modern instruments and ditto with historicist ones. This is by way of introduction for two recent Vivaldi concerts. The first was offered by the Cameristi della Scala (debut) at the Coliseo in the closing session of Italian Summer in Buenos Aires. The other featured "The Four Seasons" and was played by La Barroca del Suquía at the Auditorio de Belgrano for Festivales Musicales.

            The Scala players are only nine, which I find too few, but the seven string players play with full, beautiful sound, exact tuning and attack, and they respond as one.   The harpsichord is a harmony instrument in this reepertoire. They played six well-chosen Vivaldi Concerti of different character. A blot in the hand programme: there were not the essential catalog numbers;  tonalities are hardly enough. The right thing to do is to use the RV numbers (Ryom Verzeichnis), the catalog that has superseded P (Pincherle) and F (Fanna).  There was no interval, which I welcomed.

            A case in point: there are two Concerti in A major for strings; they played RV158; these have no soloist. Then, perhaps the high point of the evening: Concerti Op.10 Nº3, "Il cardellino" ("The linnet"), and Op.10 Nº2, "La notte" (Op. numbers correspond to works edited during Vivaldi´s life). In both flutist Marco Zoni shone with marvellous dexterity, perfect style and beautiful sound. Then, the ample and dramatic Concerto in E minor for violin "Il favorito", RV 277, played with admirable line by Andrea Pecolo (their concertino). The final two Concerti were from Op.3, "L´estro armonico": Nº8 with two violins (Pecolo and Paolo Zordanazzo) amd Nº 11, with the same violinists and cellist Andrea Favalessa (the programme didn´t identify the latter): firm, solid, satisfying renditions.

            I have often written with enthusiasm about La Barroca del Suquía led by violinist Manfredo Kraemer, certainly our foremost historicist ensemble. However, I wasn´t so happy this time: I found their phrasing very willful, even quirky, with some distorted tempi, excessive flexibility and a collective sound that was too close to harshness. Of course along with this there were many brilliant moments of great dynamism and some attractive introspective ones, but it didn´t quite jell. Also, I disagree with the separation of the two first concerti of "The Four Seasons" ("Spring" and "Summer") from the other two ("Fall" and "Winter") by dint of the "Nisi Dominus" RV608 sung by countertenor Martín Oro. Although I prefer one violinist playing all four, Kraemer (who played "Fall") allowed his young colleagues to take on "Spring" (Mauro Asís), "Summer" (Pablo López) and "Winter" (Leandro Liuzzi), and they did very well.

            Before and after there was a rather poor interpretation of Corelli´s famous Concerto Op.6 Nº 8, "for Christmas", and the "operatic" motet "Longe mala, umbrae, terrores", with Oro. I didn´t find the singer in his best form and his body language bothered me, though it was interesting to hear the two vocal pieces as samples of another Vivaldi facet.

            The main interest of a recent concert of the Academia Bach at the Iglesia Metodista Central was the premiere of a wonderful Bach cantata, Nº8, "Liebster Gott, wann werd ich sterben?" ("Dearest God, when will I die?"). Though I dislike the pietist message, the music is again incredibly imaginative , especially the tenor aria with two oboes d´amore and the opening chorus. Rather pale soloists, but very good playing from people such as Pablo Spiller, Rubén Albornoz and Claudio Barile and the habitual string group under Mario Videla

            The concert had started with the best known of the very numerous Flute Concerti by Joachim Quantz, QV 5:174, played with his usual fluency by Barile. And then, outside the Baroque, two gratifying choral pieces by Josef Rheinberger (1839-1901): the Missa Brevis Op.83 (the whole text of the mass in 16 minutes) and the motet "Ex Sion", both very nicely done by Periferia Vocal conducted by Pablo Piccinni.       

For Buenos Aires Herald

jueves, julio 18, 2013

Musical renovation from various sources


           Recent weeks have provided lots of music that were either premieres or rarely heard. As readers know, I welcome renovation, and I don´t  mean avantgarde but an intelligent look at diverse periods of the history of music to find there worthwhile stuff that remains  forgotten or almost.

