sábado, noviembre 16, 2013

The Colón and the Argentino offer Neoclassic ballet

            In the same week-end both the Colón and La Plata´s Argentino renovated their seasons with new Neoclassic ballets. The former gave us "Cinderella" ("Aschenbrödel"), music by Johann Strauss II, choreography by Renato Zanella. The latter combined their own company now led by Mario Silva with Iñaki Urlezaga´s Ballet Concierto in a varied programme featuring especially "Birthday Offering", music by Glazunov arranged by Robert Irving, choreography by Frederick Ashton.

            I have had for some time the brilliant interpretation by Richard Bonynge of Strauss´ ballet, the only one he composed. A very late work, although all the music  was extant he didn´t live to finish the orchestration, and the job fell to Joseph Bayer, who wrote a ballet famous in Austria, "Die Puppenfee" ("The dolls´ fairy", 1888) and at the time was Director of the Vienna State Opera Ballet. Strauss started the score in 1898 and  died the following year. 

            Gustav Mahler was at the time the Director of the Vienna Opera and didn´t enjoy the Strauss waltzes, unfortunately; he refused to stage it, so the premiere was in Berlin (1901). Felix Weingartner succeeded Mahler in Vienna, and he was enthusiastic about "Aschenbrödel", premièring it there in 1908; after World War I the piece was forgotten, until Zanella revived it in 1999 when he was at the helm of the Vienna Opera  Ballet.

            Strauss wasn´t enthusiastic about the plot, which transfers the old Perrault/Grimm story to a milliner´s workshop in Vienna, with Leontine as stepmother, Franchon and Yvette as stepsisters  to Greta (Cinderella). Zanella introduces Strauss himself as a character, a sort of Magician that helps Greta to go to the ball and win the special shoes. Gustav, a fashion designer, will marry Greta, and in this rosy version, Leontine will welcome this because she has placed her daughters with Gustav´s brothers.

            This ballet, revived here by Benito Marcelino, is light, agreeable and expensive. The Strauss music may have its longueurs, but no one else has imagined such lovely waltzes or peppy polcas, mazurkas and galops. Not quite topnotch Strauss, but well worth knowing. Bayer´s orchestration is in the appropriate style. There´s a profusion of roles apart from the main ones: fiancés and fiancées, milliners and suitors, guests of Monsieur Arnaud (owner of  the store "Four Seasons"), butlers,  a bunch of little angels, and in the Third Act Divertimento, the Opera dancers Cerini and Guerra and their entourage, Jewels, Viennese porcelains, and models in a fashion parade. Plus marionettes of doves (Greta´s helpers).

             Zanella´s choreography is uneven within its Neoclassicism, with some attractive scenes but others   were routine  or misconception prevailed, perhaps because of the week dramaturgy. But by and large it was good fun.

            The Colón put on a handsome production, apart from some kitschy details. The stage designs of Juan Carlos Greco privileged Viennese evocation (the Opera, St. Stephen´s) and alternated between a phantasmagoric millinery and a floodlit salon. A basic stage prop was a "cloud" that went down and up transporting Strauss and Greta. Aníbal Lápiz had his hands full designing dozens and dozens of costumes, some of them quite striking, others intentionally grotesque and a few on the side of kitsch. One bad idea: there´s a scene about New Year, and big letters tell us 2014, which goes against the style of the whole thing, an evocation of Viennese 1900s.

            The vast variety of these 110 minutes was encompassed with great professionalism by a very well-rehearsed Colón Ballet. On the afternoon of November 10 the cast was satisfying. Petite Karina Olmedo was all flexibility and charm as Greta, Juan Pablo Ledo a capable Gustav, Alejandro Parente a personable and sympathetic Strauss. Igor Gopkalo was a very funny travestied Leontine (at the ball with tutus!) and her daughters were done with a nice sense of grotesque by Paula Cassano and Daiana Ruiz. There were also good contributions by Carla Vincelli, Edgardo Trabalón and Leonardo Reale, whilst the Corps de Ballet and the kids gave of their best. Swiss conductor Emmanuel Siffert did a good job with the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, notwithstanding some slips of ensemble and intonation.

