jueves, agosto 29, 2013

Traditional and modern ballet in the same day

            Thursday, August 22nd. 2 p.m.: an interesting programme at the Sala Coronado by the Ballet Contemporáneo del teatro San Martín. 9 p.m.: first of two shows by the Estrellas del Ballet Ópera de París at the Coliseo. Quite a contrast and a demonstration of the richness that this art form contains.

            For some reason the first half of the season was barren of foreign dance visitors, but in the second half we have an avalanche. The Parisians started the intense period of the season. In my personal history the 1950 visit of the complete Ballet de l´Opéra led by Serge Lifar was the first great experience.

            Among the basic schools of ballet, the French tradition is the oldest, since the times of Louis XIII; and it was the blend of it (through Marius Petipa) with the telluric essence of their  country that led to the Russian School. So it is always positive and pleasant to receive the French-trained artists in our city. It is practically a certainty that we are going to see elegance, poise and refined technique in the traditional ballets, though there´s a contrasting iconoclasm in recent choreographies.

            This visit was the initiative of two Argentines, Estela and Horacio Erman (she is a distinguished dancer and teacher). The French Embassy and the Alliance Française collaborated. The delegation of nine artists included the recent Argentine "danseuse étoile", Ludmila Pagliero, and her admirable partner Hervé Moreau. The artistic directress was Élizabeth Maurin.  I would have done without the presence of pianist Touvé Ratovondrahety (curious name) in two rather cheap improvisations. The rest of the music was recorded and sometimes rather poorly. The hand programme was mediocre, with no reference to dancers and choreographers.

            They started with fragments from "Paquita", music by Ludwig Minkus (of "Don Quichotte" fame)  and choreography by Petipa revised by Maurin, with all nine dancers; they all had the chance to show their complete training in this St Petersburg Tsarist Court ballet influenced by the exotic Spanish vogue. The principal pas de deux showed Pagliero´s impeccable style and Moreau´s personable presence as partenaire and brilliance in his variation.

            Although well danced by Gregory Dominiak, I disliked the Improvisation with cosmic projections, strangely based on an XVIIIth Century anonymous work. As to "La fille mal gardée", it is important in history as the first XIXth Century ballet that has remained in the repertoire, but I have seen much better choreographies than the one by Joseph Lazzini presented on this occasion. With light music by Ferdinand Hérold and Peter Hertel, the Pas de Deux was nicely danced by Marion Barbeau and Axel Ibot.

            Things picked up with the Balcony Pas de deux from Prokofiev´s marvellous "Romeo and Juliet", in a difficult and virtuoso choreography by Rudolf Nureyev (long associated with the Paris Opéra Ballet) beautifully expressed by Charline Giezendanner and Dominiak.

            The Second Part started with a welcome addition, a pas de deux from Roland Petit´s angular choreography for "Carmen" imagined for his wife Zizi Jeanmaire and danced with impressive perfection by Pagliero and Moreau (Bizet´s music in an arrangement). The audience wasn´t informed who were the dancers...

            I didn´t enjoy a Pas de deux from "La troisième fenêtre" on a Neapolitan song shouted rather than sung; choreography by Lazzini revived by Estela Erman; danced by Giezendanner and Ibot. The "Grand Pass Classique" is a "period" choreography done by Victor Gsovsky with great style on music adapted from originals by Daniel Auber; it was admirably danced by Barbeau and Germain Louvet.

            "The Black Swan" is a famous Pas de trois from Tchaikovsky´s "Swan Lake", this time in a splendid choreography by Nureyev, danced with true panache by Valentine Colasante, Florimond Lorieux and Dominiak. Finally, "Cantadagio" on Mahler´s last movement from his Third Symphony, an intense Pas de deux by Lazzini revived by Erman, movingly danced by Pagliero and Moreau. They all took leave of the show accompanied by Schubert´s "Marche militaire".

            It´s been a long time since I last appreciated the work of the Ballet Contemporáneo del Teatro San Martín and I was happy to make contact with them  again, for they remain a formidable group, certainly the best of its kind in BA. Mauricio Wainrot has led them for the last ten years or so, and he has kept the artistic discipline and high standard of young dancers with splendid bodies.

            I liked "Galaxies", choreography, stage design and video by Margarita Bali, with costumes by Mónica Toschi and lighting by Eli Sirlin, except for the nondescript music by Gabriel Gendin. It is an imaginative exercise blending dancers in the stage with cosmic visions and talented video images containing dancers. Beautiful to see, it is divided into "Galaxies", "Fantasy" and "End, Black Hole".

            In total contrast, "Oscuras golondrinas" is a choreography by Daniel Goldin on music by Shostakovich and –briefly- Bach. Although it refers to a metaphore of "coming back, repetition and beginning again", I felt psychological tensions between the couples and groups.

            Finally, a revival of Wainrot´s version of Stravinsky´s "Rite of Spring".  This is clean, professional choreography, but I did feel (except in the final scene) that it was too civilised; I like for this terrific music something savage, as Bausch or Béjart did. The whole show was danced with great stamina and quality by the second cast, especially the Elected One of Vanesa Turelli.

For Buenos Aires Herald

Professional and student orchestras: quality and renovation?

            We have in our city three major orchestras: the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, the Colón  Resident Orchestra and the National Symphony. All three of them can give very good quality, sometimes in an international level.    There also many youth orchestras, the best being the two Academics (the Colón´s Institute´s and the independent one under Calleja) and the Libertador San Martín (led by Mario Benzecry). Also, small orchestras of different types. And a strange and special case, the Orquesta Estudiantil de Buenos Aires under Guillermo Zalcman. Today I will be reviewing  sessions by the Phil, the National and the Estudiantil.

            Of course, the Phil operates under the best conditions, for their subscription series is offered at the Colón, with a valuable Artistic Director about which I have written repeatedly, Enrique Arturo Diemecke, and they have a reasonable budget to bring us international conductors and soloists and to pay for scores.

            I have mentioned elsewhere the silly titles someone gives to each concert; few can be sillier than "Popular and brilliant" applied to Mahler´s monumental Fifth Symphony; true, it is often played (this year three times!) but "popular" has other implications, and of course it has some brilliant passages, along with a majority of others that are tragic or sublime. It does apply, however, to that quintessence of crossover, Gershwin´s "Rhapsody in blue", played in the First Part.

             I find it unfair to bill it just by this composer, for the orchestration was done by Ferde Grofé, the author of the "Grand Canyon Suite", and the Rhapsody surely owes a lot to his clever ideas, beginning with the initial clarinet "glissando", perfectly played by Mariano Rey, or the "wah-wah" trumpet beautifully done by Fernando Ciancio. In fact the Phil was splendid, and Diemecke undestands the idiom (after all, he has been for 25 years the Principal Conductor of the Orchestra of Flint, Mich.).

            Cuban pianist Marcos Madrigal made an acclaimed local debut; he has swing and big technique. As the Rhapsody is short, he had leeway to give us three encores: two pieces by Ginastera (an overfast ·Danza del gaucho matrero" and a sensitive "Danza de la moza donosa") and a virtuoso "Malagueña" by Lecuona.

            Mahler´s Fifth became famous because of the use of the Adagietto in Visconti´s "Death in Venice", but the rest of the Symphony is just as important: the tremendous power of the  Funeral March combined with the turbulence of the Second movement, the inspired quirkiness of the Scherzo and the contrapunctal marvels of the final Rondo fuse into a magnificent 70 minutes of great music. Although I admired a lot of what Diemecke and the Phil did, there were some smudges and disjoined passages, and the conductor sometimes distorted certain rhythms, but by and large this was a successful traverse of tremendously difficult music.