            I wrote some time ago abouth youth orchestras. The Indiana University Jacobs School of Music Virtuosi isn´t an orchestra but a flexible instrumental ensemble directed by Mimi Zweig and made up of young talented people. All are string players, and they are accompanied by a pianist of an older generation, Ilya Friedberg. They gave a successful concert for the Midday Concerts of the Mozarteum at the Gran Rex. The chosen music was light but pleasant, sometimes in arrangements.

            The "Prelude and Allegro" is a substantial score by Fritz Kreisler in the Baroque style; someone did a strange thing: between both pieces two cellos played an unidentified fragment. The group sounded full and pure. Frankly I prefer the original version for piano of Prokofiev´s motoric "Toccata", but the version for string sextet by Atar Atad was very well played. A 17-year-old gifted cellist, Braden McConnell, gave us David Popper´s Concerto polonaise, Op.14. Then, a brilliant performance by the youngest member of the Virtuosi, 13-year-old violinist Nathan Meltzer, of Sarasate´s terribly difficult "Fantasy on themes from Bizet´s ´Carmen´".

            Followed arrangements of Brahms´ Hungarian Dances Nos. 1 and 6 and the exciting "Hoe-Down" from Copland´s "Rodeo".  A fun selection of bossa novas, tangos (and square dances?) in an arrangement by Francisco Cortéz Álvarez allowed us to hear the Indiana players in a joyous, communicative vein. The encore was a strong interpretation of an especially grim and rhythmical Piazzolla, "Escualo".

            Germán Gutiérrez recently was here conducting the Texas Christian University Youth Orchestra . Now the very professional Mexican conductor was back conducting the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional in an interesting programme. Though  the occasion was made possible by an institution called Ibermúsica, that fact wasn´t in the hand programme; but at least we had one with fine notes by Carlos Singer (previous weeks left the audience uninformed).

             So after a Spanish composer ("Interlude and Dance" from de Falla´s "La vida breve") we had music of the Americas, with the very important presence after so many years (he was here in 1963 at the Colón) of composer Marlos Nobre, considered by many as the greatest Brazilian figure nowadays. Two scores of his were premiered: "Kabbalah" (2004, 10 minutes), for big orchestra with abundant percussion, has two sections: "Light" (contrasts of timbre and dynamics) and "Energy", dominated by rhythm.

             The much earlier Divertimento for piano and orchestra dates from 1963 though premiered two years later in Brazil. Written in a polytonal style, in its three movements it quotes some "Brazilian tangos" by Nazareth. The pianist was the author, an imposing gentleman with a white mane, who played his score admirably. He gave two encores: a fantasy on popular Brazilian themes, and a "frevo", a fast rhythm of the Northern region of his country.

            By now a standard, the Second Part began with Bernstein´s exhilarating Overture to "Candide", that splendid musical comedy based on Voltaire. All the rest were Latin American local premieres, very welcome indeed for we have great ignorance  about the production of our brother countries: Latinamericanism is often preached but rarely acted upon. The quite pleasant "Mosaico Mexicano" put the audience in touch with Arturo Rodríguez, a young composer born 1976. Says the author: "it is a picture of the Mexico my grandfather described when I was a boy, a hyper-romanticized compound of the music of my country".

            Then, an almost centenary creation, from the Chilean Enrique Soro, who was for his country what Alberto Williams was in Argentina, the first fully professional composer: the "Fantastic Dance" from 1916, based on an older piece from 1905. This is exuberant, melodic music of sure attraction.

            Finally, a new name for me, the Peruvian Jimmy López, born 1978 and currently well-known in the USA (the Chicago Opera has commissioned an opera from him). His uninhibited "Fiesta!" combines  the academic style with Latin-American, Afro-Peruvian and pop music. The four dances have rather abstract titles: "Trance I", "A contratiempo", "Trance II" and "Tecno". Syncopated, impetuous music of great effect, it closed a concert that was very well conducted and played.

            The Quinteto Filarmónico de Buenos Aires showed again its excellence in a matinal free Sunday concert at the Colón. The players: Claudio Barile (flute), Néstor Garrote (oboe); Matías Tchicourel (clarinet); Fernando Chiappero (horn); Gabriel La Rocca (bassoon), splendid individually and perfect in ensemble. One flaw: two out of three scores were arrangements; granted, the wind quintet repertoire isn´t huge, but still there´s enough of it to build many nice programmes.

