miércoles, septiembre 24, 2014

From Verdi´s revolution to Weill´s despair

           Verdi´s revolution? Yes, indeed. That´s what "La Traviata" is. "Traviata" means  a fallen woman. What Verdi did was, for the first time, to put such a character as the protagonist of an opera with an essential feature: she is a contemporary of the composer.  

            Considering our libertine times, it is hard to imagine the impact such a libretto had, even if Piave offers a sweetened, toned down version of the famous original, Alexandre Dumas Fils´ "La dame aux camélias" (habitually called "Camille" in English). The Venetian censure (at the time held by the Austrian Empire) forced a change from the Parisian 1840s to the last stretches of Louis XIV´s reign! Only later was he allowed to stage it in the proper time.

            Of course it was well-known that Dumas´ novel was partly autobiographical and that it was mostly a true story. In our times Mauro Bolognini made a revealing film with Isabelle Huppert telling the stark biographical facts of this woman who from misery raised herself to Parisian society by dint of her beauty and careful choosing of rich lovers. When real love appears in her life she is already condemned by tuberculosis and dies at 23.

            Marie Duplessis/Marguerite Gautier/Violetta Valéry are the same person (real life-Dumas-Verdi). Dumas is extremely precise and full of information about the life of such a "heroine", who has to encompass a very intense social net, show the best jewels and costumes and have a loge at the Opera.  This explains why in Verdi´s opera in two acts there are lavish parties thrown by the "ladies", the First in Violetta´s house, the Third in her friend Flora´s residence.

            My parameter for Dumas is Garbo´s presence and voice and for Verdi will always be the voices of Muzio and Callas.

            After a long hiatus after Wagner´s "The Flying Dutchman" (in April), the Argentino of La Plata finally presented Verdi´s "La Traviata". As Artistic Director Guillermo Brizzio was (unfortunately, for he was a responsible and knowledgeable man in charge) replaced briefly by Gabriel Senanes, and recently by Valeria Ambrosio, whose hardly acceptable claim for such a post is as stage director of musicals such as "Priscilla". She opted for a sure hit.

            The theatre has many troubles: low salaries, poor maintenance, mediocre budget, need to cover many vacancies, lack of good cultural information of the authorities that supervise it (main culprits of the grave mistakes in recent years). Now at least there is a plan offering ballet, concert and opera in these four last months of the season.

            Back in 2013, a production of "La Traviata" by G. Tambascio fell through due to labor troubles.  Willy Landin took over this revival and has taken multiple tasks:  producer, stage and costume designer.

             I believe in Visconti´s obsessive care for the right ambience: a true image of Paris in the 1840s done with refinement.  Landin gave us an almost surreal kitschy 1930s view, with strange contraptions instead of a normal staging: to the right an immense piece of furniture with a glass as main space for the principals, who sing from a height; a vast space below for the chorus and some unnecessary dancers. Big mistake: the First and Third Asts have the same decor though they are different houses! But at least Violetta´s costumes were becoming (though out of the right historical style) and the movements of the singers were reasonable.

            I was intrigued by the sole import; Violetta was sung by an American soprano who made her debut in Argentina: Elizabeth Blanke-Biggs. She is a handsome artist with an important career and a vast and contrasting repertoire (e.g., Lady Macbeth and Liù in "Turandot").  I found her voice rather unsettled in the First Act, somewhat harsh and with uneven florid singing, but from the Second Act on she was better and better, her voice rounded and full in every register and displaying a talent for acting vocally.

            Both Darío Schmunck (Alfredo) and Omar Carrión (Germont) were predictable: the tenor, now looking rather portly and mature, sang with good line and little volume, and the same applies to Carrión but with subtler interpretation. Eugenia Fuente was a good Flora and Patricio Oliveira a weak Gastone. The others were acceptable.

            The chorus (Hernán Sánchez Arteaga) and the Orchestra responded fully to Carlos Vieu´s admirable leadership, almost always very authentic in tempi and accentuation.

            When Marcelo Lombardero started on a career as a producer about twenty years ago he put on the Weill-Brecht "Mahagonny Sonspiel" with great success. Now he has shown a new production of it at the Usina del Arte´s chamber hall, and again he has demonstrated his empathy with this style. As it is short, fragments of "Happy End" and "The Three-Penny Opera" were added to round up the evening.

            We are in the dark expressionist world of the 1920s Weimar Republic, that disastrous period of decay that led to Nazism, transmitted in terrible images by painters such as Dix, Grosz and Beckmann. Here all are thieves and whores, and the bittersweet crossover music of Kurt Weill jells perfectly with the stark anticapitalism of Bertolt Brecht.

            Four male singers and two girls offered good professional jobs, with quality singing from María Victoria Gaeta and Cecilia Pastawski, though the authentic anguish of a Lotte Lenya was absent. Accurately accompanied by eleven players well directed by Annunziata Tomaro, Lombardero and his team gave us the right ambience.

For Buenos Aires Herald 

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