            The Argentino´s Ballet Estable is now led by Mario Silva, an Argentine with vast European and American experience. The First Part  of the programme was made up four classics and a new work. The "Paquita" "pas de trois" is typical Minkus/Petipa and was nicely done (Julieta Paul, Bautista Parada, Aldana Bidegaray). The best thing of the evening was the ethereal Elizabeth Antúnez in the Saint-Saëns/Fokin "Swan´s Death". The schmaltzy "Spring Waters" (Rachmaninov/Messerer) was done passably by Marianela Bidondo and Mario Navarro. Then, the ultra-famous "Pas de deux" from "Don Quichotte" (Minkus/Petipa) in its expanded version with variations for Kitri´s friends; Iñaki Urlezaga and Celeste Losa (both from the Ballet Concierto) plus Sol Infer and Julieta Raglia gave us good traditional dancing.

            The First Part ended with "The Guide" (première) by Silva on Ravel´s "Bolero"; Alejandra Baldoni was the skillful Guide of this cumulative ballet that ends with 34 dancers in good Neoclassic choreography tinged with some modernisms.

            The Ballet Concierto gave us the première of "Birthday Offering" in the Second Part, as revived by Margaret Barbieri. It was created in 1956 to commemorate the 25 years of the Royal Ballet and featured Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev. Some agreeable Glazunov well compiled by Irving allows Ashton to hew to the Royal Ballet´s very British style in a series of solos, a big "Pas de deux" and two pieces for the whole Corps. Pleasant enough but hardly substantial, it wasn´t quite congenial to the Ballet Concierto, perhaps uncomfortable with the original peciliar costumes by André Levasseur. Urlezaga and Elena Figueroa were "Nureyev/Fonteyn", and the others tried to follow the styles of the original dancers (Beriosova, Grey,Nerina, etc.).

            Pretty good playing and conducting by the Argentino´s Orchestra and conductor Darío Domínguez Xodo.

For Buenos Aires Herald

“Bebe Dom”, a pretentious failure; La Plata´s welcome Wagner

            It is always sad when a new opera proves to be a failure; and that is the verdict on "Bebe Dom o la Ciudad Planeta", libretto by Horacio Ferrer, music by Mario Perusso, presented at the Colón. Pretentious, confused, lacking in focus, at times vulgar, Surrealist in the worst way, absurd, falsely poetical, the whole libretto is unredeemable.

            This is the man that decades ago imagined "Balada para un loco", tango lyrics admirably musicalised by Piazzolla, and Ferrer´s Surrealism worked well in the short context of a song. But his libretto for "María de Buenos Aires, "operita" for Piazzolla, already presented many problems; the Uruguayan writer is now 80 and in this case his imagination runs wild. Beginning with the ridiculous name given to the architect that is at the center of the action, the basic idea is the poorest science fiction, for there can´t be a "planet city" even under the most extreme Malthusian view; there are such things as the oceans and the deserts.

            Ferrer puts on stage an enormous and expensive cast but in fact only four characters matter: Bebe Dom the visionary; Fargas the tycoon of limitless power; his estranged daughter Lili; and his secretary Gea. Trouble is, we don´t care what happens to them. Plus a symbolic spoken role,"Alma Ciudad". Otherwise, the gangster Hormurcurats, drunkards, the wholly unnecessary Pious Women ("Beatas"), madcaps ("calaveras"), town criers ("pregoneros"), newspaper vendor, women beggars, and Bim, a mimed part for Lili´s disabled son. Plus the only bit of true humor, a TV anchor woman (filmed) that gets mixed up and quarrels with the girl that transmits the news with gestures.

            Among other items superficially treated, there are corruption, smog, drugs, violence, bribery, swindles, idealism. In fact all things similar to what we are living currently in this city, but without the acuity, truth and impact of such a piece as the Weill-Brecht collaboration in "Grandeur and decadence of the city of Mahagonny".

            Mario Perusso composed the music for this unpromising material, and it is much better than the text. But there are moot points to consider. First, he was designated resident Composer of the Colón four years ago, and I feel that such a privilege shouldn´t be given for more than two years, for it assures the creator a significant fee and in exchange he must produce items that will be premières at the theatre. Perusso´s aesthetics aren´t avantgarde and I welcome this; his music combines tonality and atonality and is very proficient.

            Second, he is guilty of poor judgment in his choice of dramatic text; if his two previous operas (he has written six) had much greater interest, it was because "Phaedra" is a great subject and the basis of "El ángel de la muerte" is Cocteau´s "The two-headed eagle". Perusso is now in his late seventies after an ample career as conductor and composer always tied to the destinies of the Colón and the Argentino of La Plata.

            His professionalism shows in the amplitude and strength of the orchestral and choral writing, but for his soloists he writes lines that are too high and not melodic enough. There are 22 scenes which makes for variety, but unfortunately chaos reigns in the narrative so that the opera becomes oppressive and much too long (about 130 minutes).