            What I really enjoyed was the witty Quintet Nº1 by Jean Françaix; written in 1948, it is influenced by Poulenc though with a stronger humoristic component. Mozart´s Serenade Nº 12 in C minor (not major, as wrongly printed in the hand programme) is a marvellous score, but I certainly prefer it in its original form for eight winds (the arrangement might be that of D. Walter, it wasn´t specified). A curious "Suite Española" was made out of pieces by Albéniz, Granados and Toldrà (arrangements), and the encores were idiomatic works by José Carli: the tango "La Parda" and the "Vals de la grela".
For Buenos Aires Herald

domingo, julio 14, 2013


            Although last year´s season ended with the deplorable "Colón-Ring", it had many interesting premieres, such as Enesco´s "Oedipe", Szymanowski´s "Hagith", Händel´s "Rinaldo" or Mercadante´s "I due Figaro". But this year there is only one foreign premiere, apart from Argentinian composer Mario Perusso´s "Bebe Dom o la Ciudad Planeta": a Sergei Rachmaninov double-bill combining "Aleko" and "Francesca da Rimini".  The rest of the season offers only two titles of some interest: the revival after 34 years of Richard Strauss´ mighty "Die Frau ohne Schatten", and Verdi´s "Otello", again with José Cura as in 1999, but now also as producer.

            "Frau..." had a good success with a cast of seasoned Straussians: Manuela Uhl, Elena Pankratova, Iris Vermilion, Stephen Gould and Jukka Rasilainen. And it was very well led by Ira Levin, recently named Principal Conductor of the Colón Orchestra. To us veterans, the cold production by Andreas Homoki left us yearning for the splendid collaboration of Georg Reinhardt with Roberto Oswald in 1979.

            There are sad news elsewhere: a drastic budget cut at La Plata´s Argentino forced Artistic Director Marcelo Lombardero and Musical Director Alejo Pérez (an admirable team) to resign, and labor reactions for lack of payment. Now it seems that there will be a meager half-season featuring La Plata´s first "Fliegende Holländer". As to the private opera companies in Buenos Aires, they are having a middling year where only Janácek´s "Jenufa" (Buenos Aires Lírica) seems worthwhile.

            So the double Rachmaninov was important,  and it represented the return of Russian opera to the Colón. The early "Aleko" is a conservatory score written at 19-years-old, immature although with some aspects of the future Rachmaninov.  "Aleko" has parallels with both "I Pagliacci" and "Il Tabarro", though it is based on the Pushkin dramatic poem "The Gypsies". Unfortunately, the gypsy camp in the meadow becomes in Romanian producer Silviu Purcarete´s distortion a hangar with an obtrusive red car,  the dances become a ridiculous acrobatic act with a performing "bear" and another circus artist, and voyeurism is the adopted style.

            "Francesca..." tells the Medieval story of Paolo Malatesta´s ill-fated love with Francesca, the wife of his brother Lanceotto. Both Dante Alighieri and the Spirit of Virgil intervene, and we are shown the circle of Hell where the doomed lovers remain in eternal turbulence. The chromatic, sinister imagination of Rachmaninov has  a powerful dramatic punch that only relents in the exalted lyricism of the love duet. Purcarete was better here, though with some absurdisms.

             The casts were dominated by the commanding personality of Sergei Leiferkus. Irina Oknina sang well, the hefty Hugh Smith and Leonid Zakhozhae were the good tenors, and Maxim Kuzmin-Karavaev is a fine young baritone. Levin gave them a convincing orchestral support.




Rossinian charm and multimedia view of Victoria Ocampo


            If we admit that "V.O.", by Beatriz Sarlo and Martín Bauer, is an opera -a moot point indeed- its contrast in the same week with Rossini´s evergreen "The Barber of Seville" certainly was a way to show the extremes of opera as a genre.

            Some commonplaces happen to be irreversibly true, and "The Barber..." remains the best "opera buffa" of the first half of the Nineteenth Century.           Curiously at the time of its premiere (1816) another "Barber...", Paisiello´s , had been a rousing success for decades, and with good reason, for it is a very accomplished piece. But Rossini´s is a marvel, and poor Paisiello after that was relegated.  Such is history. 