            Administratively the National Symphony is in the lethal hands of the Culture Secretariat. In August they still haven´t settled the problem of the hand programme, so we were given just a miserable flyer: on one side the programme with omissions of vital data, on the other the list of the  responsible (?) functionaries. So I thank Google for some information about the Bulgarian conductor who made his local debut, Martin Panteleev (one of the very few of the season; understandable, those of last season a month ago hadn´t been paid!).

            In the First Part I had my doubts about him. Although his gestures were clear, some of the playing in Roberto García Morillo´s "Ricercar-Chorale" for strings (good, solid music from a now neglected composer)  was rather murky. And the accompaniment in Beethoven´s Concerto Nº 5, "Emperor", was too subdued (and there were poor bassoon and horn solos). The pianist, the American Derek Han, has been here before. Very nervous, his sound was too percussive, and although he has an important mechanism, there were many mistakes, especially at the end of the slow movement.

            But the Second Part was admirable and showed Panteleev to be a dynamic and intelligent leader. "Petrushka" is one of the two best scores ever written by Stravinsky (the other, of course, is "Rite of Spring"), and again I was overwhelmed by his endless innovation. The orchestra played quite well and redeemed itself. They played the 1947 suite.

            The Orquesta Estudiantil de Buenos Aires is a "rara avis" created twenty years ago by Zalcman. Which conductor has presented more premieres in the last two decades? Pedro Calderón? Wrong: Zalcman. His taste is tonal and basically privileges the 1880-1930 period. The orchestra was for many years quite bad; it now is barely acceptable and I can´t understand the presence of a line of saxophones, surely not needed. But the conductor is enthusiastic and undertakes a very needed renovation.

            The concert they offered in the good acoustics od AMIJAI was passably well played. But the main value is in the selected works, quite typical of the way Zalcman programmes: "The Land of the Mountain and the Flood" written in 1887 by the Scot Hamish MacCunn (premiere); the Concertino for flute, clarinet and strings by Bloch (premiere); the Suite from Rimsky-Korsakov´s "Tsar Saltan"; the "Comments for ´Romeo and Juliet´" by López Buchardo, and the charming suite of the ballet "Les Biches" ("The hinds" or "The female stags") by Poulenc. What a pleasure it would be to hear exactly the same works by the Phil or the National...

For Buenos Aires Herald

sábado, agosto 24, 2013


             A principios de esta temporada tuvimos el impacto extraordinario de la visita de la Orquesta Simón Bolívar dirigida por Gustavo Dudamel, confirmando lo que ya sabíamos por visitas anteriores: que el método de orquestas juveniles implementado en Venezuela desde hace varias décadas por el Maestro Abreu es un formidable éxito, como lo han avalado directores de la talla de Claudio Abbado y Simon Rattle. Pero además el programa que trajeron implicó una enseñanza, al yuxtaponer "La noche de los mayas" de Silvestre Revueltas con "La Consagración de la Primavera" de Stravinsky, conmemorando el centenario de esta última. Quedó claro allí que la trasmutación de lo telúrico y visceral en un ritual organizado de impresionante intelectualidad, verdadera clave de "La Consagración…", podía ser aprovechado como modelo pero con fidelidad a sus propias esencias por un compositor latinoamericano.

            Latinoamérica, como ha pasado también en Estados Unidos y Canadá y en casi todos los países europeos, tuvo su etapa nacionalista y ello es natural y necesario. En la música que llamamos "clásica", a falta de mejor nombre (ninguno es satisfactorio), tres han sido los países rectores: Italia, Alemania y Francia; y en cada caso se ha hablado de "estilo". De allí, por tomar sólo a Johann Sebastian Bach, que haya escrito suites basadas en danzas de proveniencia francesa o italiana, pero incluyendo "allemandes". Al mencionar países doy sus nombres actuales, ya que como bien se sabe Alemania e Italia recién se unificaron en el siglo XIX, pero si antes de ello estaban balcanizados  no hubo dudas ya desde el Medioevo qué se quería decir si se hablaba de influencia italiana, por ejemplo. Pero otras dos nacionalidades (denominación más útil) hicieron su fuerte aporte en la Europa del anterior milenario al que estamos viviendo: Inglaterra y España.  Y por lógica, Latinoamérica en su arranque importó música española, muy valiosa en los siglos XVI y XVII.

            El tema de este artículo es en particular la música sinfónica de Latinoamérica tal como está reflejada en esta temporada en el Colón de la Orquesta Filarmónica de  Buenos Aires. Como es lógico, está privilegiado el aporte argentino: seis de las ocho obras seleccionadas por su Director Artístico Enrique Arturo Diemecke dentro del repertorio latinoamericano son en efecto de nuestro país. Uno es colombiano, Luis Eduardo ("Lucho") Bermúdez; el otro, brasileño, Heitor Villa-Lobos. Nada mexicano pese a que ésa es la nacionalidad del director.  Y en plano americanista más amplio,  sólo la obra más célebre de Gershwin ("Rhapsody in blue") representa a Estados Unidos, cuando necesitamos con urgencia reponer o estrenar sinfonías de Copland, Schuman, Piston, Harris, Bernstein o Ives.

            Si pensamos en Latinoamérica sinfónica, tres son los nombres que acuden de inmediato como rectores: Villa-Lobos en Brasil, Ginastera en Argentina y Carlos Chávez en México.  Dos están representados este año. Villa-Lobos por "Foresta do Amazonas", una suite elaborada a partir de música que escribió para una película, "Green mansions". Ginastera por una partitura que va a lo telúrico no argentino sino maya: la notable "Popol Vuh", libro sagrado de los mayas, evocado con la misma autenticidad que demostró con respecto a todo el continente en "Cantata para la América mágica", y con un lenguaje musical complejo y actualizado que deja muy atrás el pintoresquismo de obras valiosas suyas de técnica menos radical ("Ollantay", "Panambí").

            La música sinfónica llegó tardíamente a Latinoamérica; recién en las décadas finales del siglo XIX se formaron orquestas de cierta estabilidad, si bien organismos ad-hoc de pequeña dimensión existieron antes, aunque sobre todo para acompañar funciones operísticas (en Argentina ya hubo ópera esporádica en la primera mitad del siglo y compañías estables abundantes en la segunda mitad). Antes  hubo notable música coral sacra, especialmente en México y Perú (no en nuestro tardío y débil Virreinato del Río de la Plata). Nuestro gran pionero sinfónico, discípulo de Franck, fue Alberto Williams, homenajeado el año pasado por la Filarmónica con nada menos que cuatro obras (aunque ninguna de sus nueve sinfonías). Ya en el período entre las dos guerras mundiales, y tras los esfuerzos admirables de promoción sinfónica de Williams y de Ferruccio Cattelani, apareció un músico sensible y culto, Carlos López Buchardo, que en sus "Escenas argentinas" de 1920 nos dio muestras de una buena técnica europea de influencia italiana en sutil combinación con nuestras esencias pampeanas. Gilardo Gilardi dio en su "Gaucho con botas nuevas" de 1936 un poema sinfónico de difíciles ritmos y brillante orquestación donde el malambo vertebra buena parte de la escritura. José María Castro por contraste nos ofrece en su notable Concerto grosso de 1932 uno de los mejores ejemplos del estilo neoclásico argentino.

