sábado, diciembre 27, 2014

Menotti´s operas: their key is easy access

            After WWII, excepting Benjamin Britten, only one opera composer has had wide success. Gian Carlo Menotti, Italian-American, never had the musical importance of the Britisher, but in many of his works he had the knack to communicate with his audience. Of course, he was a tonal composer; Italianate melodies came easily to him. And he never tried to be avantgarde; as happened with Nino Rota, with whom he had some similitudes, they didn´t change the history of music but brought to stage works with an attractive blend of intelligent libretti and music that had no problems of access.

            Except the initial and charming "Amelia al ballo", Menotti´s operas are in English and he wrote his own libretti with much wit in comedy and dramatic sense in such intense operas as "The Consul" and "The Medium". Many have been offered in Argentina, generally with good success. "The Consul" has a terrible political content and had great impact here ever since its premiere in Italian in 1953; the last Colón performances were, as it should be, in English (1999), and Buenos Aires Lírica´s presentation some years ago, also in English,  was excellent. For myself, I was fascinated by the early recording with Patricia Neway, Cornell MacNeil and Marie Powers. 

            "The Medium" also strikes home strongly, especially if interpreted by the likes of Régine Crespin (1987). "The Saint of Bleecker Street" is a New York drama painted with a sure hand and it was premièred by La Plata´s Argentino in 1961. But Menotti also has a lighter side, such as his opera for children "Help, help, the Globolinks", in which an alien invasion is treated with imagination; the Colón offered it in 1987 and 1993. Or a lovely show of great refinement combining dance and song such as "The Unicorn, the Gorgon and the Manticore", whose world premiére I had the privilege of witnessing back in 1956 in Washington; the Argentino offered it some years ago.

            And there are other short operas that have been seen here. "The Old Maid and the Thief" is a bittersweet fable and I appreciated it some years ago at La Scala de San Telmo.  "The Telephone" was given by the Grupo Encuentros two or three years ago, I believe. "Amahl and the Night Visitors" was premièred here in 1957 with the Columbus Boychoir and  with local casts in 1965 and 1966; probably it was done later as well but I don´t recall it.

            The Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA) del teatro Colón had the good idea of pairing the 25-minute "The Telephone" (1947) with "Amahl and the Night Visitors", written for TV in 1951 and lasting 50 minutes. The venue was the pleasant Teatro 25 de Mayo in the Almagro borough.

            "The Telephone" is a short charade quite appliable to Internet: the mania of a girl who can´t be without a telephone for a minute drives her suitor mad, who wants to declare and is always frustrated; he finally does it by means of a telephone call...and they will marry. It was charmingly done by soprano Constanza Díaz Falú and bass-baritone Juan Feico, with the support of the Orquesta Académica of the Institute under the firm hands of Juan Casasbellas, and in a simple but effective staging by Jorge de Lassaletta. 

            I have had a soft spot for "Amahl..." ever since I bought in 1956 the record of the original TV production conducted by Thomas Schippers. The story of the crippled boy of a poor widow that is visited by the Wise Men from the East with the moving ending when he is cured by the Lord  for the Mother´s act of faith after attempted robbery is effective and sometimes humoristic. It also gives some time to the songs and dances of the shepherds.     

            Although the stage design by Héctor Calmet wasn´t suggestive, the movements were well handled by Lassaletta and Casasbellas conducted with sensitivity. Vanesa Aguado Benítez showed a firm dramatic voice as the Mother and gave strength to her lines; she seems ready for bigger assignments. The boy (Jorge Chamorro) was better acting than singing. The Kings were especially well sung by the lower voices: Walter Sebastián Bartaburu (Belshazzar) and Luis Loaiza Isler (Melchior); Gastón Oliveira Weckesser was a correct Kasper. The young people who danced and sang did it with engaging enthusiasm.  The ISA did a good and necessary job.

For Buenos Aires Herald

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