miércoles, mayo 07, 2014

The first Verdi and the fourth Wagner

            The two greatest names in opera converged recently. La Plata´s Argentino offered Richard Wagner´s "Der Fliegende Holländer" ("The Flying Dutchman"), whilst a relatively recent private group, the Compañía Lírica G.Verdi, gave  at the Avenida the long-awaited revival of Giuseppe Verdi´s "Oberto, Conte di San Bonifacio".

            The main news at La Plata was the very fact that the season began. "...Holländer" had a welcome local premiere last year after having been scratched in 2002; 2013 was a time of terribly low productivity and constant troubles for the Argentino.

            This year rumors of grave difficulties were again to the fore, and the revival of the same production of "Holländer" coincided with changes at the helm. Out went Leandro Manuel Iglesias as General Administrator and Sergio Beros replaced him; the latter had worked with Jorge Telerman when he was mayor of our city; Telerman is now the President of the  Instituto Cultural that oversees the Argentino, and Beros was  the Executive Secretary of the Institute. On the other hand, the worthy Guillermo Brizzio, who was Director of Artistic Programming, is being replaced by Gabriel Senanes, who was the Colón´s Artistic Director during an uneven period (Telerman had named him). Time will tell if these changes will be positive.

            This "Holländer" repeated Louis Désiré´s wrong-headed production,  revived by Lucía Portela. Again we had the ridiculous toy boat, the incomprehensible goings on during the Overture, the unacceptable presence of Senta during the First Act, and so on...

            I liked the decision to maintain Wagner´s first version, in one long act instead of three; it lasts about two hours and a half, similar to "The Rhinegold". The continuity was maintained with skill by the young Argentine conductor Federico Víctor Sardella, who in 2010 studied German opera (and "Holländer" in particular) with a Mozarteum  scholarship in Berlin. He has talent and good sense, and apart from some low horn and trumpet croaks the Orchestra responded well.

            The Argentino´s excellent choir, now under Hernán Sánchez Arteaga, was reliable as always. The ghost choir of the Dutchman´s ship had an off-stage eerie sound; it seemed recorded, which would be alright in this particular case.

            I am of two minds about the Dutchman as sung by the Argentine Héctor Guedes, who has a long European career. The voice has problems: it spreads in high notes, sounds unpleasant in the low register, and intonation is sometimes awry (granted, Wagner´s melodic lines are very difficult). On the other hand, he has authority and presence.

            As last year, Mónica Ferracani was a wonderful Senta: apart from not being blonde, as the libretto wants, everything is perfect: her tall, commanding beauty; the perfectly projected full voice; the conviction of her interpretation. Erik, her suitor, was sung with much intensity by Enrique Folger. Daland was again taken acceptably by Víctor Castells. Claudia Casasco was a correct Mary, and Patricio Oliveira a vocally miscast as the Steersman as well as a clownish interpreter.

            When will we hear and see the first three operas in the Wagnerian canon? Please, programme "Das Liebesverbot", "Die Feen" and "Rienzi" (we only had a badly truncated concert version of the latter)!

            In these last few years, instead, we heard and saw the first three Verdian operas; "Nabucco" (the third) is by now a staple, but "Un giorno di regno" (the second) was premiered in 2012, and now we had the revival of "Oberto, Conte di San Bonifacio" (the first), only offered in 1939 during the Colón Spring season commemorating the centenary of its world premiere. "Oberto" had been announced last year by the same group; however, they had to postpone it for this season.

            This year they billed it at first as a premiere, and when they were advised in a musical forum that the Colón had already done that, they changed it to "complete version, Argentine premiere".   I sent them mails indicating that their version is indeed complete, for I checked it with the excellent Marriner recording, but neither they nor I could find concrete evidence about whether the Colón´s premiere had cuts; so I believe they can´t support their claim. Nevertheless, I´m very happy they put it on stage, for it was a necessary and interesting experience.

            Mind you, it is a first step in a long road and far from the quality of "Nabucco". Of course, the 26-year-old Verdi has influences (Bellini, Donizetti, Mercadante) but in the best fragments you already find the Verdian style, especially the trio and the great "concertante", though there are good moments in some of the arias.

            I won´t mince words, the libretto (by Antonio Piazza as revised by Temistocle Solera) is deplorable, telling a  Medieval story of love and vengeance in primitive terms. But Verdi´s ability to extract dramatic force from unpromising material is already there.

            I was well impressed by the vigor and clarity of Ramiro Soto Montllor´s conducting, especially as he had a lot of previous work to make sense of poor orchestral parts; apparently there´s a need for a critical edition. Both the 33-strong Orchestra and the 34-voice Chorus collaborated with enthusiasm though they have some way to go in purely technical matters.

            The production by Adriana Segal (advised by Lizzie Waisse) respected time (1228) and in very general terms, place (Bassano, Ezzelino´s castle and surroundings). Mariela Daga is an experienced hand at period costumes. Stage designs were middling (Mariano Campero and Juan Bautista Selva). The supertitles were untidy and there was nary a word about the opera in the hand programme.

            Sabrina Cirera dominated the cast with her fierce, dramatic Leonora (the first of three in Verdi´s career!).  I liked Nora Balanda´s personality and vast range as Cuniza. The men were in a lower level: Walter Schwarz (Oberto) has a good line but little volume, and tenor Pablo Selci (Riccardo) is afflicted with a bleat, though he sang resolutely.

            But reservations apart, an A for will and hard work.

For Buenos Aires Herald

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