miércoles, diciembre 25, 2013

The Colón and the Argentino close their seasons with ballet evergreens

            In the final days of the year  it is customary in many cities of the Northern Hemisphere to offer either concerts connected with Christmas and New Year´s Eve or a  ballet suitable for kids, particularly Tchaikovsky´s "The Nutcracker".  In recent decades this has also been the case for our city, and that famous ballet has often been on stage.

            Not this year, however: Iñaki Urlezaga had presented it in 2011 and 2012 at the Ópera, but there wasn´t a third series on this season; the Colón opted in 2013 to end its season with another famous Tchaikovsky score, "Swan Lake", but it will give at the end of 2014 a new choreography of "The Nutcracker". Finally, the Argentino had announced a "Nutcracker" but for some reason they switched to "La Sylphide".

            This year marks the centenary of the first "Swan Lake" seen here: Karsavina and Nijinsky with Diaghilev´s Ballets Russes. It took a whole half century to have a choreography of that famous ballet in the Colón repertoire: Jack Carter´s proved positive and stayed for several seasons. And among others there were the visits of two icons of Russian ballet: Moscow´s Bolshoi (1986) and Leningrad´s Kirov (1996), now known as Saint Petersburg´s Mariinski. I welcome now the import of Peter Wright´s choreography, originally premièred in 1981 for the Birmingham Royal Ballet; some fragments are by Galina Samsova. This Colón revival was prepared by Desmond Kelly and Dennis Bonner and I found it quite satisfactory.

            A bit of history. Originally the music was created between 1875 and 1876, and premièred the following year at the Bolshoi with a mediocre choreography by Julius Reisinger; it was a fiasco!  Many years later, in 1889, the composer met at Saint Petersburg the famous Marius Petipa; this would lead to the premières of "Sleeping Beauty" (1890) and eventually also "The Nutcracker". On November 6, 1893, the composer died. On March 11 of the following year, the Mariinski gave a night of fragments of Tchaikovsky´s operas and the première of choreographer Lev Ivanov´s Second Act of "Swan Lake"; it was a success and Petipa decided to present the whole ballet; and so he did on January 27, inaugurating the great career of this seminal ballet.

            Acts One and Three are at the Court of Prince Siegfried and were mostly choreographed by Petipa; acts Two and Four were in the skilled and poetic hands of Ivanov. So the divertissements were mostly Petipa´s, but the image that stays with us was Ivanov´s : a group of women dancers  in beautiful geometrical movement, plus the ethereal Odette with Siegfried. The villain of the piece is the magician Von Rothbart, who holds the group under his malefice; they are women in the night hours but swans from dawn to dusk. And a further villain for Act 3: Von Rothbart´s daughter appears as Odile the black swan with the appearance of Odile, and she seduces the Prince. Wright, as the  revisor of both Petipa and Ivanov, mostly sticks to tradition and to Tchaikovsky´s preference for the tragic ending instead of the triumphant one preferred by the Mariinski authorities at that time. 

            The Colón has bought the whole Birmingham production, so we have the stage and costume designs by Philip Prowse and the lighting by Peter Teigen. The total effect is somber and dramatic, only lightened in the divertissements. Tasteful in the costumes and in the lighting, this "Swan" was worthwhile, and it respects the idea of one ballerina dancing both facets, Odette and Odile. 

            I chose the performance of December 20, for in it there was the sole debut of the nine presentations: Japanese dancer Nao Sakuma from the Birmingham Ballet (she also did the performance of December 22); Carla Vincelli  danced in several nights. Although Sakuma failed to give malignity to Odile, she is an accomplished artist and has the Ivanov style instilled by Wright. She was well partnered by Juan Pablo Ledo, who has a sense of the dramatic. The famous quartet of swans went very well, and I especially liked the tall, lithe Larisa Hominal and Manuela Rodríguez Echenique as two leading swans. The regional dances (Italian, Spanish, Hungarian, Neapolitan) were no more than correct. Wright´s conception of Von Rothbart is rather dull and conventional, giving little of interest to the interpreter, in this case Sebastián Scolari. Maximiliano Iglesias was an agile Benno, friend of the Prince. But perhaps the best thing was the discipline and beauty of the assembled swans, in very pure tradition.

            The Buenos Aires Philharmonic played rather well under Hadrián Ávila Arzuza, a solid but unimaginative interpreter.  By the way, this "Sleeping Beauty" will have further performances in March.

            La Plata saw in 2003 the Mario Galizzi choreography based on Bournonville of "La Sylphide" and this was revived now by Sabrina Streiff. The Colón decades ago presented Pierre Lacotte´s reconstruction of the original Paris première with choreography by Filippo Taglioni and music by Jean-Marie Schneitzhoeffer; at the time it was quite a success. But I personally prefer the Bournonville Danish tradition, for that choreography remains in the Copenhagen repertoire since its 1836 première and I find it a splendid example of Bournonville´s talent for fast small graceful steps. It also has better music, by Hermann Lovenskjold.

            This story of ill-fated love between the "sylphide", spirit of air, and James, a Scot, is typically Romantic, and the villain is Magda, a dark witch. There are charming Scottish dances along with narrative fragments in the two acts. It was unfair to see a sparse audience for a fine show. The 2003 production Juan Carlos Greco (stage designs) and Eduardo Caldirola (costumes) works very well. The 70 minutes flowed agreeably with Federico Víctor Sardella at the helm of the Argentino´s Orchestra.