             Although "The Barber..." has been done innumerable times here (and it was the first opera ever staged in B:A., back in 1825) in recent decades it has been poorly served both in  cast and  production.  Producers in fact have done horrors in several occasions, and casts were below requirements, though there were exceptions (Almerares, e.g.). So I´m happy to say that the results of Juventus Lyrica´s recent revival were generally satisfactory, even if there were debatable points.

            The main thing is to catch the spirit of fun without distorting time and place, and this  was what Ana D´Anna´s production obtained. Gonzalo Córdova´s stage pictures gave an Andalusian feeling without being realistic and his lighting was good. Costumes by Lizi Tarasewicz and Ponchi Morpurgo were generally well conceived and observed. And D´Anna managed to follow the devilishly cunning rhythm of the action with accuracy and spontaneity. True, there were exaggerations, as the initial irruption of the men´s chorus shouting and talking (not in the libretto and against its sense, for it´s only after receiving the money that they grow ludicrously rowdy) and in the same scene the over-grotesque Fiorillo. And the Harlequins, though discreet, are out of place (there´s no "commedia dell´arte" in this opera). But there was genuine joy on stage.

            The singers were a talented bunch, especially Armando Noguera, who is a sought-after Figaro in Europe. Mercurial, with dexterous body language, although he exaggerated certain things (too many whoopees and falsettoes), he sang very well with just the right type of voice, light but full. Mariana Carnovali was scheduled to sing Rosina; she was replaced by Laura Polverini and I was sorry, for I remember Carnovali as a splendid Angelina in "La Cenerentola" and I prefer a mezzo timbre rather than a high soprano (Rossini made two versions). Although Polverini was a bit strident in certain high notes, she played the role with conviction and sang with accuracy. Verónica Canaves gave character to Berta´s aria, although the makeup made her look too young for someone who complains of being old.

            Almaviva is a very difficult part of "tenore di grazia". Iván Maier, who is still very young, made a brave shot at it, and was funny as soldier and especially as  "seminarist". The use of Alberto Zedda´s critical edition meant that we heard Almaviva´s very long final aria, which to my mind impedes the action. Maier´s voice projection is  open and he should learn to veil it a bit, though he was musical in the tough florid passages. I liked Alberto Jáuregui Lorda´s Bartolo, who eschewed the usual "buffo" interpretation and gave us a wily old tutor; though somewhat undervoiced, he was always a presence. Maximilano Michailovsky, on the other hand, was in the best sense a traditional Basilio, broad in his gestures and a very funny way of moving,  singing with great confidence. I disliked Gabriel Carasso´s Fiorillo.

            Hernán Sánchez Arteaga was a gratifying surprise as a conductor that has the "buffo" style down pat, always precise yet flexible, brilliant but never covering his singers. The Choir was alright and the orchestra had a successful night.

            "V.O." is indeed an experiment, so its premiere was in the right place, the CETC (the Colón´s Center for Experimentation). This collaboration by Sarlo and Bauer had some interesting points. Of course, nowadays Sarlo is a very respected voice commenting on politics and social aspects, a first-rate intellectual. What she and Bauer have done is a "collage" of different moments of Victoria Ocampo´s life and in particular her relationship with Igor Stravinsky, for she was there on the night of the scandalous premiere of "Le Sacre du Printemps". And in the Thirties she was the reciter in Stravinsky´s premiere of "Perséphone" at the Colón, of which nary a word on "V.O.", which seems to me a major mistake, especially when Victoria is shown having classes with that wonderful character actress, Marguerite Moréno (María Inés Aldaburu, very good).

            There are incongruences which I found hard to fathom. E.g.: an old lady billed as Maid enters, sits at the piano and plays admirably a Debussy Prelude ("Homage à S. Pickwick Esq, PPMPC"). She is that redoubtable artist, Margarita Fernández. But what does it mean? More to the point, a dancer (Florencia Vecino) did movements that seemed adequate for the Sacrificial Maid (a bit of Pina Bausch thrown in). Musically the best thing was the three short interludes sung by a soprano, the pure-voiced Selene Lara. And in the text, the monologue where V.O. distributes her moneys ("for Tagore, Ortega, Stravinsky, Drieu" -her lover, writer Drieu La Rochelle- "the magazine" –Sur, of course). And the limericks "à la Edward Lear". Analía Couceyro was convincing as V.O. and Pablo Seijo showed poor articulation as Stravinsky and Drieu.