            Marcelo Perusso (Mario´s son) has been associated to the recent projects of his father as librettist (not in this case), producer, and stage, costumes and lighting designer.

His stage designs were quite handsome, especially the big open space with stairs and the imitation-marble Fargas bureau, but not in the least futuristic, as I think they should be. He handled the action well and both costumes and lighting were adequate. Naturally, his father was in full charge as conductor and he got excellent results from the Orchestra and the Choir (Miguel Martínez).

            I have nothing but admiration for Gustavo López Manzitti, singing with stamina and perfect intonation the high tessitura of Bebe Dom. Good jobs from Víctor Torres and two young promising singers, María Victoria Gaeta and Florencia Machado. Myriam Toker was quite effective in her spoken parts. The whole cast sang and acted with conviction (Pablo Sánchez in particular is a voice to watch).

            The greatest news about Wagner´s "Der Fliegende Holländer" at the Argentino (a local première) is that it came about. It was the beginning and the end of the "opera season".  Due to a long labor conflict based on budget problems and bad handling by the authorities the orchestra was on strike until the difficulties were at least partially solved. Things aren´t quiet but the orchestra played, quite well, under the incisive, intelligent baton of Silvio Viegas (Brazilian, debut, currently conductor of the Rio de Janeiro Municipal Theatre). And their splendid Choir did  very reliable work under Esteban Rajmilchuk.

            There was a world-class artist: our Mónica Ferracani was radiant both musically and as an actress. The Brazilian Licio Bruno made a good debut as the Holländer, dark and firm though not mysterious. Francesco Petrozzi was an exaggerated Erik, Víctor Castells a correct Daland, Sergio Spina an unbalanced Steersman (one phrase soft, the following full force) and Roxana Deviggiano an agreeable Mary.

            Louis Désiré´s production was unnecessarily hermetic and not very imaginative. His acceptable collaborators were Diego Méndez Casariego (stage designs), Mónica Toschi (costumes) and Marcelo Cuervo (lighting).

For Buenos Aires Herald

The season ends for Mozarteum and Nuova Harmonia

            Two important institutions ended their seasons recently. Considering the dire economic conditions of our country, it must be stated that they managed quite well to keep a high level.

            The Combattimento Consort Amsterdam was invited to close the Mozarteum Argentino´s year. It´s the third time here for this distinguished group (2003 and 2005 were the earlier dates, both with the Mozarteum). Founded in 1982 by Jan Willem de Vriend, the Dutch violinist is still in charge from his concertino post. The name of the ensemble seems misleading considering the repertoire they brought, for it is a reference to "Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda" by Monteverdi, and "consort" is a typical Late Renaissance small group.  But they gave us music written between about 1763 to 1776, the full tide of Classicism.

            To my mind the roster of only 18 players is a bit low for the material they did; at least 25 would be more likely. Strings, flute, two oboes, bassoon, two horns and harpsichord. Moot point: valve horns for Joseph Haydn´s Symphony Nº44, "Trauer" ("Mournful"); natural horns for Rameau´s Suite from his last opera, "Les Boréades". Otherwise, modern strings with metal, not gut. Not a historicist ensemble as far as the instruments go, then, but one that was attuned to the phrasing of those times with taste and drive.

            It was a wonderful programme, starting with the charming French-influenced Divertimento Nº 11, K.251, by Mozart, in six movements; it can be played by an orchestra or as a septet. Apart from a first Menuetto that was too fast, the interpretation was excellent: accurate, and with wholly appropriate dynamic details that enlivened the discourse. Bad mark: a part of the public applauded after the fifth movement, and De Vriend approved in a brief speech stating that that it also happened in Mozart´s time...  It isn´t intelligent to promote wrong behavior nowadays.

            Thomas Carroll, a cellist from Wales, made a resplendent debut in Haydn´s First Concerto, where I would only question the vertiginous speed of the Finale, although it was brilliantly negotiated by soloist and orchestra. But what a beautiful tone, perfect articulation and intonation!  A true discovery.

            Rameau´s suite was fascinating, the most imaginative, even extravagant Late Baroque. Alas, the hornists were guilty of many bloopers. Amends were made with a sensitive and exact Haydn symphony of his Pre-Romantic "Sturm und Drang" period, prophetic music that never ceases to amaze me. The encore was a Gluck dance that seemed a Fandango.