             Fine principals (Elizabeth Antúnez and Esteban Schenone), a properly disagreeable travestied witch (Christian Pérez), nice dancing from Stefania Vallone and Miguel Ángel Klug and a corps de ballet that gave us a nice contrast between the assembled sylphs and the folk-colored dances of the village people.

For Buenos Aires Herald

Sad travesty at the Colón: Verdi´s “Ballo” destroyed

            Giuseppe Verdi often had trouble with the Austrian censure over some of the libretti of his operas, which abounded in conflicts with the Establishment, but surely the worst case is "Un ballo in maschera", for it deals with magnicide. And this was clearly unpalatable, for the future Italy in 1859 was still under the aegis of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the North, the Papal States around Rome and the Bourbons in Naples, though Garibaldi was in the horizon. The subject was the murder of Gustavus III of Sweden in 1792 by the Count of Anckarström.

            Curiously enough, it came from a drama by Eugène Scribe, most prolific French librettist, and Auber wrote a successful opera on it ("Gustave III, ou Le Bal Masqué").  So did Saverio Mercadante (with less success).   Verdi chose his librettist badly, for Bonaventura Somma´s text is famous for its irrelevancies, poorly contrived situations and unfortunate phrases. But it is also true that both writer and musician were sick and tired of pressures by the censors, and the opera was "in progress" –so to speak-  between 1857 and 1859.

             Three different titles before the definitive one: "Gustavo III", "Una vendetta in domino" and "Adelia degli Adinari". And three varied places and times: Sweden 1792, Florence in Guelph times, and Colonial Boston; the latter became the one finally accepted by  Rome´s Apollo Theatre. The  King of Naples released Verdi from his contract (he had been threatened with jail) but with the obligation of offering another opera the following year  (it was "Simone Boccanegra" in its original version, though it had been premièred at Venice in 1857).

            The grumblings of poet and musician against the censors have been preserved for posterity; but perhaps the saddest thing was that Verdi abandoned, for this flawed "Ballo", a "King Lear" that could have been marvelous. However, his genius prevails, and a lot in the opera is great music. The sense of drama is there in Renato´s aria "Eri tu" or in Amelia´s two arias, the melodic flow of the duet between soprano and tenor is irresistible, some orchestral passages are quite advanced in its harmony (almost Expressionistic ), the conspirators´ sarcasm at the end of Act 2 is a "trouvaille", etc. And the page Oscar´s funny music, quite unaware of the tragedy around him, provides an effective contrast.  So "Ballo" has become a repertoire opera for great singers.

            It has had ups and downs at the Colón, especially when the Malvinas War precluded the visit of a starry cast led by Pavarotti, but there were moments to be treasured, such as Cornell MacNeil´s fantastic Renato (1960, 1965).  And twice our city saw the Swedish version that Verdi couldn´t première: 1959 (the Amphitheatre, Parque Centenario) and 1970 (Colón, staged by Franco Enriquez).

             I find it so much better than the forced Boston locale, but it needs some retouching: it isn´t enough to simply call Gustavo the Boston Riccardo; Count Anckarström is (based on true events) the murderer, not Renato; the witch Ulrica is Madame Arvidson, hand-reader; the conspirators aren´t the ridiculous Tom and Sam, but Counts Horn and Ribbing; even the sailor Silvano is Cristiano in the Swedish version; only Amelia and Oscar retain their names.

            Alex Ollé is responsible for the transformation of "Ballo" into a dystopic Orwellian ("1984") view with Nazi-Fascist heavy sets (Alfons Flores), ugly and drab uniforms with numbers (Lluc Castells), absurd and distracting videos (Emmanuel Carlier) and lighting (Urs Schönebaum) that goes along with the producer´s ideas. Ollé also seems Daltonic for there are grotesque changes in the colors the text mentions, and he doesn´t solve crucial moments (Amelia´s veil isn´t dropped accidentally but in a ridiculous gesture she does it apparently on purpose). Masks for everyone, uncomfortable and silly;  at the end the conspirators kill with gas all the courtisans (who look like bureaucrats dancing robotically); nothing looks Swedish (it was a farce to call it the Swedish version). And a big etc.

            You may remember that I mentioned this production when I wrote about the Sydney Opera in March; it will also go to Oslo and Bruxelles. A flabbergasting thing is that Ollé´s  "Ballo" won  the Australian best production award...

            On to the good things: splendid conducting by Ira Levin, excellent choral work (Miguel Martínez). Two good (not outstanding) casts.  Gustavo: nice debut of Albanian tenor Giuseppe Gipali, firm and with all the notes, though with little personality; the Argentine Marcelo Puente quite communicative and vocally adequate. Amelia: Virginia Tola in good form, very dramatic though with too much vibrato; debut of Georgian soprano Iano Tamar, with fine floated notes but weak in the low range. Our Fabián Veloz showed his fine lyric baritone as Anckarström; Douglas Hahn (Brazilian) sounded overparted and un-Verdian.