            Las otras dos obras son contemporáneas y muy recientes y provienen de creadores que amalgaman lo popular con la técnica clásica tonal en lo que se ha dado en llamar "crossover". Si Lucas Guinot en su Suite para vibráfono y orquesta se inspira en figuras diversas (p.ej., Troilo pero también el Gauchito Gil),  Ramiro Gallo en su "Pequeño concierto para oboe" no olvida su personalidad de renovador del tango. Lo que falta en esta selección de seis obras argentinas es algún compositor de tendencias más avanzadas de la Segunda Posguerra.

            La obra colombiana está en un formato tributario de la música popular, ya que se trata de una orquestación realizada por Alexis Tovar de una forma de danza muy típica de Colombia, el porro, una de las tantas piezas en distintos ritmos creadas por el famoso (en su patria) Lucho Bermúdez. Sería interesante escuchar música colombiana de mayores ambiciones, ya que el latinoamericanismo se pregona con frecuencia pero rara vez se ejerce. En cuanto a "Foresta do Amazonas" (1958) es evocativa, colorida y bella, aunque más convencional en su enfoque (como buena música de cine) que varias otras obras de Villa-Lobos, como sus chôros, las Bachianas Brasileiras, o poemas sinfónicos como "Amazonas".

            Para el futuro, debería haber una mayor representación de los países latinoamericanos así como más conciertos de abono potenciando así las opciones disponibles. (Por cierto, aunque no sea el tema de este artículo, ello también implica acordarse de músicas europeas dejadas de lado: escandinavas, inglesas, holandesas, belgas, balcánicas).  Sigue una lista muy básica de lo que sería deseable.

            BRASIL. Además de las obras de Villa-Lobos poco frecuentadas o inéditas aquí, recordar a gente como Oscar Lorenzo Fernandez ("Batuque"), Francisco Mignone ("Congada"), Mozart Camargo Guarnieri ("Encantamiento"), Radames Gnattali ("Brasiliana"). En las generaciones más recientes están las tendencias que cruzan el brasileñismo con las técnicas europeas contemporáneas: Marlos Nobre, que estuvo recientemente aquí con la Sinfónica Nacional y de quien podría recordarse "Convergencias";  Edino Krieger, y dos discípulos de Koellreutter, introductor del serialismo en Brasil: Claudio Santoro y Guerra-Peixe.

            MÉXICO. Carlos Chávez debe ser recordado en todas sus sinfonías, no sólo la "India", y por obras como "Caballos de fuerza". Manuel Ponce es un romántico de grato nivel (Concierto para guitarra, tríptico "Chapultepec"). De Silvestre Revueltas no sólo "Sensemayá", tiene varias otras obras sinfónicas interesantes (además de la mencionada al principio de este artículo), como "Caminos", "Janitzio", "Cuauhnahuac", "Esquinas". Recordemos a otros nacionalistas como José Pablo Moncayo (el notable "Huapango")  y Blas Galindo ("Sones de mariachi"). Y necesitamos conocer a músicos de la posguerra que transitan lenguajes más actualizados, como Mario Lavista y Manuel Enríquez.

            CHILE. Hubo una época en la que buenos creadores como Juan Orrego Salas o Domingo Santa Cruz se escuchaban aquí; ahora están olvidados. Pero Orrego escribió con admirable técnica cuatro sinfonías, el Concierto para piano o la Serenata concertante, y Santa Cruz, figura señera, también compuso cuatro sinfonías y "Tres preludios dramáticos". A Enrique Soro le debemos la Sinfonía Romántica, tres Suites y Tres Preludios sinfónicos. Pedro Allende produjo el poema sinfónico "La voz de las calles", el Concierto sinfónico para cello y orquesta y las "Escenas campesinas chilenas". Alfonso Leng dio a conocer un poema sinfónico de influencia wagneriana, "La muerte de Alsino". Próspero Bisquertt realizó un raveliano tríptico "Nochebuena". Carlos Isamitt escribió "Cuatro movimientos sinfónicos". René Amengual escribió Conciertos para piano y para arpa.  Alfonso Letelier nos dio la Suite "Aculeu" y los Sonetos de la Muerte (G.Mistral) para soprano y orquesta. Más cerca nuestro y "aggiornados", León Schidlowsky escribió la Sinfonía "La noche de cristal", un Tríptico y "Kaddish" para cello y orquesta; Gabriel Brncic siguió tendencias experimentales.  

            URUGUAY. Ni siquiera Eduardo Fabini es recordado (su efigie está en los billetes uruguayos, que así homenajean a sus grandes artistas). Escuchemos "La isla de los ceibos", "Campo" y "Mburucuyá". Tampoco olvidemos a Guido Santórsola, Luis Sambucetti y Luis Cluzeau Mortet. De lenguaje más actualizado, quizá la figura más importante sea Héctor Tosar. También León Biriotti hace aportes valiosos. En un estilo más directo y accesible, Jaurés Lamarque Pons y Pedro Ipuche Riva han escrito obras exitosas. Otros autores: Vicente Ascone y Carlos Estrada.

            CUBA. Hay un notable autor casi nunca programado, Julián Orbón. Dos pioneros pintorescos: Amadeo Roldán ("Los tres toques", Obertura sobre temas cubanos), Alejandro García Caturla (Obertura cubana, Tres danzas cubanas). El famoso Ernesto Lecuona: Rapsodias negra y cubana para piano y orquesta. Leo Brouwer, Cinco conciertos para guitarra.

            CENTROAMÉRICA. Nada se escucha de estos países, aunque hay CDs que revelan gratos compositores. P.ej., los guatemaltecos Ricardo Castillo ("Estelas de Tikal", "Xibalbá", Sinfonieta, "Guatemala I y II") y Manuel Martínez-Sobral ("Acuarelas chapinas").

            BOLIVIA, PERÚ, COLOMBIA, ECUADOR, VENEZUELA. Casi nada se oye  de ellos, salvo alguna pieza que nos hizo conocer Dudamel en sus viajes. Ecuador: Luis Salgado, Mesías Maiguashca. Colombia: Blas Atehortúa, Guillermo Uribe Holguín. Perú: Enrique Iturriaga, Celso Garrido Lecca ("Elegía a Machu Picchu"), Edgar Valcárcel, César Bolaños, Enrique Pinilla. Venezuela: Vicente Emilio Sojo, Evencio Castellanos ("Santa Cruz de Pacairigua"), Juan Bautista Plaza ("Fuga romántica venezolana), Aldemaro Romero, Inocente Carreño ("Suite margariteña"), José Clemente Laya, Antonio Estévez ("Suite llanera").

            En  suma, este somero recorrido nos demuestra que hay mucho por hacer para que el porteño conozca la producción musical del continente al que pertenece. Todos estos países comparten algunos rasgos y también los tienen propios: escuchando a Villa-Lobos o a Chávez no dudamos de que sean latinoamericanos, y sin embargo son claramente distinguibles como brasileños y mexicanos. La raíz telúrica usa técnicas europeas en una fusión con sello propio y atrayente: debemos conocernos más, como natural consecuencia del lugar en que vivimos, pero además porque nos resultará estéticamente gratificante.