            Six strings, piano and percussion, conducted by Pablo Druker, provided the instrumental music. Sober stage design and lighting by Matías Sendón, good costumes by Luciana Gutman, and very stylish videos by Minou Maguna and Gastón Luciani.

For Buenos Aires Herald

Verdi standards dominate operatic life

            As you know, this is the year of Verdi´s bicentenary, so not only the Colón is programming his operas but other concerns are contributing abundantly to a proper celebration, for no other composer has provided so many masterpieces to the genre. In recent weeks we´ve had a "Rigoletto" at the Roma (Avellaneda), "Il Trovatore" at the Coliseo (it will be repeated at the Roma), and the revival of "Un giorno di regno" at the Auditorio de Belgrano. I won´t review the latter because it is an almost exact reproduction of last year´s premiere at the Teatro del Globo (I wrote about it then) by a group led by Dante Ranieri.

            Both "Rigoletto" and "Il Trovatore" had certain common characteristics this time: a) at all times they are two of the so-called "popular trilogy" (the other, of course, is "La Traviata"); b) they were completely done by Argentine artists; c) there was little money available, so the productions were modest; d) they blessedly preserved the original "time and place" as specified by the librettist instead of following the horrid trend of changing both parameters and give us absurd distortions .

            I wasn´t lucky with "Rigoletto". Not only June 9 was the date of a football match between Boca and Racing, which meant that it took me two hours to get from Palermo to Avellaneda (police barriers everywhere and immense roundabouts), but the lighting console went pfhtt and the technicians had to do everything manually sauntering from place to place; initially they had to start the First Act again and then things proceeded with some short intermittences.

            Kudos to Luis Gaeta, who in his sixties gave us an admirable Rigoletto, as well sung as acted, the voice in astonishing condition. On the other hand soprano Laura  Delogu is very new; the voice is adequate for Gilda´s requirements and she is musical; she lacks some creaminess and the personality that comes with time. Tenor Leonardo Pastore was uneven but had many good moments. There were agreeable contributions from Luciano Straguzzi (Sparafucile) and Vanina Guilledo (Maddalena), the revelation of a fine bass voice as Monterone (Nicolás Secco) and a good cast of "comprimari", especially Diana Salazar (Giovanna) and Ricardo Crampton (Count of Ceprano). A curiosity: for the first time in Argentina an innovation: the small parts of the Page and the Herald were sung by a countertenor, Damián Ramírez.

            Enthusiasm rather than quality from the Orquesta Sinfónica Municipal de Avellaneda and the ad-hoc choir, but César Tello conducted with conviction. Producer Jorge Luis Podestá managed to offer an acceptable show, with the help of Ana Rodríguez Quiroga (stage designs) and Oscar Moralli (lighting, of course affected by the console failure) and with "alternative costumes" (quite adequate): "the Colón and the Argentino didn´t want to accept ceding them for the occasion".

            Word has it that soon the Roma will close for a long time due to a restauration. I do hope it won´t last more than a year or two, for it is a charming old theatre and it has given through the years some interesting operas.

            "Il Trovatore" was a benefit performance for the Italian Patronage and a part of "Verano Italiano" ("I Pagliacci", weeks ago, had started this collaboration of Italy and Argentina), although in this case their intervention was solely the venue, the Coliseo, because it is owned by the Italian State. Two matters were a bother: a) the lack of supertitles, by now a requirement; b)  the substitution of the two male leads went on unannounced until after the interval, when the audience was finally told who sang what.

It would have been interesting to see and hear the two rivals incarnated by two artists who are in real life half-brothers. Tenor Gustavo López Manzitti was replaced by Juan Carlos Vassallo, and baritone Luciano Garay, by Leonardo López  Linares.

            As it turned out, the ladies prevailed. Haydée Dabusti was very firm in the high and middle registers, less so in the low tones; but she always sang with taste and style, proving again that she is one of our best singers. At times she was a bit light (Leonora is generally more forceful); on the other hand, she was admirably agile in the "cabalettas".