            Oscar for Ollé isn´t a trouser role but a woman! Well sung by the Swedish Sussana Andersson (at least she is Swedish...) though Ollé riddles the part with unforeseen familiarities, and we see a very tipsy Oscar at the Ball; Marisú Pavón was too vulgar and her singing barely coped. Ulrica: Elisabetta Fiorillo was a wrong import (debut), the voice broken and vibratoed; Alejandra Malvino sang cleanly though without mystery. Fine conspirators: Lucas Debevec Meyer and Fernando Radó (first cast) and Emiliano Bulacios and Debevec Mayer (second). Good Cristianos (Leonardo Estévez, Fernando Grassi).

            On the first night the producing team was roundly booed; serves them right.

For Buenos Aires Herald

sábado, diciembre 21, 2013

An opera (?) by Tauriello: a study of grotesque

            Antonio Tauriello had a long life (1931-81) divided into a brilliant period until he was about 55 years-old and a sad one in his last 25 due to a neurological disorder that limited drastically his musical activity. During the good years he was one of our best composers, conductors and pianists. He had important international presence, especially when he was in charge of opera at the New York Juilliard School and for a long period assistant conductor of the Chicago Opera. At the Colón he was both an operatic and a concert conductor. He was also a notable pianist of contemporary music. As a composer his production was small but valuable.

            I had two connections with him and both show the amplitude of his musicianship. About 40 years ago my colleague Julio Palacio and I were at the helm of a short-lived midnight TV programme at Canal 7 offering contemporary music; one of those programmes was memorable: Tauriello and Gerardo Gandini, with the assistance of master percussionist Antonio Yepes and another excellent percussionist, played the seminal Bartók Sonata for two pianos and percussion; my colleague and I presented and were page-turners.  Then, in 1973, I was in charge of programming at the Buenos Aires Philharmonic; Bruno Martinotti fell ill and Tauriello took over at short notice; the great cellist Leonard Rose effusively congratulated him for his support in Dvorák´s Concerto.

            I wasn´t alone in deeply regretting his health problem for no other artist was so complete at the time. His personality was special: he looked like a sanguine, mustachioed Italian, but his music making was subtle and intelligent, and so were his compositions. As a composer, he never had a wide following, perhaps because he created sparsely and after an initial Symphonic Overture (tonal) he soon wrote advanced

music, showing the solidity of his studies with Alberto Ginastera. He had a deep knowledge of twelve-tone technique and also soon acquired the refinements of the new trend of sound-based composition and  of electroacoustic music. I mention his orchestral Impromptus and "Culebra de nubes II" as significant works.

            "Las guerras picrocholinas" is a curious score of 1974 that wasn´t premièred during his life. Although it was presented as part of the Tercer Ciclo Iberoamericano de Ópera Contemporánea, I don´t think it´s an opera; its 53 minutes are rather made up of incidental music (vocal and instrumental) and a long acted text based on François Rabelais´ "Pantagruel". It was a world première edited by Melos; the French text adapted by Jacques Nichet and Bernard Faivre was translated into Spanish; the hand programme doesn´t specify the translator, nor is it quite clear that Tauriello wrote the piece to the French text.

            Rabelais lived between circa 1494 and 1553 and his combined masterpiece is the four books of "Gargantua" and "Pantagruel", based on giants proceeding from anonymous Lyon chapbooks. These fantastic narratives, completely irreverent, are Renaissance manifestations of wild creativity both in language and content, hard to read both in French and in the English translation published by Britannica Great Books. The adjective "Rabelaisian" has come to mean  gusto for life of a Falstaffian dimension, where scatological expressions are liberally spread and food and drink are as much of the essence as sex and philosophical musings.

            The text of Tauriello´s concoction is based on chapters 25 to 51 (skipping some) of Book I telling the story of the war between the cake-bakers of Lerné and those of Gargantua´s country.  It is of course a ridiculous war, in which the principal characters are Picrochole (King of Lerné), Grangousier (King of Gargantua´s country), a tremendous priest with parallels to Friar Tuck of Robin Hood fame, and in a late appearance, Gargantua. Finally, the giant and his troops win. The story is told in nine fast tableaux.

            The production was presented at the Sala Guastavino of the Centro Nacional de la Música for three performances; I saw the last one and the place was packed. On the left, the 15-member Ensamble de música contemporánea del DAMus (IUNA) led by Santiago Santero and Natalia Salinas; on the right the six-member Ensamble vocal prepared by Juan Peltzer; in the middle the  nine actors and a big table; in the stairs the twelve acrobats and dancers. The General and artistic coordinator was the composer Juan Ortiz de Zárate supervised by Rubén Verna; the producer was Diego Ernesto Rodríguez; choreography by Diego Ivancic; stage design by Gabriela Piepoch; costumes by Alejandra Soto; lighting by Belén Chardón and Rodrigo Alvarado.

            I don´t understand why Tauriello, eminent opera specialist, was so far from an opera in his only attempt at staging a story; his music is subtle, very avantgarde, refined: quite the opposite of the story, grossly acted and yelled by the actors who often overwhelmed the music, which includes a Janequin quote. At the end a thought struck me: could a suite with only the music be extracted from this failed experiment? For I would like to hear it again but not in this context; mind you, I¨m not attacking Rabelais but what I saw.  And I´m sorry that Tauriello fell so short of a real opera  and chose wrong, I think he could do it and we were left without what could have been one of the few Argentine contemporary operas of value. The music was well played and sung, however.

