lunes, agosto 22, 2016

From muddy “Don Juan” to imperfect “Perfect Lives”

            I have referred in recent articles to two installments of the Festival Nueva Ópera Buenos Aires, a project of the CETC (Centro de Experimentación del Teatro Colón). Now I will complete it  with"Don Juan", chamber opera by Santiago Villalba on Leopoldo Marechal´s literary text, presented at the CETC; and "Perfect Lives" (in English in the original), labeled as a TV opera (it isn´t) with music and libretto by Robert Ashley; this was seen at the Colón´s Salón Dorado.

            First, a reminder. "Don Juan" has already been an opera by Juan Carlos Zorzi, with symphony orchestra, premièred at the big hall on 1998. It was a good shot at musicalizing Marechal´s idea of an aging Don Juan coming back to his hometown near the river (probably in Southern Entre Ríos close to the Paraná). The local witches predict that he´ll have a bad ending. He makes love to Inés and her father Don Luis seeks revenge but is killed by Don Juan. He is drawn to Hell by a seductress witch.

            The shorter newcomer was worth knowing. Villalba won with it the First Competition of New Opera organized by the Colón´s Instituto Superior de Arte and the CETC. And in a valid transversal collaboration, the chamber chorus came from the Damus-UNA (the National University of the Arts).

            The staging by Julián Ignacio Garcés forced a complete adaptation of CETC´s peculiar cellar. His Leitmotiv equation can be described thus: earth plus water equals mud, and this is a symbol of dirty souls. So, during the first ten minutes the audience was uncomfortably perched on hard seats whilst the Three witches wallowed in mud, the tall blonde among them giving us clues on Don Juan´s destiny (an admirable mezzo of strong firm tones, Gabriela Kreig), and in the final minutes appears Aymé, the seductress (Natalia Salardino, a soprano of intense high register and sensual movements). All this was in a lateral small hall to the right.

            Then we were transported to what is usually the performance hall, in which the usual seats were replaced by steps distributed center, right and left.  Thus most of the space was at the disposal of singers and actors, using little of the awkward stage (the original sin of the CETC is its lack of functionality, sustained as it is by huge columns that can´t be taken away and block view and passage).

            The eleven voices of the Ensamble Vocal Contemporáneo del DAMUS-UNA  sometimes were heard from the aisles and at other moments were part of the action. Only six players were needed and they found their place behind the left grades: flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, percussion and synthesizers. For some reason two singers weren´t credited: tenor and bass, both young, probably sons of Don Luis. There´s a spoken role, an Old Man who knows a lot about the place´s past and dialogues cautiously with a nervous Don Juan. This was well acted by Carlos Said.

            Th strange "mise en scène"  causes two consequences: the capable conductress (Natalia Salinas) needed help by an assistant conductor (Juan Saavedra) for in certain passages she can´t be seen by all the singers; and even if you risk torticolis you, the spectator, miss some bits of the acting stage at certain points. By the way, there´s no libretto credit, just "based on the homonymous work by Marechal". And it´s true that one recognizes many phrases that are pure Marechal; but all of them? Hmmm...

            Once Don Juan comes in the drama grows in density. Mariano Gladic is a baritone of convincing presence and firm solid voice of good timbre, well handled except in some soft high notes that lose quality. Don Luis is the powerful bass-baritone Pol González, a  paterfamilias in defense of his daughter´s vertue. And Inés, fragile and in love, was nicely sung by soprano Ana Sampedro.

            The final minutes are a muddy pandemonium of real impact, as the population, the witches and the seductress conspire to vanquish Don Juan.  Villalba has talent; his music creates the right dramatic climate and gives real singing lines to the artists. And Garcés portrays, as he writes, a "Don Juan that takes into account the consequences of his acts and is melancholic". This opera works.

            But "Perfect Lives" doesn´t because it isn´t an opera and it was an absurd choice of Miguel Galperin. What we saw is a reduction to three parts of the original seven and it´s a classical case of you´re pulling my leg; a total and irritating bluff with no value. I´ll admit that Mike Amigorena can read Ashley´s text in excellent American English at all speeds, but to what avail?

            Description: First Episode: The Park. Two groups of the public sit looking at identical screens from opposite sides, and in the middle there´s a pianist (Alejandro Franov) and a group of men in curious uniforms. Although Lolo and Lauti are credited with the staging, I saw no such thing; and the same goes for the presumed musical direction of Galperin. Twenty-five minutes looking at a screen where the words mixed with emoticons and computation symbols are reproduced.

            II, The Market: at least it has some nice images of fields and food, but otherwise it´s as inane as the first. VII, The backyard: three guys on a traveling cabin are the sole image of another boring stretch of words.

            Enough silliness. Goodbye.



For Buenos Aires Herald

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