The Azucena was a find: Anabella Carnevali  (do not confuse with Mariana Carnovali),  "Rosarina", is more a contralto than a mezzo. She has a problem with excessive vibrato in high notes but otherwise her big, heavily textured voice has the tragic strength the old gypsy needs. Her acting was concentrated and communicative.

            The gentlemen were less convincing. Vassallo´s style is elementary both as musician and actor, though he has an ample voice. López Linares is effective and he has a Verdian line, though his tone sounds rather leathery; his paunch doesn´t help to give an adequate profile to the Count of Luna. Juan Pablo Labourdette was accurate but too light as Ferrando.

            I was disappointed by Maestro Mario Perusso, who raised the decibels covering the singers. True, neither his orchestra (again the Sinfónica  Municipal de Avellaneda) nor his choir (Coro Imma del Instituto de Música de Avellaneda) were up to par, but a conductor of Perusso´s experience should have gotten better results. The ultra-Spartan production by Eduardo Casullo had no stage elements except a few steps, acceptable costumes (uncredited), poor lighting  and basic marking of singers. More was needed.

For Buenos Aires Herald



            Tenemos muchos compositores de ambos sexos en la Argentina de las más variadas tendencias: los que siguen enraizados en el folklore o en el tango, los tonales tradicionales, los serialistas, los de las nuevas tendencias espectrales, los del posmodernismo. Pero hay pocos que sean genuinamente personales y estén tan fuertemente identificados con las herencias de la historia profunda europea. Luis Mucillo es en este sentido un artista que se ha sabido labrar un camino propio. Rosarino nacido en Diciembre 1956, pianista cristalino como buen discípulo de Aldo Antognazzi, de sólida técnica compositiva como ocurre con quienes han estudiado con Francisco Kröpfl, sus años en Alemania y Brasil le han abierto caminos y experiencias que ha sabido asimilar.

            Es raro que una personalidad sea al mismo tiempo profundamente intelectual sin cerebralismo y comunicativa sin concesiones. Compone como es: concentrado, introspectivo, imaginativo. Cristiano de fuertes convicciones, tiene una cultura amplísima, sobre todo en dos aspectos: el mundo medieval y el mundo literario alemán. Una sensibilidad extrema para las texturas y un don de evocación particular hace que pueda llevarnos a un mundo cercano al Grial y al simbolismo de un Maeterlinck. Conoce a fondo la música medieval y a veces la cita en sus obras. En su mundo están los trovadores pero también están Novalis o Rilke. Por algo hay en su catálogo obras orquestales como "Brocéliande" o "Corpus Christi: visiones del Grial", o el amplio ciclo pianístico "Aus Märchenzeit" ("Del tiempo de los cuentos").

            Acaba de editar un CD, "En el reino de la alegoría" (título bien significativo), dedicado a una selección admirable de su música de cámara que abarca un extenso período de su vida, ya que su obra más lejana es de 1978, que lo revelan a los 22 años ya teniendo una notable madurez de oficio y de intenciones: los "Sonetos de Petrarca" para soprano, tres tipos de flauta tocados por la misma artista (como sucede en su Concierto para flauta), percusión y piano. Como bien dicen los excelentes comentarios de Federico Monjeau, la obra es "serial en su base, no en su estilo, y la parte vocal está guiada por un auténtico sentimiento lírico". Las citas de Liszt son breves y están totalmente integradas, y las pìezas están unidas por un leitmotiv variado. Muy buena la versión de Susana Caligaris, Patricia Da Dalt y un grupo de instrumentistas dirigidos por F. Bermann.

            Cronológicamente sigue el "Impromptu in memoriam Berg" (1985),  señalado como "bonus track", nuevamente para tres tipos de flauta, más celesta y clave, una combinación sonora inherentemente frágil y misteriosa, un "sortilegio", como dice Monjeau. Varios fragmentos bergianos son citados con sutileza. En la bella versión grabada en el Festival de Brasilia en enero l998 intervienen Wendy Rolfe (flautas), Beatriz Balzi en celesta y  en clave la esposa de Mucillo, Maria de Lourdes Cutolo. Es dudoso el agregado al final mismo de un fragmento hablado de Baudelaire.