For Buenos Aires Herald

A change of guard at Nuova Harmonia

            The Teatro Coliseo is a special case, for it is the only one owned by the State of Italy out of that country. It is in fact the second Coliseo in the same place, and was inaugurated on different architectural lines during 1961 with symphonic concerts led by Nino Sanzogno. The first Coliseo was basically an opera theatre; the second instead has been fundamentally a concert auditorium, with its big capacity of about 2.000 seats. Not only classical concerts, also quality popular. And many seasons of Les Luthiers, as well as "Rugantino" (Manfredi, Vanoni and Fabrizi) and Gassman.

            It was used very sparsely for chamber opera without pit (Vivaldi, Pergolesi), but in 2007 and 2009, as a result of the Colón´s search for an alternative during closure, the people at the Coliseo remembered that the original pit of the first Coliseo still was extant and could be used with some retouching; and indeed it was, witness no less than Strauss´ "Elektra", proof of a 100-player pit.

            As the years went by, there was a growing acknowledgment from the Italian community both here and in Italy that the Coliseo was a natural place for a classical music cycle of international quality, to compensate the underuse of the theatre and to have a proper balance in the city´s offer in that field. It was about 30 years ago.

            The Coliseo had provided an alternative to the Colón and facilitated things by its mere availability, even if its rather dry acoustics wasn´t to all tastes (dry but clean, not boxed in). And now it would have its own cycle, Harmonia. Well-funded, it presented traditionally-oriented concerts of high level. Its President from the start was Dino Rawa-Jasinski, who proved dynamic and efficacious in the hard logistics of providing a cycle with minimal hitches. 

            In a few years Harmonia was solidly installed, bringing over outstanding artists in instrumental, chamber and symphonic music. But the crisis of 2002 proved too much for its financial structure based on local sponsoring, and the Italian Government came to the rescue providing most of the money and renaming the institution Nuova Harmonia. Rawa remained stalwartly at the helm, and so it was until this year. 2002-4 were basically Italian, and then Rawa (as he had done before) brought the musical association to what I feel is only sane and logical, a cosmopolitanism that gave us the best from many European countries. Though always with Italian representation.  

            And so it was until late this year, when I was invited to the traditional end-of-year lunch in which Rawa chatted with local critics and unveiled the plans for the next season. Only this time it wasn´t Rawa, but two young and beautiful ladies that will lead Nuova Harmonia from now on. The long and prestigious Rawa  cycle was over.       

            The two ladies are called Marta Pires (of Portuguese origin) and Elisabetta Riva, current leaders of the Fundación Cultural Coliseum, which has controlled the Coliseo during the Rawa years.  I had an excellent conversation with them, and was assured that, though they will bring more Italian numbers, they will do so  well balanced with the artists from other countries.

             Meanwhile, 2014 will be a transition season, with 70% planned by Rawa and 30% by Pires and Riva. I do hope for a more adventurous view of programming in 2015, the only defect during the Rawa era being that he played too safe. Some opera and ballet might be present. (The Coliseo has in recent years presented, outside the Rawa cycle and in association with other organizers, several ballet galas).

            As in former years, seven concerts will take place at the Coliseo and three at the Colón. Coliseo: the splendid duo of Boris Belkin (violin) and  Michele Campanella will give on April 24 Mozart, Schubert and Franck. May 5: L´Arte del Mondo Orchestra (German in spite of its title) will be led by Werner Ehrhardt with violinist Daniel Hope in Mozart (Symphony Nº 29 and First Violin Concerto), Mendelssohn (the early Concerto for violin and strings) and Johann Christian Bach (the rarely heard Double Concerto).

            The Stradivarius Sextet plus Argentine pianist Eduardo Hubert (of Argerich Festivals fame) on May 22 have programmed Brahms´ marvelous First Sextet and works by Hubert and Bacalov. Then, a curious concert of arrangements on June 10 by Concerto Pianoforti, a group of three Italian pianists (there´s almost no repertoire for three pianos): transcriptions of the suite from Shostakovich´s "Moskva, Chernomushki", an operetta; of the 1919 suite from Stravinsky´s "The Firebird"; of Debussy´s "La Mer"; and of fragments from the Offenbach-Rosenthal ballet "Gaîté Parisienne". Sole piece originally for three pianos: Boccadoro´s "Vaalbara".

            The Camerata (or is it Cappella?; both appellations are present in the information) Istropolitana will be back on August 14 playing Janácek, Vivaldi, Sammartini, Torelli, Donizetti and Shostakovich.  The Lucerne Symphony Orchestra led by James Gaffigan will be heard on September 12 with Renaud Capuçon in Mendelssohn´s Violin Concerto, plus Weber´s "Oberon" Overture and the beautiful Dvorák Sixth Symphony (good choice). October 8: Swiss Piano Trio (Beethoven, Wettstein and Dvorák).

            At the Colón. September 29: Bruno Walter Symphony (Jack Martin Handler) with Stefan Stroissnig in Beethoven´s "Emperor" Concerto. October 20: Moscow Soloists (Yuri Bashmet) in Mozart, Schubert, Bruch and Schubert-Mahler ("Death and the Maiden"). November 8: Beijing Symphony (Tau Lihua) with Chinese music and Prokofiev (a suite from "Romeo and Juliet").