“The Marriage of Figaro”: fine singers, bad production

            Mozart´s "The Marriage of Figaro" ("Le Nozze di Figaro") is quite simply the best operatic comedy ever written, with the possible exception of Verdi´s "Falstaff". Although the opera has been frequently performed in recent years (Buenos Aires Lírica, Juventus Lyrica, Argentino) the Colón last presented it in 2002 with middling results. So it was high time for a revival at our principal opera house. One astonishing fact: our city first heard it only in 1928.

            Another curious fact: the current administration decided that it is a "long" opera and so started at 8 p.m instead of the habitual 8,30. I see no reason for this, even if the generally cut Basilio aria was included, to my mind a pity, for it is second-rate Mozart in a context of total wondrous quality. Fortunately the Marcellina aria remained cut.    I won´t write now about this "folle journée" imagined audaciously by Beaumarchais and converted into a marvellous libretto by Da Ponte , and with Mozart´s most inspired music. So let´s go immediately to the results of this revival. The good news: there was a first-rate cast and a very appreciable conductor. The bad news: again we were stuck, as so many times in recent seasons, with a wrong production. I saw the Sunday performance.

            Ladies first. Maija Kovalevska is a tall beautiful Lettish soprano with a ten year career; her debut here as the Countess was a definite plus. The voice is fresh and beautiful with ample volume and she handles it with refinement. However, with her gestures she didn´t transmit the sadness felt by this character. Russian soprano Julia Novikova (debut) has a smaller voice but her singing is true and very musical, and she gave us a sweet Susanna. Serena Malfi, who did "La Cenerentola" at the Colón last year, was a charming and spontaneous Cherubino, sung cleanly and with fine timbre.

            There was a lot of expectation about the return of the Uruguayan bass-baritone Erwin Schrott. He made a spectacular local debut as a stentoreous Monterone in "Rigoletto" (1997) and then came back as a good Colline in "La Boheme" (1999). Now he is famous as the Mozartian Figaro and Don Giovanni and a mediatic figure as Anna Netrebko´s husband. Well, he is certainly impressive: a powerful voice, a flexible talent as an actor and a definite presence. Interesting the way he delivers the recitatives according to their narrative sense, sometimes  resorting to a half-sung-half-spoken discourse. We met Mathias Hausmann as a convincing Danilo in Lehár´s "The Merry Widow" two years ago. Tall and personable, his firm, solid voice well used, he offered a first-rate portrayal of the Count.

            The smaller parts were all well taken. Guadalupe Barrientos was a spot-on Marcellina, vocally and as a character, and Luis Gaeta, who used to be an admirable Count twenty years ago, now took on Bartolo, done as a sly old man with a very humorous touch; a bit weak on the low tones, he was quite firm in the rest of the register. Sergio Spina was an atypical Basilio, generally sung by a light tenor, for he is an incisive character tenor; he transmitted the malevolence of the part and sang accurately the part, comprising his aria. Gabriel Centeno was in the picture as Don Curzio, the notary. Oriana Favaro was a touching Barbarina in her sensitive "arietta"  and the Two Maids were nicely sung by Jaquelina Livieri and Cecilia Pastawski. Finally, Emiliano Bulacios was a well-delineated Antonio, the gardener.

            One of the few saving graces last year of that colossal fiasco, the "Colón Ring", was conductor Roberto Paternostro. From Wagner to Mozart is a long step, but he showed he knows the style and is in firm control of the orchestra and the singers. The speeds ("tempi") were orthodox and logical, and the well-playing orchestra sounded smooth and in tune. The recitatives were played with imagination by César Bustamante. The small choral contribution was nicely done under Miguel  Martínez.

            And now to the dark side, the production. First strange thing: why two producers (Davide Livermore and Alfonso Antoniozzi)? Almost always we make do with just one, even in a group such as La Fura dels Baus. Livermore also did the stage design; lighting:Vladi Spigarolo; costumes:Mariana Fracasso; video: D-Wok. All local debut.

            The general view: 1) again the plague of unit sets. It passably works for the first three acts but fails miserably in the fourth, the Garden, where we are supposed to accept couples in black substituting for trees! 2) A completely enigmatic thing: the overture should be only heard but not here: we see an old woman in an armchair and several men in black carrying suitcases pass by; the woman reappears in the final scene and at one point Barbarina is costumed similarly and looks at her, who seems to die: are we supposed to consider that she is Barbarina grown old and reminiscing the whole "journée"?

            3) The enormous acting space precludes any intimacy. 4) The projections are often ridiculous: e.g. the storm when Cherubino jumps out of the window. 5) the Garden scene is unintelligible and the lighting is badly conceived. 6) Voyeurism and closeness are where they shouldn´t be: Susanna tells Figaro of the Count´s libidinous projects whilst surrounded by servants. 7) Some costumes are beautiful but mix liberally historical periods. And so on...
For Buenos Aires Herald

The art of instrumental conversation

            In just three days I heard two concerts based on the combination of a piano with two strings, violin and cello. This texture has attracted many great composers for if the challenge is won the results can be marvellous. But the author and the players have to solve a difficult equation: the piano is a clavier instrument where the sound is produced striking the keys, whilst in the violin and cello it comes from friction between the bow and the strings.

             Not only the result is very different but there´s also a matter of volume: the piano can be louder than the two string instruments together. So the trick is proper balance. And this isn´t made easy for in many trios the piano part is hefty, written by composers that were pianists who  instinctively and perhaps unavoidably privilege their instrument.

            There were and are very good interpreters of this art form, in two categories: those that give most of the time to it, such as the Beaux Arts or the Trio di Trieste, and those that alternate between it and independent careers. Of  the latter type are those that I will comment on.

            Pinchas Zukerman is a famous violinist with a very long career, in a way parallel to that of his great colleague Itzhak Perlman. Zukerman has visited us often, at first as a soloist, but as the years went by he became more and more interested in chamber groups. He styled them as Zukerman and Friends and they played especially quintets.

             In recent seasons I felt that Zukerman was functioning as a self-effacing leader, blending easily with the others. The life of the brilliant virtuoso was gradually giving way to that of a convinced smooth chamber player. But in string groups that´s alright: in a piano trio, however, if the violinist and the cellist don´t assert themselves, the piano takes the lead. In fact, long-established trios have accepted this as a fact of life: if we think of the Beaux Arts our memory goes primarily to pianist Menahem Pressler.

            However, as I listen to records by Rubinstein, Heifetz and Feuermann, e.g., I find a common purpose but from equal strength. And I think that´s the right way. This year Zukerman and Friends disappeared; they came as a trio for the first time, and called themselves Zukerman Chamber Players at the Colón; however, in what is surely a better name, they will play at AMIJAI as  Zukerman Trio. The Colón date was for Nuova Harmonia.

            The cellist, known from earlier visits, was Amanda Forsyth, Zukerman´s wife. And the pianist was Angela Cheng, Canadian. The programme was very traditional: Mendelssohn´s wonderful First Trio was sandwiched between a lightish Beethoven, the rarely heard "Allegretto" WoO39 (1812), and that towering masterwork form the same creator, the "Archduke" Trio Nº6. In case you´re wondering, WoO means "Werke ohne Opus" ("works without opus number"). The charming encore was Kreisler´s "Marche miniature viennoise".