            Luego, un monólogo para flauta sola (Da Dalt) cuyo título lo describe: "Ponderación misteriosa" (1989). Pero procede de Baltasar Gracián (siglo de oro español) y también del ensayo de Walter Benjamin "sobre la alegoría y el origen del drama barroco alemán". Nuevamente la simbiosis de mundos aparentemente opuestos pero que se entrelazan en la cultura europea y son trasmutados por un creador argentino.  Da Dalt impresiona como una flautista de capacidad poco frecuente.

            Un salto considerable en el tiempo nos lleva a 2004 en una obra dedicada al Trío Luminar: "Sortilegio de otoño" para flauta (nuevamente Da Dalt), viola (Marcela Magin) y arpa (Lucrecia Jancsa), esa textura imaginada por Debussy en su prodigiosa sonata tardía, y con un título raveliano ("El niño y los sortilegios"). Sin embargo y pese a estas alusiones al impresionismo, el título procede del relato de un gran romántico alemán, Joseph von Eichendorff. Dice Mucillo: "el trío está tratado a la manera de una diminuta orquesta sinfónica…Cada instrumento parece mimetizarse en otro". Las tres damas ejecutan con refinado gusto este verdadero sortilegio sonoro.

            Las obras restantes datan de 2006 e incluyen la voz. "Otros gatos" son tres canciones con textos del propio Mucillo y Padeletti, cantadas con el encanto y dominio asociadas al arte de Virginia Correa Dupuy y del propio Mucillo como pianista. Las piezas son muy simpáticas y gratas, fruto de una evidente atracción por estos felinos de tan especial misterio. Es notable el dato que proporciona Monjeau: los textos de Mucillo sustituyen al que pensaba utilizar de Borges ("A un gato"), descartado por problemas de copyright. Y Mucillo sabe inventar textos finos y alusivos.

            Finalmente, lo que para mí es la cumbre del disco, tanto en la calidad de la obra como en la interpretación: "…denn wo die Lieb´ erwachet…", para barítono (Víctor Torres) y piano (el compositor). Se trata de cuatro Lieder: dos sobre autores del siglo XIX (Heine y Novalis), dos del siglo XX (Hoffmannsthal  y Rilke): el mundo germánico tratado con una sutileza y aptitud para pensar en términos vocales que lo convierten en un compositor de especial talento para el género. Son canciones de amor  de muy distinto carácter: la de Heine melancólica, la de Rilke extrema en sus sentimientos exacerbados, la de Hoffmannsthal sobre una salida ecuestre de los enamorados, y la cuarta muy distinta, un Cántico espiritual de Novalis sobre la Virgen (amor sacro). Torres está en su mejor nivel, con una musicalidad perfecta y un bello timbre, y el compositor acompaña con su límpido toque y captación exacta de los matices tímbricos y armónicos.

            El CD está bien grabado en el Estudio Cosentino (2005-8) interviniendo Fabiola Russo y Javier Cosentino, y el folleto no tiene erratas. Incluye traducciones bien hechas del propio Mucillo, Jaime Botana y Claudia Rojas de los textos de Monjeau y de los Lieder. En suma, un verdadero aporte que merece ser ampliamente conocido.

Wolf on Mörike, a Lieder milestone

             "Lied" (plural "Lieder"): a song in the German vernacular (Willi Apel). Of the diverse types starting with the Medieval Minnesinger,  the Nineteenth-Century Lied  is better known.  After some valuable pieces from Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, the  greatest of Lieder composers was Franz Schubert with his particular sensibility to words and uncanny perception of (pre-Freud) psychologism. Schumann gave us a masterpiece, "Dichterliebe" ("A poet´s love") and Brahms a vast number of Lieder, some of them marvelous. The last two greats of piano-accompanied Lieder were Hugo Wolf and Richard Strauss. Some (rather few) are with orchestra: in the latter category must be mentioned the marvelous cycles by Gustav Mahler and those astonishing "Four last Lieder" by Strauss, closing definitively the Late Romantic age after WWII.

            Hugo Wolf lived a tormented, short life (1860-1903). He had a difficult, irascible temper that led him to constant clashes with schools, the Vienna Conservatory, private disciples, theatres. But there was a positive side to him,  a warmth and intelligence that attracted friends who helped him economically or lodged him in Summer in idyllic mountain sites. His love affairs were vehement and frustrating. As a creator he had trouble in developing the larger forms; he only finished a long quartet, a symphonic poem ("Penthesilea") and an undramatic though beautiful opera, "Der Corregidor" (on Alarcón´s "The three-cornered hat", which inspired de Falla to write his wonderful ballet).