For Buenos Aires Herald

sábado, diciembre 07, 2013

Ballet, opera and concert in a varied menu

            In the final weeks of the season there are still some interesting things going on. A programme of Mauricio Wainrot choreographies by the Ballet Contemporáneo del Teatro San Martín, an independent opera production tackling Donizetti´s bel canto masterpiece "Anna Bolena"  and an unexpected but welcome chamber recital by soprano María Bayo all had their points.

            Wainrot , along with Oscar Aráiz, are our veteran choreographers of important international careers and both have been at the helm of the Ballet Contemporáneo del Teatro San Martín, certainly our best group of that kind.  Although the BC has had ups and downs in their already long existence, they are currently in good shape, as witnessed by their  Wainrot double bill. He has been their Director for quite a while and his tenure should be considered positive although not without faults.

            The thirty dancers are listed alphabetically, no one has a special soloist category. It is worthwhile noting that they have teachers not only of Contemporary Technique but also of Classic Technique,  stressing the Neo-Classic trend of the BC.  It is in fact Wainrot´s style, modern but not experimental and far from the Expressionist leanings of such icons as Margaret Graham, José Limón or Pina Bausch. I find in Wainrot  a love for equilibrium and, in a way, what might be termed "classical modern"; an easy command of groupings; good taste.

            The session included "Desde lejos" ("From far away"), a half-hour piece on minimalist music by Wim Mertens created by Wainrot back in 1992 for the Ballet Royal de Wallonie and premièred here by Julio Bocca and his Ballet Argentino in 1998. And in what is apparently a world première, "La canción de la Tierra" ("Das Lied von der Erde", "Song of the Earth"), the marvelous hour-long song cycle by Gustav Mahler on old Chinese poems (translated of course in German).

            I believe Wainrot is more comfortable with abstract ballets, and "Desde lejos" is a good example; Mertens´ music is more expressive and melodic (and more varied) than most minimalist pieces, and with its strong rhythmic basis it provides a firm background to a fluid choreography of elegant steps featuring solos, duets, trios and ensembles. On the Thursday matinée I attended we had the first cast (he always works with two casts); the twelve dancers were very accomplished, although the women had better physiques. Pleasant stage design and costumes by Carlos Gallardo and well-conceived lighting by José Luis Fiorruccio.

            I have deep love for "Das Lied von der Erde" and believe it needs no choreography. Three of the songs are very Expressionistic in their music and I didn´t see their meaning reflected in the movements; the only light one, "About Youth", was quite nice. The enormous last song, "Der Abschied" ("The farewell") belongs to the metaphysical word of the Ninth Symphony´s last movement; the eight dancers were convincing, especially Sol Rourich and Benjamín Parada, and Wainrot´s best ideas were seen here, but for me he didn´t express the ineffable final "Ewig...ewig"  ("Eternal...Eternal"). Graciela Galán opted for ochre tones in her stage and costume designs; the lighting by Jorge Pastorino was suggestive; and the video by the Estudio Silvia Rivas brought Chinese ambience. The wonderful recording helped (Christa Ludwig, René Kollo and Hedrbert Von Karajan).

            I will be brief about "Anna Bolena". I have seen the opera in our city twice with orchestra, at the Colón with a splendid cast in 1970 (Suliotis, G.Raimondi, Cossotto, Vincò) and some years back with Adelaida Negri. It is Donizetti at its very best, and I treasure the theatre recording with Callas and Simionato. Of course, it´s a tall order to compete with such memories. This "Anna Bolena" was modest, piano-accompanied, in a small theatre rarely used (Luz y Fuerza).

            It started appallingly late (no explanation). César Tello was wholly responsible for the artistic side (piano, musical and stage direction); long acquainted with the genre, he gave us a totally traditional stage view, too melodramatic and repetitive, and his piano playing was quite fallible, but the phrasing indicated to the singers was generally right. The best of the cast was tenor Cristian Carrero, who has a true timbre and all the notes. Luciano Straguzzi was adequate as Henry VIII. The women were green; Maria Vkallasova has a nasal sound and a heavy appearance , but also ample power and some dramatic sense. Agnes Pelé was intense but often uncontrolled as Giovanna, and Valeria Mangano was poor as Smeton. Javier Martínez sounded well as Lord Rochefort and Alfredo Davies was in the picture as Hervey. The Coro Asociación Clásica del Sur was very amateurish .

            María Bayo was quite a success here back in 1992 (Susanna in "The Marriage of Figaro") and 1996 ("Doña Francisquita"). Now she was back in a very agreeable recital cunningly programmed for her 2013 vocal condition (some vibrato en long notes, highs rather incisive), at the Usina del Arte. Although she gesticulates too much, her personality is charming and she sings with aplomb and sensibility.

             She avoided drama and opted for pleasant, melodic songs: a beautiful selection of six pieces by Bizet (good French), and the rest all-Spanish: three of the "Canciones xacobeas" (that is, from Santiago de Compostela) by Antón García Abril, recent octogenarian; "Five pieces on poems by Juana Ibarbourou" by the very Cuban Ernesto Lecuona (1895-1963), and that small masterpiece, Turina´s "Poema en forma de canciones" (poems by Ramón de Campoamor). Plus three irresistible encores from zarzuelas. And with the  splendid accompaniments of Rubén Fernández Aguirre, always accurate and collaborative.

