"Revista" denotes a special theatrical genre typical of Buenos Aires. There´s no English term that gives its exact translation; "Variety show" might be the closest. In fact here it evolved from the "varieté" of the early Twentieth Century and eventually became a mixture of standup humor generally scatological, scantily clad "vedettes", lewd dancing and plenty of spangles, beads and feathers, strong lights and loud pop music. Plus a whole repertoire of characteristic gestures.
The "revista" had a long period of supremacy in the frivolous side of our show business; it still exists but it tends to be replaced by increasingly similar "musical comedy", either foreign and adapted or Argentine. In other words, the world of the recent "Priscilla", the world of Valeria Ambrosio.
Why do I mention a "subliminal connection between the Maipo and the Argentino"? Well, the Maipo has been the emblematic venue of the "revista" for many decades, and I´d say that it has deeply influenced the derived musical comedy of our times. Ambrosio, currently the Argentino´s Directress, was the producer of the La Plata "Carmen".
She had no previous connection with opera. It was crudely apparent in many scenes of this "Carmen". Ambrosio has been honest in interviews stating that she knows little about opera, so the culprit is Jorge Telerman, the President of the Instituto Cultural which rules over policy matters at La Plata´s Argentino; he chose her, and as she has stated, told her to programme only hits with the idea of having full houses. Over the board went the welcome programming innovations of Lombardero and Suárez Marzal, destining the Argentino to routine bestsellers. I find it a very poor way of handling culture; Telerman is only interested in success as measured by seats sold.
An essential fact wasn´t even mentioned in the whole hand programme: they played the "opéra-comique" version of "Carmen"; that is to say, the one with spoken fragments interspersed with the musical ones. Later on, Ernest Guiraud wrote recitatives so as to be able to offer "Carmen" at the Palais Garnier, and as they are pretty good and thus eliminate the sensation of stop-and-go that one feels in the original, it was generally adopted. I dislike the original and anyway it might work in Paris but it doesn´t here, where the singers generally maul the French language when they speak (and they did!).
Singers. Adriana Mastrangelo has done Carmen before and is an artist of vast experience. Very tall and with a fine figure, her voice was in good condition and she was especially attractive in the habanera and séguedille, but less convincing in the more dramatic bits of the two final acts. In recent years no one has sung Don José as often as Enrique Folger, a part that suits his strong temperament. He has some trouble with the subtler moments but he delivers in all the crucial instances.
Emilio Estévez is a tall and muscular Escamillo, the "toréador". He sung the part in 2007 at the Argentino. Now his voice is less reliable in the higher range (he had some hard notes in the Third Act) but he is still a good exponent of the role. María Bugallo as Micaela has a charming presence; however, though her voice expands at climactic bits, she sounds weak in the center and low ranges.
Walter Schwarz was an arrogant Zúñiga; in the Third Act Ambrosio made him play drunk. I found Sebastián Angulegui a rough Morales. The two friends of Carmen, Frasquita and Mercedes, were saddled with an absurd conception of their parts by the producer, who made them silly high-school followers of the bullfighter instead of gypsies, but they sang correctly (Victoria Gaeta and Rocío Arbizu). Sebastián Sorarrain was as usual an excellent Dancaire (the chief smuggler), and Remendado, his acolyte, was well done by tenor Patricio Oliveira. The spoken role of the tavern owner Lillas Pastia had more relevance in this version, and was avuncularly played by Fernando Álvar Núñez.
The big surprise was the conductor, Tulio Gagliardo (I presume son of the bass who sang so many seasons at the Colón), who has an interesting career in Europe and Turkey (he is chief conductor of the Izmir Opera). He proved quite good, firmly in command, subtle when needed, with correct tempi and fine relationship with the stage. The Orchestra, renovated in various posts, sounded effective and refined, and the mixed choir (Hernán Sánchez Arteaga) and the Children´s Choir (Mónica Dagorret) were involved and sonorous.
A bad point was the completely unnecessary "alter egos" of Carmen, Jose and Escamillo by three unnamed (!) dancers in a choreography by Alejandro Ibarra that wasn´t ugly but didn´t enrich the staging.
René Diviú is an able stage designer (I remember his splendid "Así es la vida") and when I saw that we had three intervals, I deluded myself believing that we were liberated from the omnipresent unit set, but no. Two rather handsome Spanish buildings on both sides of the stage served as a very reasonable First Act, and still worked for the Pastia tavern, but the Third Act (the mountains) was a disaster, and the Fourth (the arena) wasn´t convincing.
Costumes were designed by Ambrosio and she decided to present us a contemporary "Carmen", which is less of a bother in this opera than in many others. The lighting by Willy Landin was professional, no more.
For Buenos Aires Herald