jueves, noviembre 12, 2015

Humor in opera: Rossini´s farcical views and Lambertini´s Alice


            Humor in opera has been present almost from the beginning; not yet in Monteverdi´s "Orfeo" but quite present in his later "L´incoronazione di Poppea" or in Cavalli´s "L´Ormindo". In the Eighteenth Century Pergolesi saw fit to intercalate his intermezzo "La Serva Padrona" in an "opera seria" of his own. And shortly after the genre of "opera buffa" in several acts was born. Paisiello, Galuppi and Cimarosa will produce reams of funny operas.

            In Italy one author will epitomize the very best of the opera buffa: Gioacchino Rossini (who by the way also wrote many dramatic operas) and he will write them both as one-acters or long two-acters.  The latter are too well-known to abound about them, but the short ones aren´t often presented, although some are first-rate. He only wrote them in the early years of his career: "La cambiale di matrimonio", "L´equivoco stravagante", "L´inganno felice", "La scala di seta", "L´occasione fa il ladro" and "Il Signor Bruschino", all from 1810 to 1813. In other words, from his eighteenth to his twenty-first year! And still we find Rossini whole and unmistakeable.

            "Il Signor Bruschino" or "Il figlio per azzardo" ("The son by happenstance") was characterised by the librettist Giuseppe Foppa as "farsa giocosa" and as so often, it is based on a funny play of French origin, by Chazet and Maurice Ourry. It was premièred at Venice in 1813, months before the now famous "L´Italiana in Algeri".  It has been recorded at least five times (I have the first, conducted by Ennio Gerelli) and here in Buenos Aires I have seen it twice though in far-off dates: in 1957 by the Opera di Camera di Milano led by Gerelli, and around 1970 by the admirable Colón Chamber Opera. So I was quite glad to meet this charming opera again.

             An enthusiastic young group, Sol Lírica, presented it at the cozy old Teatro Empire and did a good job. There were two casts and I saw the second; it was the last of four performances. There was a 28-strong chamber orchestra, sufficient for this theatre, with the musical direction of Ulises Maino and the production of Julián Ignacio Garcés. They were helped financially by Mecenazgo Cultrural of the City and they deserve it.

            In this complete presentation it lasts a little over 80 minutes (my recording is incomplete, barely an hour) as I suppose happened with the mentioned performances of so long ago. Apart from the famous overture with its "special effect" ("violins tapping their bows rhythmically against their music stands", says Philip Gossett) there are many arias and ensembles of natural inspiration, dynamic and pleasant.

            The plot briefly told, according to the hand programme: "Sofia and Florville are in love but their aristocratic tutor, Gaudenzio, is opposed to their marriage because Florville´s father and Gaudenzio are political enemies. Gaudenzio wants to marry her with the son of Mr. Bruschino, of robust financial situation but precarious health.  Florville impersonates Bruschino´s son, for Gaudenzio doesn´t know either of them. Now all resides in convincing Bruschino that his "son" is his son..."  Things of course fall into place and the "innamorati" will marry.

            A rather absurd farce but it is "giocosa" and we accept the suspension of disbelief. Although the production by Garcés exaggerates certain aspects (the shrieks of Signora Filiberto, the excessive sexuality of Sofia) the comedy works, enthusiastically acted by the singers. A simple but sufficient stage design by María Noel Dourron, costumes by Mariana Seropian that went a bit overboard, correct lighting by Verónica Alcoba. The young Ulises Maino conducted well, though the "special effect" was too weak.

            Signor Bruschino was toweringly sung and acted by Juan Salvador Trupia y Rodríguez, a big voice managed with intelligence. Sofia was the very disinvolt Ana Sampedro, a fresh timbre handled with taste. Mauro Di Bert (Florville) has a thin tenor but compensates with good style and expressive acting. Alfredo Martínez Torrez was an expansive Gaudenzio sung with an ample baritone, though rather too broad in his phrasing. Marianna, the duenna, was well acted and projected by the safe throat of mezzosoprano Cecilia Pérez San Martín. Augusto Nureña Santi was an impressive bass Filiberto, and Ramiro Pérez did well in two parts, a truculent Commissario and Bruschino Figlio.

            Years  ago Marta Lambertini presented "Alice in Wonderland" and both in it and in a number of chamber pieces presented at the CETC showed her complete empathy with the world of Lewis Carroll. It was only a matter of time, I felt, that she would complete the aural image with "Alice through the Looking-Glass" and fortunately it materialised at the Chamber Hall of the Usina del Arte.

            It was a world première of this lyrical fantasy for which she also wrote the libretto. And the choice of artists gave us the musical textures: Nonsense (Vocal Ensemble of Soloists), eight singers including the outstanding soprano Virginia Majorel and baritone Alejandro Spies, and the Dúo Eterno Retorno (Sebastián Tellado, flute; Manuel Moreno, guitar). With an agreeable production by Jorge de Lassaletta and imaginative stage props and lighting by Betina Robles, we followed the adventures of Alice with Humpty Dumpty, Tweedledum and Tweedledee and the Queen.

            Lambertini´s refinement and offbeat humor had a field day: the varied vocal lines and the discreet but always apposite instrumental support, plus her carrollian distortions of language, were the right formula for this inspired foolery.

For Buenos Aires Herald 

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