For Buenos Aires Herald

Nono´s “Prometeo”, extreme 1980s avant-garde

             The three most representative Italian composers of the avant-garde in the period 1930-90 were Luigi Dallapiccola (1904-75), Luciano Berio (1925-2003) and Luigi Nono (1924-90). The first of them is by far the best known here, although he has been neglected recently, but in the field of opera our city has seen such important works as "Il Prigioniero", "Volo di Notte" and "Job". From Berio we heard his important Symphony with the Swingle Singers, but not his operas (Gerardo Gandini wanted to première "Un Re in ascolto", he wasn´t allowed to do it by Kive Staiff, who thought it too risky back in 1998). Nono has been very little interpreted here, and when he came to impart lectures to the Instituto Di Tella four decades ago he spoke mostly about Communism. In Europe, however, he was an essential figure.

            Married to Nuria Schönberg (daughter of Arnold, father of twelve-tone music), Nono started in the serial line of his father-in-law though in the Webernian pointillist way, but later veered to electronic music and eventually to a late style of radical experimentalism in the possibilities of the manipulation of sound. And this, plus a dense dialectic net based on the thoughts of philosopher Massimo Cacciari (born 1944) and a panoply of varied texts in three languages, are at the base of "Prometeo (Tragedia dell´ascolto)", written in 1984-5. Colón Contemporáneo assumed the hard  challenge of presenting the American première  (two performances) and did a remarkably good job.

            I differ however in two aspects: a) both the hand programme and various articles give its duration as 2 hs 30´ , but it lasted 2 hs. Why? Moot point. b) They call it an opera and it certainly isn´t (Nono didn´t call it so!): it tells no coherent story and it has no staging. In fact none of his so-called operas by others were recognized as such by the author: "Al gran sol carico d´amore" and "Intolleranza" are specifically called "azioni teatrali" by the composer, who forbade the term "opera" to describe them.

            What is "Prometeo", then?  A good many things flabbergast me in it. E.g., its description as "Tragedia dell´ascolto" ("Tragedy of hearing"); the only sense I find in it is that Prometheus´ destiny was a tragic one, and that this series of cantatas (for that´s what they are) gives us snatches of his story in purely sonic terms; but probably Cacciari and Nono had something more abstruse in mind. The score is written for instrumental and vocal soloists, mixed chorus, four instrumental groups, three percussionists, two reciters, plus sound processing and spacialisation in real time. An impressive array indeed.

            The libretto is made up of fragments by Walter Benjamin, Aeschylus ("Prometheus bound"), Euripides ("Alcestis"), Goethe ("Prometheus"), Herodotus, Hesiod, Hölderlin, Pindar, Schönberg and Sophocles ("Oedipus at Colonus"). ...But most of it is so masked by the sound processing that it remains intentionally unintelligible. That´s why there were no supertitles.  

            The nine parts are highly complex, made up of a Prologue, "isole" ("islands"), "stasimi" ("that part of Greek tragedy in which the action stalls whilst the choir comments on what is happening"), interludes and "Tre voci" ( vocal trios). Each one has its own sound combination.

            I believe the only way to appreciate "Prometeo" is the one adopted by the Colón: only the stalls were sold; the music came from the stage and from bunches of musicians or singers spread on two levels of loges so as to give a true surround sound to the audience. Neither a CD nor a DVD can do justice to Nono´s concept.

            The first 40 minutes or so I was very attracted by the most extreme exercise of sound spacialisation I have ever witnessed; the novelty of sensations was very strong and original. However, as time went on I grew less and less interested, and frankly   I was glad it didn´t last the announced two hours and a half. The purely intellectual display is impressive: this is completely thought-out music by a masterful technician. The total effect is abstract, not narrative, and quite free of the nasty politicization of so much of his music (it affects his two "azioni teatrali"). After a while he starts repeating his  effects to a point in which I couldn´t help thinking that if the work would only last an hour it wouldn´t strain the attention of listeners, at least of my type.  Granted, I´m not of nirvanesque bent, and others may tolerate the repetition and stasis better than me. A good deal of the audience seemed to enjoy it (probably many don´t like traditional opera).

            Kudos to all involved. The score requires two conductors due to crisscrossing speeds, and Baldur Brönnimann and Lucas Urdampilleta were fully in command. The 49-member Orquesta Nacional y Juvenil del Bicentenario, the Coro Diapasón Sur (Mariano Moruja), the vocal soloists (especially the two sorely tried sopranos in the highest range, Mercedes García Blesa and Ana Santorelli), the seven instrumental soloists , two of them from the London Sinfonietta (plus the German tuba player who made growling sounds like a native Australian didgeridoo), three percussionists and two low-voiced reciters, all did well. Plus the essential know-how of André Richard in the spacialisation of the whole and the collaboration of the EXPERIMENTALSTUDIO des SWR, Freiburg (Germany). Helpful programme notes.  A remarkable logistics problem cleanly solved. The Colón is growing more and more adventurous.

For Buenos Aires Herald

The National Symphony´s erratic course

Longtime readers will scarcely be surprised by the title of this article, for the National Symphony (Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional) is a prime example of state negligence through the decades, the Sisyphus myth incarnate (the orchestra sometimes progresses and then loses what it won). Started in 1948, it had brilliant early years: Rafael Kubelik and Sergiu Celibidache in 1950, and from 1951 to 1955  Conciertos Daniel ran it and great conductors were at the helm: Horenstein with Backhaus and Rubinstein, Erich Kleiber, Georg Solti, Igor Markevich, Malcolm Sargent, Rudolf Kempe, Eduard Van Beinum,  Heitor Villalobos and Paul Kletzki.