            He found his destiny in the art of Lied, where he showed a similar hypersensitivity to Schubert, but with Post-romantic harmony and even deeper psychological insights (he was a contemporary of Freud). He wrote during febrile short periods essentially from 1887 to 1891 and in 1896-7. His final years were sad: madness overtook him and he died paralytic. Wolf´s most important  series were inspired by poems by Eduard Mörike, Goethe and Eichendorff, plus his "Spanisches Liederbuch" on translations from Spanish poets and the "Italienisches Liederbuch" (ditto from Italy).

            Mörike (1804-75), a disciple of Goethe, is considered one of the best German lyric poets. Wolf published his 53 "Gedichte (poems) von Eduard Mörike" in 1888; there are also four scattered ones. He orchestrated eleven of them, but they are rarely heard in that guise. Both the poems and the music are astonishingly varied. Just a few examples: refined filigree ("Elfenlied"), melodic beauty and melancholy ("Verborgenheit"), humor and ironic waltz ("Abschied"), Christian lullaby ("Schlafendes Jesuskind"), dramatic phantasmagoric power ("Der Feuerreiter"). Small masterpieces all of them.

            The Fundación Música de Cámara is an admirable low-profile institution that has offered for decades very interesting programmes devised by their Artistic Director, Maestro Guillermo Opitz. They generally choose as venues embassies or the gorgeous Palace Sans Souci near San Fernando, but on this occasion they had at their disposal the very good acoustics of AMIJAI, that synagogue adjoining the Chinese Quarter which also functions as a first-rate concert hall.

            Opitz is the last of the great German teachers that flourished in our midst from the 1930s on. I deeply respect his work, and on this occasion his aim was really audacious and essential: the integral Wolf-Mörike in two sessions. As usual he prepared the singers and pianists with obsessive detail and knowledge of the style. I happen to agree with him about these Lieder: I think they are Wolf at their very best, and as the artists involved were generally well chosen (there were a couple of exceptions) these concerts were deeply satisfying. I have long cherished the vinyl album recorded by Fischer-Dieskau and Moore, but hearing these Lieder live is another sort of experience.

            One unfortunate circumstance: Oriana Favaro was ill in the second concert, and so the two Lieder assigned to her fell by the byway: "Frage und Antwort", "An eine Aeolsharfe". All the rest of the 53 were duly sung and played, but the four scattered ones weren´t included.

            Favaro was present in the first session, so we heard -counting both sessions- five sopranos, two mezzos, two tenors, three baritones and one bass, accompanied by eight pianists. In the first concert I particularly enjoyed Jaquelina Livieri, Favaro, María del Rocío Giordano, Mariana Rewerski, Lorena Cisneros and Walter Schwarz, whilst I especially liked the work of pianists Matías Galíndez, Valeria Briático and Demián Apicella. In the second, Cisneros, Daniela Tabernig, Santiago Bürgi in "Wo find´ich Trost", Gustavo Zahnstecher impressive in "Der Feuerreiter" and the combined talents of Zahnstecher and Schwarz in the final humoristic song, "Abschied". Also there was outstanding work from pianists Tomás Ballicora, Laura Daian and again Galíndez and Briático. Some piano parts are quite difficult.

            Seven Lieder telling funny or sarcastic stories were acted with some props and produced by Betty Gambartes with good taste; this is something that has often been done in earlier seasons with Lieder materials that are narrative, and I like it.

            There is room for further cycles, and I would particularly like one of the kaleidoscopic "Italienisches Liederbuch", where there are songs for men and women evoking Mediterranean moods and capsule plots about love and its shenanigans. The music is mercurial and captures every flight of imagination.  Another session could give us the best of the Goethe and Eichendorff Lieder, perhaps adding the three Michelangelo Lieder (Wolf´s last songs), and still another would offer us the sacred and profane "Spanisches Liederbuch". Wolf deserves it, and I can think of few projects that can so enrich interpreters and audiences.
For Buenos Aires Herald