            The final two concerts of Nuova Harmonia were quite pleasant. The debut of Interpreti Veneziani at the Coliseo was very positive. It is a small string group: five violins, viola,cello, bass; plus harpsichord. Nine is a bit too small; I prefer about twelve, adding a violin, a viola and a cello, for otherwise you don´t have the necessary contrast in Baroque works between soloist and "ripieno" (their term for the full ensemble). But apart from this, the group is excellent, playing with modern instruments but with historicist lines of interpretation: dynamic, strong, accurate, rhythmical and in tune.

            Both Corellí´s Concerto grosso Op.6 Nº4 and the three well-chosen Vivaldi Concerti went swimmingly. In the latter´s Concerto for two violins RV523 the brilliant soloists were Paolo Ciociola (the group´s concertino) and Nicola Granillo; in the beautiful Op.9 Nº5 ("La Cetra") the violinist was Sebastiano Maria Vianello; and in Op.3 Nº2 ("L´estro armonico"), Ciociola and Pietro Talamini. All this was of very high quality.

            I wasn´t so happy about most of the rest.  I enjoy Marin Marais´ music, but his "Folies d´Espagne" should be played with viola da gamba, not cello, even if the cellist is as exact and passionate as Davide Amadio. Taqruinio Merula is an Early Baroque composer; his "Ciaccona" sounded well but not quite in style. Where I part company with the interpreters is in the Haendel-Halvorsen "Passacaglia"; the very skillful Halvorsen arrangement is for violin and viola, here it was transmogrified for violin, cello and strings (with Ciociola and Amadio); it sounded bloated. Happiness returned with the final piece, Sarasate´s "Introduction and Tarantella", where the splendid violinist was Granillo.

            Encores: a Purcell piece; the last movement of Vivaldi´s "Winter" Concerto" and a curious version of the slow movement of Vivaldi´s Concerto for two mandolins played pizzicato by violins. 

            We know little about Romanian musical life, so I welcome the joint debut of the Bucharest Symphony Orchestra and its recently named French conductor, Benoit Fromanger. It´s a very young organism, founded in 2007. It would have been more representative of the country´s tradition to bring the Bucharest Philharmonic or their Radio Orchestra. But the BSO showed very positive aspects, apart from minor fluffs: they play with concentration and brio and their technical level is pretty good.

            Fromanger was violinist before studying conducting with Gergiev and Reuter in Berlin. He proved effective and clear, though not subtle. The programming was poor: two Dvorák standards ("Carnival" Overture and the Ninth Symphony, "New World") and in sandwich Tchaikovsky´s Violin Concerto, with the debut of a talented 31-year old German violinist, Erik Schumann. He played very nicely, with clean mechanism, though his phrasing was a bit too sentimental. He did a good encore, a Bach sarabande. The orchestra´s encore was a light piece called "The gypsies" (composer?) played twice(!) bringing off the showman in Fromanger. Bad idea: nothing Romanian during the whole concert.

For Buenos Aires Herald


End of season for Festivales and the B.A.Phil

            Festivales Musicales finished its season with the most famous of oratorios, Handel´s "Messiah", at the Colón. I would of course have preferred something more adventurous, considering the abundance of Handel oratorios that are so rarely heard and contain wonders. It was a great success, however, even if I do have some reservations.

            The first matter is that I like my "Messiah" complete; the conductor, Mario Videla, liberally cuts Handel oratorios but he never does so in J.S.Bach´s great works. The reference recording among a whole herd of them is that conducted by Charles Mackerras following Basil Lam´s edition; it lasts a whole half-hour more than Videla´s performance. There are 52 numbers in Mackerras´ records and also in the Eulenburg pocket score which follows the Chrysander edition; Videla offered only 38.

            In one sense Videla is very respectful: it follows Handel´s original orchestration of strings, oboe, bassoon and continuo, with occasional trumpets and tympani. But I find him deficient in the orchestral phrasing, too "legato"; it has to be more incisive and clipped, even if you use modern instruments. The size was adequate: 23 players, although in Handel´s time the oboe and bassoon coloring was greater : six of the former, four of the latter. But the orchestra was reasonably good, especially the trumpets and oboes.

            I was impressed by the quality of the Orfeón de Buenos Aires led by Néstor Andrenacci and Pablo Piccini: the florid singing was very clean and the tough contrapuntal entries were very well adjusted; the voices were fresh and in tune. And I found in them the sense of rhythm that was lacking in the orchestra.

            The soloists were uneven. Best was soprano Soledad de la Rosa, whose enormous girth doesn´t seem to impede her from producing crystalline high notes. Frankly I prefer contraltos to countertenors; however, Martín Oro was good in the center and lows, though hooting when he went up.  