Then came the wonderful period led by Juan José Castro, years of fascinating repertoire and great conductors or conductor-composers such as Hermann Scherchen, Ernest Ansermet, Jean Martinon, Carlos Chávez, Willem Van Otterloo and Igor Stravinsky (with the Mozarteum). But at the end of 1960 Castro resigned accusing the stifling bureaucracy: "Kafka must have known us". From then on, the National Symphony never recovered although it had some flashes. You will look in vain for a similar roster of great names in this half century, and the progressive spirit that led to so many important premières also  slackened greatly. Some good points: Witold Rowicki (1961), Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt (1963), Pablo Casals (1964, with the Mozarteum), Stanislav Wislocki (1967), Charles Dutoit (1968), the première of Penderecki´s "St Luke´s Passion" (1969). Teodoro Fuchs, Simón Blech, Jorge Fontenla did good work over the years.

A conflict paralyzes the Orchestra in 1972, affecting the good plans of Principal Conductor Jacques Bodmer.  1974, Franz-Paul Decker. 1979: Leopold Hager and Hans Wallat. 1986: good programming. 1987-94: very opaque years. But Pedro Calderón, designated Principal Conductor, tackled great projects in the following years with the Asociación Wagneriana: Schönberg´s "Gurre-Lieder", Mahler´s Eighth, the Berlioz Requiem. And Francisco Rettig premièred Messiaen´s "Turangalîla Symphony".  However, after the crisis of 2002 the Orchestra has had poor seasons.

The current administration and the preceding one have both been negative, affecting Calderón´s plans. Some general bad points: a) The wrong idea of having the orchestra playing for free, fact that certainly diminishes its status: no important organism can develop and take its proper  place based on populist plans. b) The negligent and infuriating policy of paying the visiting artists as much as a year after their performances, determining that most of them refuse to come back (Rettig is a case in point). And this also applies to payments of orchestral parts, practice that most European and American editing houses refuse to accept, thus leading to mediocre programming. c) As a consequence, constant changes in the yearly programs: unreliability. d) Plus bad managing: late steps to arrive to an agreement with the Auditorio de Belgrano, hand programmes chaotically handled: incomplete, not enough of them or altogether absent.

The orchestra needs: 1) An autarchy law with much better budget; 2) A subscription series with reasonable prices; 3) A high-speed administrative machine that works according to a decent chronogram and pays in time, d) A permanent hall; this is promised for 2015: the Post (Correo) is being internally rebuilt as a cultural center and will have a big concert hall of about 2.000 seats. The National Symphony has lost technical quality in recent months, perhaps because the players have grown tired of so much mismanagement. But it was for a time our best orchestra. Only with drastic changes can it compete in the future.

I heard two concerts  in the final part of the season. In the first Swiss conductor Emmanuel Siffert made his debut replacing Rettig. He showed good capacity and his versions of two great Impressionists were useful: Ravel´s "Alborada del Gracioso" and Debussy´s "La Mer". The great Dvorák Cello Concerto Op.104 had a splendid soloist in the Bulgarian Stanimir Todorov, who has been very active here in recent years, though he is now first desk of the Montecarlo Philharmonic. A beautifully terse sound, an uncanny intonation and sensitive phrasing were the marks of a master cellist, and he was well accompanied.  From the young Argentine composer Cristian Axt we had the première of "Camino a la Peña, Introducción y malambo", which shows a firm hand and a tasteful modernisation of folk-inspired material.                                                                            Carlos Vieu is one of our best conductors. His programme had as "pièce de résistance" the two Verdi Sacred Pieces written for mixed choir and symphony orchestra: "Stabat Mater" and "Te Deum". Tremendous music from an octogenarian who was still innovating, the music goes from hushed mystery to cataclysmic fortissimi; the ideas are esoteric and searching. The Coro Polifónico Nacional under Darío Marchese was in very good shape, the Orchestra did have some fluffs in horns and trumpets, though Vieu´s interpretations were insightful.                                                                 I was very favorably impressed by José Daniel Robuschi, assistant concertmaster of the Orchestra, as an accurate and strong exponent of Shostakovich´s tough Second Violin Concerto; he is solid and sensitive. Again the brass had some trouble. The concert included two Argentine composers. From Piazzolla in excellent arrangements by José Carli, "Decarísimo" and "Fuga y misterio", the best playing of the Orchestra. And a mediocre mini-cantata, "De folhas novas", world première) by Amanda Guerreño, with the Coro Polifónico Nacional. Pretentious and inflated, I felt it unnecessary in an otherwise attractive programme, the last at the Auditorio de Belgrano, though the orchestra will play several times in localities of the Gran Buenos Aires.              I can only wish them a better, less troubled 2014
For Buenos Aires Herald

Midday Concerts and Chopiniana end their seasons

            The free Mozarteum Midday Concerts, generally on Wednesdays at 1 p.m., have reached the enviable 54th. Birthday, still providing high quality music for multitudes, in recent years at the Gran Rex. Pro: its great capacity; con: the poor acoustics that iron out brilliance and soften the sound; but at least this is better than excessive resonance, such as the Main Hall of the Facultad de Derecho UBA, another source of seasonal free concerts (in that case on Saturday afternoons).