            I drew several conclusions. First, that they accomplish ideally a basic virtue of good chamber playing: their phrasing shows complete accord between themselves and the score; in other words, the best orthodoxy. Second, that again the pianist dominates; true, Cheng is a splendid artist with beautiful touch and she doesn´t exceed what is marked by the composer. Third, that the cellist is admirable, with perfect tuning and a round tone, but in volume she isn´t quite a match for the pianist. And fourth, that Zukerman, always musical, attentive and tasteful, seems to have lost the dynamic presence he used to have and his tone was decidedly too small.  So I wasn´t completely happy with the final result, but there´s no gainsaying the knowledge and sensitivity they communicated.

            The Trío Alberto Williams is very young; it was born two years ago. The string players have strong liens with La Plata: violinist Nicolás Favero and cellist Siro Bellisomi; and the pianist is the masterly Antonio Formaro, who is equally interested in a chamber and a solo career. Their recital at the Gran Rex for the Midday Concerts began with sensitive words by Luis Alberto Erize about his recently deceased mother Jeannette Arata de Erize, and the immense applause was expressive of the love the audience has to the fantastic work of Jeannette through the decades . Formaro also mentioned her fundamental help to young artists.

            They played an enormous and very difficult score, Tchaikovsky´s only Trio, "To the memory of a great artist" (Nikolai Rubinstein). It starts with a 20-minute "Pezzo elegiaco" and ends with a half-hour Theme and variations (although the hand programme considered the final variation and coda as a separate movement, I don´t agree). It lasted 50 minutes, due to a long internal cut in the final variation (and they were right, it is too long and prolix).

            Again the pianist dominated, though not because Formaro unduly took the lead, but because Tchaikovsky´s writing is very dense and virtuoso, with big chords fortissimo in many places. Indeed, his playing was excellent. Favero has a sweet sound with perfect tuning, but not the volume for certain passages, and Bellisomi is a fine cellist who did very expressive things, but again (more Tchaikovsky´s fault than his) he couldn´t compete wirth certain piano interventions. Even so, it was a very good interpretation from all concerned of a beautiful (though overwrought) score. They are ready for Bolzano´s festival.
For Buenos Aires Herald

lunes, agosto 19, 2013

The fascinating world of choral music

            Two consecutive Wednesdays provided indisputable evidence that we have in Buenos Aires first-rate chamber choirs of international caliber. The Mozarteum Midday concerts at the Gran Rex gave their welcome to Musica Quantica, a young group founded in 2006 by Camilo Santostefano. Last year they won in Europe several competitions and now they are traveling there for the second time. And Festivales Musicales received our most acclaimed choir, the Estudio Coral de Buenos Aires led by Carlos López Puccio, at the Coliseo.

            Musica Quantica has 26 well-chosen voices  and is very disciplined. Santostefano directs them with taste and knowledge. They presented a  challenging and innovative repertoire, starting with the most modern of Early Baroque composers, Carlo Gesualdo, with his 1611 madrigal "Itene o miei sospiri". Then, a big jump to Romanticism, although Mendelssohn´s psalm "Warum toben die Heiden" has strong links to the Late Baroque.

            Fron then on, we traveled through the Twentieth Century. "O sacrum convivium" is an early work by that great mystic, Olivier Messiaen, still far from the audacities to come. "Twelfth Night" represents well the Neo-Romantic art of Samuel Barber; no reference to Shakespeare´s play, it "compares metaphorically Christ´s birth with the promise of next Spring" (Claudia Guzmán in her programme notes).

            Very long-lived (born 1915), the Norwegian Knut Nystedt is an intense creator of sacred pieces; one of the best is "O crux" (1979), where the mystery of the Cross transcends the initial obscure anguish and leads the listener in an "ascendent way to the radiant possibility of salvation" (Guzmán). "Te lucis ante terminum" is instead the work of a young Romanian, Gyöngyösi Levente (b.1975), on a Medieval text included in Compline (at the end of the liturgical day); this is introspective, well-wrought music.

            Maybe the most original of the contemporary pieces included is Eric Whitacre´s "Leonardo dreams of his flying machine", where several vocal effects are used appositely within a Renaissance madrigal-like structure to suggest musically the title. The work of the choir, always very good, was particularly impressive. The variegated programme put us then in touch with a fecund Filipino composer, John Pamintuan, born 1972 but already author of 400 choral compositions; his "De Profundis" (Psalm 130) blends successfully Western tradition with the indigenous Philippines musical essence.

            After so much novelty and severe sacrality, we were back in famous repertoire with Piazzolla´s "Fuga y misterio", and the concert ended with a Cuban piece, "El guayaboso" by Guido López Gavilán (born 1944), whose picaresque charm and vibrant rhythm evokes the guagancó (a rumba style of long standing).  

            Founded by Carlos López Puccio in 1981, the Estudio Coral de Buenos Aires is 32 years later the most prestigious chamber choir we have. As has been the norm, it currently has many choristers that can be soloists both in this group and elsewhere, and their quality shows, for they blend when they should and take their solos brilliantly. O course, López Puccio is a famous member of Les Luthiers, and his irrepressible humor impregnates his fast and often funny presentations of pieces. His enormous dynamism hasn´t diminished in his late Sixties and his unortodox, Expressionist gestual language, communicates readily to his talented choir.



            One of his many talents is the ability to programme both without concessions and attractively.  And the way he disposes the 30 singers, mixing men and women instead of putting them in blocks according to their register, is taken from Robert Shaw; it puts a lot of extra responsibility in each singer.

            The idea for this concert was brilliant: anniversaries of each selected composer. They started with Verdi (200th of his birth) and his lovely, subtle "Ave Maria", written "on an enigmatic scale".  Then, a little-known but important Welsh creator, Arnold Bax (at least his brilliant tone poem "Tintagel" was played by the Philharmonic): 130 years of his birth and 60 of his death. "This Worldes Joie" is based on an anonymous poem of about 1300 of pessimistic content; scored for eight voices, the three stanzas are beautifully harmonised.

            130 years of Anton Webern´s birth: his short cantata "Entflieht auf leichten Kähnen" (1908), still Late Romantic, has atonal touches and canonical writing.  It is based on a poem by the Symbolist Stefan George. To end Part One, the "Chansons françaises" so characteristic of Francis Poulenc (fifty years of his death) are simply folk songs arranged by the composer with his special wit and harmonic sensibility.

            The quality of the Second Part was even higher, both in interpretation and composition. Hindemith´s "Six chansons" on French texts by Rainer Maria Rilke are a masterpiece of refinement; he died as Poulenc in 1963 and these songs were created in Switzerland (1939). The immensely subtle "Five flower songs" are further proof of the innate affinity of Benjamin Britten with the voice; the finest English composer of operas was born a century ago.

            The only composer alive in this programme is Krzysztof Penderecki, who is 80. His stark "Stabat Mater" of 1962 is surely one of his best works: dense, innovative, strong.  György Ligeti lived between 1923 and 2006, so this is the 90th anniversary of his birth. "Hortobágy" is an early score (1929) based on Hungarian folklore; its three sections, of absorbing interest, tell us about aspects of the homonymousNational Park.

            The encores were outside the anniversary norm and of both Americas: a Negro Spiritual, a Villalobos piece and a Venezuelan exciting fast song.

For Buenos Aires Herald

lunes, agosto 12, 2013

“Nabucco”, the success that launched Verdi´s career


            This is Verdi´s bicentenary year, and Buenos Aires Lírica had the good idea of reviving "Nabucco", the opera that launched Verdi´s great career. The circumstances that led to this composition are recounted minutely in Claudio Ratier´s welcome programme notes and worth synthesizing here.