            Tenor Carlos Ullán´s voice is no longer what it was and I missed quality of tone as well as firmness of line. And I was surprised by Víctor Torres´ first aria, uncharacteristically imprecise and bumpy; he later found his normal good form, however.

            Videla is a Baroque specialist and a hard worker; he has a natural musicality and a sober temperament. He coordinated things well and was never vulgar, but neither did he have the necessary pep for the great moments. It was a good "Messiah" but not a great one.

            It didn´t help that many were left without a hand programme and that access to the stalls was quite slow.

            The last two concerts of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic´s subscription series  were respectively good and very good. Pavel Kogan, son of brilliant violinist Leonid Kogan, has visited us before; he came back for an all-French programme, a curious decision in a Russian artist, considering how much of their repertoire remains unplayed here. There´s also plenty of interesting French music waiting its turn, so that I was disappointed by his choices: the Ballet music from Gounod´s "Faust", the First Suite from Bizet´s "L´Arlésienne" and Saint-Saëns´Third Symphony. All of it very nice music, touching greatness in some moments of the symphony. They are all very well-known and that´s taking the easy way: programming must stimulate and instruct.

            There´s a moot point concerning the Saint-Saëns symphony: to hear it properly we should go San Juan´s Victoria Auditorium, the only one with a tube organ. The one at the Colón sounds miserable, a thankless job for organist Matías Hernán Sagreras. Nevertheless, Kogan is a firm and powerful conductor and the Phil was in decent shape, so all the music was quite enjoyable. However, 62 minutes is short measure.

            The last concert was a pleasant surprise, product of a snafu in the Colón´s calendar. It was supposed to happen on November 20 and be conducted by Enrique Arturo Diemecke, but it was reprogrammed for October 31, for La Fura dels Baus needed the stage free to prepare their production of Verdi´s "Un Ballo in Maschera". Strange, because they have already presented it in other countries and all they have to do is mount it and rehearse the singers. Nevertheless, the episode allowed the vindication of one of the best Latin-American conductors, the Chilean Francisco Rettig; he was supposed to conduct the National Symphony, but he refused because the National Culture Secretariat still hasn´t paid him for his performances of last year...Indecent isn´t too strong a word for the attitude of the authorities. But he fit the bill of the Phil´s reprogramming, and there he was.

            Without containing rarities, it was a wonderfully satisfying programme, for all three scores are masterpieces.  I was taken aback when I saw that Sibelius´ Second Symphony wasn´t at the end of the evening but at the beginning, but I gradually accepted the idea. This was deep, searching Sibelius, done with utmost care and sensibility by the Phil and Rettig.

            Although Prokofiev built three suites out of his long and stupendous ballet "Romeo and Juliet", the one we heard is Rettig´s choice and it contained all the plums, climaxing with Theobald´s (and Mercutio´s) deaths. And  finally, the exhilarating First Romanian Rhapsody by the incredible 19-year-old Enesco, maybe a bit low on nostalgia in the slow parts but dynamic and infectious in the fast ones. A joyful end to the season confirming Rettig´s rare talent.

For Buenos Aires Herald


domingo, noviembre 03, 2013

High drama in “Jenufa”, low comedy in a different “Falstaff”

Few careers in opera have had so much trouble to reach a wide public as Leos Janácek´s, Moravian composer who lived between 1854 and 1928, now generally recognized as one of the most original talents of the Twentieth Century. A slow developer, it was only in 1887 that he tried his hand at opera with "Sarka", object of various revisions and tardily premièred in 1925, so that before "Jenufa" he only made known the one-act "The beginning of a romance" in 1894, based on a story by Gabriela Preissová. It was this authoress that attracted the composer with the stark rural drama of her play "Jeji pastorkyna" ("Her foster-daughter"), and he condensed from it the libretto of what came to be known outside of Czechoslovakia as "Jenufa".

It took him no less than ten years (1894 to 1903) to arrive at the version that was premièred in 1904 at Brno, the Moravian capital, whose great post-WW II Opera House is called Janácek.  The opera was revised in 1907 and the new version was given in 1911 and played for the last time in 1913. Only in 1916 the opera arrived in Prague, with further revisions made by the Director and conductor of the National (Národni) Theatre Karel Kovarovic. But it was  when Max Brod (supervised by the composer) translated the libretto into German that the opera, renamed "Jenufa", took flight internationally, beginning with Vienna in 1918.