            The Cuarteto Gianneo is, along with the Petrus and the Buenos Aires, one of our best string quartets. The players: Luis Roggero and Sebastián Masci, violins; Julio Domínguez, viola; and Matías Villafañe, cello. They have a special interest in Argentine composers, witness their name. On this concert they presented the sole String Quartet (1948) by Carlos Guastavino, mislaid for many years and recovered and edited recently by Masci, Tomás Ballicora and Lucio Bruno-Videla; the Cuarteto Gianneo premièred it in 2012. Music in the larger forms wasn´t the strong point of Guastavino, essentially a melodist of refined traditional harmony. This four-movement Quartet is weak in structure but easy on the ear, citing such famous songs of his as "Pueblito, mi pueblo" and "Se equivocó la paloma"; the players transmitted it with high involvement.

            A tough score  completed the programe: Brahms´ First Quartet, Op.51 Nº1, is closely argued, tense, masterful, difficult and long (35´). A very musical traversal from all concerned but a bit lacking in sheer energy. The encore certainly contrasted: Piazzolla´s "La muerte del ángel" in Bragato´s arrangement.

            Although it was a replacement for the originally announced Orquesta Beethoven Academy under Ricardo Sciammarella´s leadership, I was glad to have a chance to hear the Orquesta Sinfónica Juvenil Nacional José de San Martín, new name of the Orquesta Sinfónica Juvenil Libertador San Martín, founded in 1994 by Mario Benzecry following the famous Abreu Venezuelan model. It now has the national subsidy it lacked for so long, hence the new appellation.

            Although I heard it in recent years at the Facultad de Derecho, it was hard to discount the immense distortions of the acoustics; at the Gran Rex the sounds may be slim but they are truer. First we heard the often played surviving Dance from the opera "Huemac" (1916) by Pascual de Rogatis, a pretty good piece from one of our pioneer composers; it was nicely done under the precise conducting of Ezequiel Silberstein, Adjunct Conductor of the Orchestra and a Benzecry disciple.

            And then, the big challenge of Rimsky-Korsakov´s "Scheherazade", this time under Benzecry. The magnificent suite was very carefully conducted and played, with only tiny hesitations that mattered little; the 72-member organism sounded concentrated and serious, with several fine solos, and the climaxes  were encompassed firmly. The score is virtuosic and the San Martín isn´t quite that, but on this showing it marks a considerable improvement (maybe a welcome consequence of the subsidy) and Maestro Benzecry, who has worked so hard to maintain this project alive during almost two decades, is to be commended.

            Benzecry imitated Dudamel and his Bolívar Orchestra: the encore was played with overclothes evoking the Argentine flag (the colorful Venezuelans make quite a show with theirs), although the music was French: Offenbach´s Can-can from "Orpheus in the Underworld".        

            Another case of perseverance is Chopiniana, the yearly  second semester parade of pianists organized by Martha Noguera. The last concerts were offered at the First Floor Hall of the Palacio Paz (Círculo Militar), with rather good acoustics, an improvement on the very resonant Ground Floor Oval Room, beautiful but bad for music. Unfortunately the announced Viennese Manfred Wagner-Artzt cancelled, but the day was saved by a responsible veteran Argentine pianist of vast trajectory: Néstor Zulueta. As often happens with many talented local players, they don´t find enough engagements to make viable a career as concert pianist, although they have the means to do it, and so they become professors and give sporadic concerts. Such is Zulueta´s case, who showed himself techincally and stylistically able to give very adequate accounts of a well-varied and exacting programme: Brahms´ Caprices Op.76 Nos. 1 and 5, Ravel´s "Alborada del Gracioso" (Nº 4 of "Miroirs") and that variegated Schumann marvel, "Carnaval". The encore, more Ravel: "Oiseaux tristes" (Nº 2 of "Miroirs").

            Due to a collision of events, I couldn´t hear Polish pianist Marian Sobula´s recital dedicated to his compatriots (Paderewski, Bielecki, Szymanowski and Chopin). But Noguera herself gave an impressive closing concert, where the 70-year old petite artist showed that age hasn´t diminished her fantastic mechanism and stamina. Chopin in the First Part: the early virtuosic Rondo Op.16 and the Andante spianato and Polonaise brillante Op.22, both played with ease except for minimal hitches in the Polonaise.

            The Second Part was mostly Spanish, and it started with a Manuel de Falla masterpiece: his "Fantasía Baética", an imaginative Andalusian evocation ("Baetica" was the Roman name for it) played with stunning command. Then, a rarity, three agreeable (but no more) pieces by the unknown Ángel Barrios (1882-1964), also Andalusian: "Suite La suerte", "En las cuevas del Darro" (a stream close to Granada´s Alhambra) and "Albaycinera" (on a Granada borough). And then, the spicy "Triana" by Albéniz.

            The dessert in this musical meal proved worth waiting for: a very accurate version in the right tempo of that almost unplayable colorful piece by Balakirev, "Islamey"; few play it because few can; she can.  The encore: Chopin´s First Waltz.

For Buenos Aires Herald