            Verdi came from peasant roots in Busseto, near Parma. His first opera, "Oberto, Conte di San Bonifacio", was premiered at Milan´s La Scala in 1839, when he was 26, with reasonable welcome from the public. The impresario Bartolomeo Merelli offered him a libretto by Gaetano Rossi, "Il proscritto", but Verdi didn´t like it and there was a strange situation: the German composer Otto Nicolai accepted it and gave Verdi a libretto in exchange; it was "Nabucco" (then called "Nabucodonossor") by Temistocle Solera.

            On the other hand, between "Oberto " and "Nabucco" came a comic opera and a family tragedy. Verdi´s children Virginia Maria and Icilio Romano died in 1838 and 1839, and the following year his wife Margherita was victim to a rheumatic fever. Verdi was alone and desperate, hardly the conditions to write a "buffo" opera. But the contract with Merelli forced him to write "Un giorno di regno", final appellation of "Il finto Stanislao", a libretto by Felice Romani. A bad cast led to a fiasco at the premiere.

            As the belated premiere in Buenos Aires demonstrated last year, "Un giorno di regno" is by no means negligible; in fact I found it charming and very agreeable, although as yet more Donizettian than  Verdian. By the way, this year it was repeated by a group led (like in 2012) by Dante Ranieri. Also, I want to mention that I was very sorry when the announced revival of "Oberto..." was scrapped. It would have allowed the splendid opportunity of seeing the three initial Verdi operas in the same season.

            Not surprisingly, the combined family circumstances and the  "Giorno..." disaster made the composer fall into a deep depression. However, Merelli believed in him and insisted; for five months, he couldn´t breach the anguished gap in Verdi´s soul, but finally the creative impulse took over and in three more months the work was finished. The opera had an immense success when premiered on March 9, 1842, at La Scala and was the true start of Verdi´s almost incredible trajectory.

            It is the only  opera of his where the big hit isn´t an aria but a chorus, of course "Va pensiero"; it became the symbol of another oppression borne with resignation: that of the Italians by the Austrians. The libretto is based on "Nabuchodonosor", a French drama by Auguste Anicet-Borgeois and Francis Cornu, premiered in 1836. It adds many basic things to the Biblical narration about Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylonia, who in 587-586 B.C. had destroyed Jerusalem´s Temple; especially Nabucco´s blasphemy, his madness after being struck by divine lightning and his conversion after recuperating sanity.

             Verdi´s writing still has some rough spots and his orchestration is at times a bit crude, but there´s a lot to deeply admire: the Overture, Abigaille´s great scene, the High Priest Zaccaria´s prayer, the marvellous Trio, the big "concertanti", Nabucco´s aria "Dio di Giuda"...and of course "Va pensiero", a truly great Verdian melody. The ending appears dramatically contrived, however, and the really valuable music finds its limit at that famous chorus.

            In the interval after the first two acts I was quite happy: a traditional production by Marcelo Perusso, good work from the Choir (Juan Casasbellas) and the Orchestra (Javier Logioia Orbe) and an impressive cast, with an astonishing Mónica Ferracani and a splendid job by Hernán Iturralde (Zaccaria). But when the time came for "Va pensiero", I was quite disappointed, for Perusso broke his production´s line from then on. Unfortunately he added projections of Twentieth-Century sorry events concerning Jewish persecution by the Fascists and other irrelevant matters, following the unfortunate trend that pretends we are not intelligent enough to appreciate a story if it isn´t transported to our time. To boot, the white garments were shed and the choir was left wearing contemporary black clothes.  And wrongly they encored the choir, in imitation of Riccardo Muti; but he had done it as a protest against Berlusconi for neglecting the funding of arts; here the public didn´t join although leaflets with the text were inserted in the programme. Later on, the production worsened when in the final scenes Nabucco appeared in a vaguely Garibaldian costume and the soldiers looked no less vaguely like Arab partisans.

            As Perusso was also the author of the stage and costume designs, I must add that until "Va pensiero" the costumes were reasonably accurate, and although the stage designs weren´t visually attractive they at least were adequate for the action (I disliked his final Act, however). A definite plus was his work with the choir, avoiding excessive stasis or an oratorical feeling. The lighting by Marcelo Conde was correct, except when lightning struck.

            Ferracani was astonishing in one of the most difficult roles in all Verdi, her register full and true, the ornaments all in place. Iturralde, looking like a rabbinical Karl Marx, sang beautifully, with  honest emission of an even voice of fine quality. Santiago Bürgi was an involved Ismaele; his voice has expanded a lot lately. Pleasant work from the others: María Luisa Merino (Fenena), Walter Schwarz (High Priest of Baal), Laura Polverini (Anna) and Darío Leoncini (Abdallo).

For Buenos Aires Herald


domingo, agosto 11, 2013

Jeannette Arata de Erize, luminous soul of the Mozarteum

Jeannette and the Mozarteum. The Mozarteum and Jeannette. An indissoluble unity, the very heart of a vocation. Jeannette Arata de Erize is no longer with us. After 56 years at the helm of our leading concert institution, she leaves a legacy of uncompromising quality and exemplary ethics.

            "Steel wrapped in velvet" was conductor Peter Maag´s definition of his style: it is a perfect definition of the longtime President of the Mozarteum Argentino. For this tall, blond, beautiful lady was all tenacity and will blended with exquisite charm and courtesy. She brought to new heights the skill in the art of fund-raising on the one hand, and on the other, she was all business and firmness negotiating with impresarios.

            I had the honor of following her whole trajectory and observing the steady growth  of the Mozarteum; I was an admirer of the coherence and continuity of her endeavor, but also of the fine taste and intuition shown by the Mozarteum´s choice of artists and repertoire through the decades. For 47 of her 56 years of work I wrote about them; there were remarkably few misses, a legion of hits and more points of excellence than any other institution, private or public.

            Born of Spanish and French extraction, she married Francisco de Erize,  a lawyer that became her first supporter when Cirilo Grassi Díaz, legendary Director of the teatro Colón, chose her to lead the newly founded Mozarteum; "Paco", as we called him, was her financial adviser and great companion until his untimely death. She had the refined presence of Beatriz Crouzel as her main help in the initial decades, and then, the fundamental executive talent of Gisela Timermann for more than three decades up to now. They made an unbeatable team in which Jeannette coaxed and convinced artists and sponsors and Gisela managed with inexorable exactitude.

            Among so many good things that audiences owe the Mozarteum, I want to mention a virtue that is unfortunately scarce in this country: they have always been absolutely scrupulous in keeping their promises, even in moments of sore crises.  If their sponsors were stalwart it was because they believed in Jeannette, and they were right in their confidence.

            It would be impossible and tiring in this obituary to mention even a brief list of the extraordinary artists that the Mozarteum brought us, even in their initial years at the Museo de Arte Decorativo, of fond recall in my case. Just a few names: Stravinsky, Casals, Barenboim, Böhm and the Vienna Philharmonic, Rostropovich, Haitink and the Concertgebouw, I Musici, Quintetto Chigiano...  

            Several other matters must be mentioned: a) the Midday Concerts have existed during 54 years giving good music for free; b) they are the only institution to have developed a network in the provinces with their filial Mozarteums; c) they have always provided scholarships to develop young talents; d) their program "Música para la Juventud" has given several generations the chance to attend great concerts for minimal prices.