In Buenos Aires it was premièred in 1950 conducted by Karl Böhm with great success, and repeated the following year; it was revived in 1963 (Ferdinand Leitner). Finally it was done in Czech in 1994 (Berislav Klobucar). The BAL version is the first done by a private company here, and it has a further element of interest: for the first time we are hearing the original final Brno version as rescued in Mackerras´ recording (1982) by the conductor and John Tyrrell. However, the dimensions of the pit are a limitation at the Avenida and we heard a version for reduced orchestra made by Tony Burke and published by Universal (Vienna). A pity, but couldn´t be avoided.

What is it that impressed audiences so much, even in German? (a hard task, for Czech sounds so different, and the composer bases his melodic lines on the natural rhythm of the language). Undoubtedly the earthy realism and sincerity of the composer, the beautiful melodies with folk inflections (he was a specialist on the musical Moravian folklore) but wholly Janácek´s, the brusque contact with the miseries of human beings and their ambiguities (no one is wholly bad or good). Plus a quirky individualism that sweeps all before it and sounds like nobody else. Janácek had an Indian Summer and produced five splendid operas between 1917 and 1928 (two of them are still unknown to our public, gaps that should be filled promptly).

There was much to admire in BAL´s endeavor, certainly the most interesting enterprise of private opera this year. Swiss-Chilean conductor Rodolfo Fischer, who did a notable "Ariadne auf Naxos" (Strauss) for BAL in 2004, offered a clean, accurate job, creating excellent rapport with the stage although lacking some punch; the necessity of having to use lateral loges for the xylophone and the brass meant that homogeneity was hard to obtain. He brought along two musical assistants, Katherine Chu and Karin Uzun. Very good work from the Choir prepared by Juan Casasbellas, and both here and with the soloists one has to thank Igor Herzog for the good Czech instruction.

The cast had three strong points out of four. Daniela Tabernig was a sensitive and musical blond Jenufa, with a voice that encompassed all the elements of the part and good acting to boot. Adriana Mastrángelo was a dour, redoubtable Kostelnicka, the foster-mother that in a feat of madness murders Jenufa´s child by Steva; the voice, steely and well projected, gave the right character. She wasn´t helped by a makeup that made her too young and she was taxed in some high notes. The Brazilian tenor Eric Herrero was a ringing and accurate Laca, who conveyed the complexity of a man who jealously disfigures Jenufa but loves her and stays with her at the end. All three didn´t hesitate to break their voices when the drama became unbearable; it works in this piece.

The miscast fourth was Santiago Bürgi as the dissipated Steva; his body language was wildly exaggerated and unconvincing and the singing was partially good. Old Buryja was well done by Virginia Correa Dupuy and Norberto Marcos was fine in two parts. The others were in the picture.

        The production by André Heller-Lopes was generally good, with fine groupings and with efficient collaborators (Daniela Taiana, stage design; Sofía Di Nunzio, soctumes; José Luis Fiorruccio, lighting). A pity that there were bad mistakes in the final minutes: after confessing her crime, Kostelnicka comes out with a completely unnecessary revolver, and later Steva gashes his own face as a token of love to Jenufa, which is completely contrary rto the libretto. But the producer respected the rural setting, an essential matter.

        I will be brief about the première of Antonio Salieri´s "Falstaff" on a libretto by Carlo Defranceschi. The piece is light and agreeable, quite inferior to his fine French tragedy "Les Danaïdes" heard here some years ago; it needs support and got precious little. A very poor orchestra was conducted dully by Mariana Ferrer; I except the plausible work of clavier player Alan Puyol. Three singers merit a favorable mention: Alejandro Spies as the protagonist, Claudio Rotella as Bardolfo and Patricia Villanova as Mrs.Ford; the others I prefer not to name here. But it was the unrelieved grotesqueness of the staging by Diego Rodríguez that ruined the evening; when a comedy  doesn´t elicit even a smile something is gravely wrong, and indeed it was so.

For Buenos Aires Herald

Next Colón season: not so bad, not so good

            The press conference in which the details of the 2014 Colón season were made known was well organized, and the press had its own privileged sector, close to Pedro Pablo García Caffi, the theatre´s director. To create suspense, he produced a parade of directors of different areas, each one giving some inklings of what would happen in their area. And finally, García Caffi referred the grand lines of the two main things: a new concert subscription series called "Abono estelar" and the opera season. Followed a question and answer session, and then a well-catered food and drink aftermath.