            Jeannette was President until last year; at that time her son Luis Alberto was the Treasurer. This year, as his mother´s health had declined, he took over as President. We have been friends since the early Seventies; he has helped a great deal through the years and he has similar vision and musical taste as his mother. With him and Gisela the Mozarteum will not deviate from its enormous legacy. I am as sure of this as one can be sure of anything in this troubled country: they represent the values I believe in.

For Buenos Aires Herald

viernes, agosto 09, 2013

Diemecke and the Phil, a fine team

                Enrique Arturo Diemecke has been the Principal Conductor and Artistic Director of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic for seven years, a long period, and he has been undoubtedly successful both with the orchestra and the public. The reasons are clear: the Mexican maestro, in his fifties, is dynamic, has full command of his craft, a monumental memory, a communicative warmth and charisma. These are fine qualities, and I would add that the Orchestra in these difficult years comprising the closure of the Colón has been honed by Diemecke into a fine ensemble, worthy of showing their collective talents internationally, as they did a long time ago.

                One drawback has always been his clownesque way of saluting the audience; he is all business when conducting, fully concentrated, but I have always been bothered by that strange dichotomy: he may conduct a sublime interpretation of Mahler´s Third; however, once his arms go down a completely different Diemecke appears, a Las Vegas entertainer. And I believe in the integration of art and demeanor; I don´t find it in him.

                And by now, after seven years, I believe it is time for some changes. His tastes and repertoire are well-known, and whole swaths of worthwhile music are left unexplored year after year. He feels comfortable with Romantics and Post-Romantics, and with tonal Twentieth-Century music, and he has the long view for the great scores of Mahler, Bruckner and Strauss, but he avoids the Vienna School (Schönberg , Berg, Webern), seems to have little interest in British, USA and Nordic music and generally in the avantgarde. I respect his preferences  but I believe that 12 concerts in a subscription series of 19 is far too much.

                Two things should be revised in the future: a) there should be either a longer series (say 24 concerts) or a division into two series (12 and 12) for there are several weeks a year in which the Phil is left idle, and the Orchestra costs a lot of money. And there should be a better choice of visiting conductors, invited to explore specific repertoires that Diemecke leaves aside. There are lots of talented people (as talented as Diemecke or even more) that haven´t come here. And they should conduct two concerts, not one, as has been the general and unhappy rule these years.

                The two most recent concerts showed him in fine form. The Second Part of the first concert was dedicated to Mendelssohn, with the "Italian" Symphony and four fragments of "A Midsummer Night´s Dream", closing of course with the Wedding March. I love this composer but the "AMND" music had been heard last year, it wasn´t necessary. The playing was quite good, though a bit hectic in the first movement of the symphony.

                The First Part was much more interesting, for after a rather long while we could hear Édouard Lalo´s best work, the "Spanish Symphony", in fact a five-movement suite with violin soloist. The composer, although born in Lille, was of Spanish descent and you certainly feel it in this varied, Mediterranean and colorful music, where the level of inspiration is high, especially in the final movement. The concertino of the Phil, Pablo Saraví, is a very accomplished player and he gave us refined phrasing, tasteful and authentic; I only missed some volume in the starker passages. He was well-accompanied.

                Two of the things I don´t like in this subscription series were present in the following concert: a) the yuxtaposition of completely incompatible styles, although alleviated by the interval; b) a particularly stupid title, "A sound epic", in the long list of silly sobriquets these concerts have (I don´t know if the fault is Diemecke´s or of the Artistic Director García Caffi), for it certainly doesn´t apply to Ravel, who was the composer of Part One. One thing I like: the campaign, charmingly led by Diemecke, of educating the public by reconvening it humorously about out-of-line clapping between movements and mobile phones that are heard when they shouldn´t.

                Sergio Tiempo, Venezuelan by chance (it was the place where his father Martín was doing his diplomatic duty at the time), is a tremendously talented member of a musical family that comprises his grandfather  Antonio de Raco and his half-sister Karin Lechner (both were born to Lyl De Raco, Antonio´s daughter and a great piano teacher). The sheer facility of his playing is amazing, and he joins to that a beautiful touch and a strong rhythmic sense.

                The quirky Ravel Concerto for left-hand piano is a "tour de force"; its 18-minute course is fraught with difficulties, but all hurdles were negotiated with ease by pianist and orchestra. The encore was a true surprise: common practice is for soloists to play a solo piece, but this time I was amazed to hear the start of the second movement of Ravel´s Piano Concerto (two hands), his most Mozartian creation. After about three minutes of just the piano, Diemecke subtly made his way to the podium and added the orchestral accompaniment. The interpretation was magical and will long remain in my memory.

                The Bruckner Fifth Symphony is his toughest: 70 minutes of uncompromising strength, a blend of amplified sonata form and complex counterpoint plus a cyclical solution in the last movement. Here both the Phil and Diemecke showed their mettle with an admirably thought-out and beautiful rendition of this long but concentrated symphony.

For Buenos Aires Herald

domingo, agosto 04, 2013

Karita Mattila brought theatrical song to the Colón

            Eighteen years ago the Colón was the stage for one of Sergio Renán´s greatest successes as Artistic Director of the theatre: a starry production of Verdi´s "Simone Boccanegra" with three great artists making their debuts here: baritone Jose Van Dam, bass Ferruccio Furlanetto and a young Finnish soprano, Karita Mattila. Now she was finally back in a recital for the Mozarteum Argentino, again at the Colón, accompanied by specialist Martin Katz. It was a fascinating night (repeated for the second cycle  two days later).

            In full, radiant maturity, Mattila still keeps her important vocal means. She is a lyric soprano capable of dramatic moments, what the Italians call "spinta", meaning the capacity to give full color to individual phrases with volume and intensity. Mattila is a tall blonde of strong personality, and in recent years she has been particularly effective in operas that demand psychological insight and instant adaptation to various moods, such as the Janácek heroines. It would be quite a treat to appreciate her as Emilia Marty in "The Makropoulos Case".

            She is also a remarkable linguist. Finns start by having two languages, Finnish and Swedish; English is indispensable in an international figure, and the three main opera-producing countries are Italy, Germany-Austria and France. She adds Czech for Janácek and Russian for Tchaikovsky.  In this programme she sang in six languages, always idiomatically.

            She started with a selection of Brahms Lieder. To make her rentrée after so long a time is daunting, the Colón is huge, and a recital with piano shows the artist in full exposure. So even a seasoned artist may take a while to be at her best (it often happens in these occasions). There were tiny fissures: some white notes, a timbre not quite settled. Nevertheless there was much to enjoy; I single out the famous "Wiegenlied" and the long narrative "Von ewiger  Liebe". The initial "Meine Liebe is grün" felt a bit uncomfortable, and the funny "Vergebliches Ständchen" lacked some lightness.

               I welcome a group of three "chansons" by the admirable Henri Duparc, who left us only a dozen songs and the valuable symphonic poem "Lénore" (still awaiting its premiere here) before a lamentable neurological condition cut short his career at 36; sad in a long-lived man (1848-1933). So what we have is the best of Late French Romanticism. The chosen by Mattila showed his wide range and sensibility to the poems: "Chanson triste", "Au pays où se fait la guerre" and "Phidylé". She did them beautifully.