            Big news: the Berlin reunion of Martha Argerich and Daniel Barenboim will have its "porteño" repeat. With his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra Barenboim will accompany Argerich in Beethoven´s First Concerto, and he will team up with her in another concert offering two-piano music. That subscription series will also have pianist Lang Lang, the splendid Bavarian Radio Symphony under Mariss Jansons with the long awaited debut of pianist Mitsuko Oshida, and a strange contraption: Barenboim will team up with Les Luthiers in Stravinsky and Saint-Saëns.

            Barenboim  and his orchestra will also be in the opera season, in what will be both a great concert and a wrong inclusion: for we are not going to have Wagner´s "Tristan and Isolde" whole, but only the Prelude, the Second Act and Isolde´s Love-death. Granted, it will be a star-studded cast: Waltraud Meier, the debuts of Peter Seiffert and René Pape and the return of Ekaterina Gubanova. But for the second consecutive year we will have piecemeal Wagner, when such fundamental operas as "The Mastersingers" and "Parsifal" are still waiting: the former was last offered in 1980 and the latter in 1986.

            The main objection to this season: it is much too short (as happened this year) for a theatre that wants to be considered one of the main in the world: the building is, even if unfinished, but the season isn´t. Only eight operas when in the Sixties we had from eighteen to twenty is pretty miserable for a theatre with more than 900 people and fully integrated production; the fact that the workshops are still separated between the Colón and a place called La Nube in Belgrano is one of the problems, derived from the concealed fact that the Colón isn´t finished and there are no plans to do what is necessary. A low budget is also a culprit, productions are expensive though by far the main item is salaries.  The Colón must do a minimum of twelve operas in the big season, plus at least one in the Summer.

            So of course the logical turnover in the repertoire is enormously delayed; that  means that no opera should be offered more than in one season per decade, and that fundamental works remain unpremiered in our midst. So each choice must be examined with a scalpel for any mistake involves lack of proper information for the audience. Our youth has had no parameters in many basic operas, especially in those that can´t be assumed by private companies in smaller theatres. It would seem that the only ways are to have a good DVD collection or be able to travel a lot.

            I agree with the concept of having two premières; 25% is a good proportion if the other 75% also includes exhumations of titles long neglected (not the case this year) but of course they must be very carefully chosen. Frankly I don´t know if García Caffi´s enthusiasm for Detlev Glanert´s "Caligula" is warranted, maybe I will have a pleasant surprise; but I do know that it is nonsense to be still waiting for any Hindemith or Henze opera or Britten´s "Billy Budd". Or for that matter much older masterpieces, such as Glinka´s two operas. The other première is a Colón commission, in principle a good idea; can Oscar Strasnoy´s "Requiem for a nun" (on Faulkner´s novel, in English) erase the bad impression of the same composer´s "Cachafaz"? Perhaps...

            Repertoire: "The Barber of Seville", completely unnecessary, we had a good one this year from Juventus Lyrica (anything offered in this city is competition, and sometimes better than the Colón). "Falstaff", warranted because of the frustration we had when it was put on stage for only one performance two years ago due to strikes, and we will have  a much praised protagonist, Ambrogio Maestri. "Elektra": done in 2007, a

much better choice would have been "Der Rosenkavalier" (1998) to celebrate the Strauss year, but it will have a good female trio: Linda Watson, Iris Vermilion, Manuela Uhl. Back to Puccini with "Madama Butterfly" (last, 2000), with the interesting debut of Patricia Racette, producer Hugo De Ana, conductor Ira Levin. Finally, "Idomeneo" (2003), Mozart´s admirable "opera seria", has the important return of producer Jorge Lavelli and the debut of tenor Richard Croft.  No French nor Russian opera (the deal with Maryinsky´s director Gergiev didn´t jell).

            Ballet: the main item will be the première of "Rodin", the great sculptor as seen by his muse Camille Claudel, choreography by the Russian Boris Eifman. The usual Tchaikovsky ("Swan Lake", "The Nutcracker"), "The Corsair" again, and the welcome recovery of Macmillan´s "Romeo and Juliet" on Prokofiev´s music after a 17-year absence, with Paloma Herrera.  The Ballet needs more repertoire renovation.

            I will deal with remaining items, especially the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, in another article.

For Buenos Aires Herald

A varied panoply of the Baroque

             The final two concerts of the Bach Academy again provided a high level of quality and information. The fifth of their season took place in their habitual haven, the Iglesia Metodista Central, and it commemorated the fortieth anniversary of the excellent Grupo de Canto Coral (GCC) led since its inception by Néstor Andrenacci.