            Then, a surprise: we were wrenched from the world of "chanson" to that of "verismo" opera in the most dramatic of all arias in Puccini´s "Manon Lescaut": "Sola, perduta, abbandonata". This is the sort of anguished music that Callas gave with astonishing truth, but I have rarely heard it live with such range of expression and vocal quality as offered by Mattila: her low notes sounded like a contralto but her highs were very firm and expansive. This farewell to life was given to us by a great singing actress and with the same dramatic gestures as if she were in a staged version.

            After the interval, an expected specialty of the singer: three songs by her great compatriot Jan Sibelius. The first, "Illalle", in Finnish and strictly syllabic in style. The other two in Swedish (most of this composer´s songs are in that language, for the western coast of Finland has always had a deep Swedish influence): "Varen flyktar hastigt", on the typical Romantic subject of Spring, and "Flickan kom", a love story. She delved with natural affinity into every detail of these lovely songs.

            Antoni Dvorák dominated the last part of the programme with an operatic aria and seven songs. First, the "Song to the moon", tender, lyrical music from his opera  "Rusalka", unfortunately never given here, though this aria is heard from time to time. She sounded here at her plangent best, sweet-toned, with involving line.

            And then, the splendid "Gypsy songs", from which Nº 6  is very famous: "Songs my mother taught me". They are as interesting, beautiful and contrasted as Brahms´ "Ziigeunerlieder", plus the characterful Bohemian touch one associates with Dvorák, a wonderful melodist. Here the  versatile Mattila did what for me was a first: she sang barefoot!  The songs alternate between contemplative, slow pieces, and others with a clearly danceable quality, and their texts refer to the gypsy love of freedom and nature. It was quite a feat of expressive histrionics to offer them so uninhibitedly.

            The encores: a Finnish tango ("Satumaa" by Uato Monomem, 1955) in which she danced a few steps, and a creamy, lovely "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini´s "Gianni Schicchi".  Twice she talked to the public: after the Sibelius threesome, where she referred to the composer and  the two languages, and later announcing the first encore. She seemed comfortable and happy, kept near her a huge flower bouquet and touched the stage with her hands.

            I dedicate the last paragraph to my homage to Martin Katz, for he is certainly one of the best accompanists I have ever seen in my rather long life. He has been here before, each time with magisterial command of the keyboard but something even more attractive: an infallible sense of style and a full, rich sound. What a team they made, Mattila and him! I left the theatre elated.

For Buenos Aires Herald


From erotic Monteverdi to a ballet on “Alice in Wonderland”


            The last winter holiday week-end brought me opposing sensations. On Midday Friday I was at the Colón with my wife and my three eldest grandchildren (6 to 8-years-old) attending a ballet adaptation of Carroll´s "Alice in Wonderland". Saturday night  I was present at a curious experiment involving Claudio Monteverdi and his Italian contemporaries in a sort of Baroque café concert. The venue was in Almagro, an ample hall called Hasta Trilce (it also has an auditorium, not used on this occasion).

            I will start chronologically with the latter show. It was a way for producer Marcelo Lombardero to keep in touch with his public after having resigned as Artistic Director of La Plata´s Teatro Argentino some months ago, due to a monumental crisis provoked by deep financial provincial troubles and consequent labor unrest. The new venture is called "Bromas y lamentos" ("Jokes and laments", "Scherzi e lamenti") and it is a 70-minute string of splendid pieces written in the first half of the Seventeeth Century sung by five artists and played by five instrumentalists.

            Lombardero has provided a skeleton staging in a small acting area and various places in the hall. There is no plot, just contrasting pieces involving, yes, jokes and laments on one exclusive suject: love. The audience sits around tables and in the half-hour wait before the show starts it consumes drinks, pizzas or cocktail food. But once the uninterrupted pieces start the service stops, as it should. The place was packed, and as two more Saturdays are already sold out, there will be added performances.

            Curiously enough, this happens as the starting shot of a new endeavor called TMC (Teatro Musical Contemporáneo) backed by the Fundación Williams. Apart from the "décontractée" setting and modern clothes, the only XXIst Century element was video in a couple of pieces and unfortunately it wasn´t a good idea, as the synchronisation of voice and image was quite awry. And the use of tablets by the audience to follow the show (there was no hand programme) failed at least in my case, for the tablet functioned poorly. I later obtained the complete information.

             Frankly, a semistaged concert in Hasta Trilce´s auditorium would have been better. So what I saw was an acted series of songs with a couple of instrumental interludes and the café concert setting wasn´t necessary. But truth to tell, the audience was raptly attentive and after those 70 minutes applauded wildly and justifiably, for it was splendid music beautifully sung and played and very well-chosen.

            This was the start of the Baroque, opera was born and a new sensuality prevailed. Monteverdi straddled Late Renaissance and Early Baroque in his long life and was the greatest composer of those times, especially with his "nuova prattica" music, innovative, deeply expressive, erotic, harmonically advanced and audacious. There is no space here to give full details, but no less than eleven of the total seventeen pieces were by him. I was surprised, however, that the two series of "Scherzi musicali" were left untouched when precisely "Bromas" is "Scherzi"... But it was sheer pleasure all the way; two of the pieces were from his operas "L´Orfeo" and "L´incoronazione di Poppea", and all were late in his career.

            The other composers were also interesting. Francesco Cavalli was Monteverdi´s disciple, and it certainly shows in the two "Laments" included. The unknown Angelo Branduardi contributed "Novello Cupido", there was a Sonata from Giovanni Cima (not Chima as wrongly put in the information) and two splendid scores from Tarquinio Merula, the "Canzona La Strada" and the lovely madrigal that closed the show, "Folle è ben che si crede".

            All players were first-rate: Jorge Lavista (director, chamber organ and spinet), Miguel de Olaso (archlute and Baroque guitar), Pablo Angilletta (viola da gamba), Joëlle Perdaens (Baroque violin), Eugenia Montalto (flutes). The ladies were beautiful and sang like (erotic) angels: Oriana Favaro and Cecilia Pastawski. The suitors were very musical singing together; Santiago Bürgi has an expansive tenor voice  well used and histrionic charisma; Pablo Travaglino alternated between countertenor and tenor registers; and Mariano Fernández Bustinza, from baritone to bass.

            It was a good idea to present for the holidays a ballet 50-minute adaptation of Carroll´s "Alice in Wonderland"; the four performances were sold out and the kids liked it, witness my three grandchidren (the six-year-olds making their first visit to the Colón). I do think Alejandro Cervera, the choreographer, veered out of the way sometimes, and I felt that both the milonga and the flamenco were mistakes. Granted, it isn´t easy to render in movement the boundless imagination of the writer, but  important characters had little weight. And some bits hung fire, they were too slow for children (the Adagio for the cards).

            However, Alice (Natalia Pelayo, second cast) was very charming and airy, the Rabbit was danced with much agility by Dalmiro Astesiano, the Queen of Hearts was truculently done by a man, Vagran Ambartsoumian, and the "corps de ballet" was enrthusiastic and disciplined. The music was a kaleidoscope of classics (Mozart but by The Swingle Singers, Purcell, Händel, Khachaturian) and traditional music from Tibet, Africa, Japan, Italy and Spain, plus a tango by Pedro Laurenz, and two final pieces, one of it from the circus and the other from Satie´s "La Belle Excentrique", all compiled by Cervera and Zypce and recorded. The good narrator on stage was Roberto Carnaghi.

For Buenos Aires Herald