            Although Antonio Lotti sounds Italian, he was born in Hannover in 1666, but from  1706 to 1740, the year of his death, he was "maestro di cappella" of Venice´s Saint Mark. Nevertheless he spent some years in Dresden writing operas  and later returned to Venice and wrote sacred music. As the title of this year´s Academy programme is "Bach and the Dresden Court", Lotti fits this idea; moreover, Bach copied and instrumented one of his masses. The very interesting 19-minute Mass in A major, as the programme says, is "a bridge between Late Baroque and Early Classicism".

            J.S:Bach´s lovely motet "Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden", on Psalm 117, is the only one of the six written for four voices. For once the Academy strayed from the Baroque and included German Romantics writing in the Bach tradition: the double-choir motet  "Warum toben die Heiden", on Psalm Nº 2, showed Mendelssohn at his starkest and most contrapunctal, and finally Brahms´ three "Fest- und Gedenksprüche" ("Festive and Commemorative Apothegms"), on texts from the Psalms, Lucas, Matthew and Deuteronomy, are for two choirs and shows him in a deeply reflective and strong mood.

            A tough programme of beautiful but demanding music, it was sung with admirable discipline and style by fresh, mostly young voices, led with the intelligence, command and taste that we have come to expect through the decades from Néstor Andrenacci.

            The final concert was at the warmest and most attractive venue for this sort of concert: the Museo de Arte Decorativo, with its ideal acoustics. It ended with the surefire Bach hit (heard last year) Cantata Nº 51, "Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen", where both soprano Soledad de la Rosa and trumpet player Fernando Ciancio had a field day, but we were offered three worthwhile premières before that, all connected with Dresden.

            In recent years there has been a vindication in Europe (not here) of Johann Adolf Hasse (1699-1783) who was during several decades the most famous opera composer of his time; the very pleasant "Sinfonia" (Overture) of his opera "Cleofide" is a good introduction to his art, and it was written for Dresden. There´s a complete recording of the opera under Christie; its alternate name is "Alessandro nell´Indie".

            Probably one of the most original Baroque composers , and much appreciated by Bach, was Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745). "Laudate pueri Dominum", on Psalm 113, is brilliantly written for soprano, trumpet, strings and continuo. Johann David Heinichen (1683-1729) was a prolific composer long attached to Dresden; we heard his Concerto in C minor, S.237 (S. for Seibel) for oboe, strings and continuo, a splendid work, expressive and personal. Another Baroque surprise.

            Andrés Spiller was the admirable oboist, De la Rosa and Ciancio sang and played finely in Zelenka, and the excellent string group had the familiar and always welcome players of the Bach Academy: Pablo Saraví and Gabriel Pinette, violins; Marcela Magin, viola; Edgardo Zollhofer, cello: Fernando Fieiras, bass. With Mario Videla leading from the organ and giving information on each work in his humorous but instructive style, as he has done for  many long years in this Academy that is his much beloved child.

            A rather offbeat concert brought me to the distant Usina del Arte, where in a Sunday morning I heard Hopkinson Smith, considered one of the great lutenists of our age. He has come here before but I hadn´t been able to catch him; alas, it was a disappointing occasion. The lute is a frail instrument with little decibel power, and it felt quite lost in the expanses of the main auditorium of the Usina, moreover rather dry in its acoustics. It was a free concert, and I was amazed to find that the stalls were all taken; I had to go to the First Floor. The nearly 1200-people capacity was almost covered.

            Fact is, the sounds that came out were so tenuous that I had to strain to hear anything; those that were close to him certainly had a great advantage. There´s a smaller hall at the Usina, but the organizers shifted to the big one due to the demand; the frustration of not being able to attend became that of almost not hearing him.

            Nevertheless, I gradually grew accustomed to the very small sound and partially enjoyed a programme that was, as expected, played with great command and knowledge by a man in his sixties. It bothered me that he preluded the pieces with his improvisations and didn´t leave enough space before really starting.

            The programme had a suggestive appellation: "The winds of change: early XVIIth century music in England and the European continent". From the "Premier Livre de Luth", Paris 1611, five pieces by Robert Ballard (ca. 1570-1640); from "Il Primo Libro de Intavolatura de Lauto", Rome 1611, another five by Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger (1575-1641). And all the rest by England´s foremost composer for lute, John Dowland (1563-1626): two pieces for famous Hesse and Antwerp residents, three feminine portraits, plus the "Lachrymae Pavin" and a "Fantasie". Lovely music admirably played, but the venue...

For Buenos Aires Herald