lunes, agosto 22, 2016

Strasnoy´s pastiche of Bach and Kafka proves to be tricky

            The CETC ( Colón Center for Experimentation) has organized an audacious cycle of what might be called Argentine New Opera (within chamber limitations). Miguel Galperin, its Director, had to recur to several venues, for the CETC´s cellar couldn´t possibly shelter the six selected works. Nor can any reviewer cover all six. In fact, collisions with other events made it impossible for me to see  "Av. De los Incas", music and libretto by Fernando Fiszbein, at the Sala Argentina of the CCK. And I couldn´t see "Genealogías"; it isn´t an opera but a scenic concert made up of pieces of "emblematic XXth Century works that marked the way to the new opera": Svetlichny, Schwitters, Schnebel, Berio, Duchamp, Cage, Kagel and Aperghis, with the peculiar Swiss duo UMS´n JIP (voice, flute, electronics). This happened at the UNSAM Center of the Arts.

            I was able to be present at the Usina del Arte´s Auditorium; it offered the Argentine première of a staged version of a vocal work by Oscar Strasnoy with the troublesome German original denomination "Hochzeitsvorbereitungen (mit B und K)", which translated in Spanish as "Preparativos de bodas" and in English "Preparations for a wedding". Strasnoy has premièred two operas here: one I found revulsive, "Cachafaz" on Copi´s text; the other, a full-fledged opera, was presented with success at the Colón: "Requiem", on Faulkner.

            In what is indeed a strange conflation, Strasnoy in his libretto takes texts by Franz Kafka (K) and contrasts them with Johann Sebastian Bach´s (B) lovely  Cantata Nº 202, one of his most tuneful and happy scores and the best of several cantatas of that sort. It was premièred in December 2000 at Edenkoben, Germany, conducted by the composer. Curiously it was a command to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Bach´s death. There were two other versions in 2002 at Stuttgart, and in 2005 at Paris´ Auditorium of Radio France, a definitive revised version.

            Says Strasnoy: "Stylistic  purity has no sense in our time. There´s nothing more antimodern than dogma".  The first phrase is wrong: purity isn´t easy but it is possible and desirable. I agree with the second phrase; the problem is that so many don´t know what is modern and create according to trends. Neither Stravinsky nor Schönberg followed trends: they found new roads. But there are no geniuses nowadays: competent technicians galore, instead.

            Strasnoy is one of them: he has skill. But he can´t do what Stravinsky did in "·Pulcinella":  convert Pergolesi (or fake Pergolesi) into Stravinsky so perfectly that the fusion gives us both worlds. Here the wonderful Bach arias are merely retouched but suddenly we have yuxtaposed Strasnoy, and need I say it? Bach 1, Strasnoy zero.  Yes, pastiche is tricky.

            This  badly assorted musical couple, however, does mirror what we are seeing: increasing signs that this bride and bridegroom won´t make it to the wedding. I´m not an expert on Kafka but I venture to say that the choice of material could have been more relevant to the story Strasnoy wanted to tell; anyway the bridegroom seems more hysteric than the bride.

            Soprano Chantal Santon was impressive, veering easily from  fine Bach singing to increasingly distempered Strasnoy. The choice of a countertenor (not a tenor or baritone) tends to underline the growing tension of the relationship, though that doesn´t justify the frequent harsh timbre of Daniel Gloger, very Expressionist in singing and gesture.

            The stage direction by Edgardo Mercado and Mariana Ciolfi is probably responsible for the intervention of a dancer who is simultaneously the one that brings things and removes them according to the needs. This was done brilliantly by Carla Di Grazia, agile, personal and impish, on good choreographic steps by Mercado.  The stage design is basically an enormous white tissue  that initially veils the bridegroom and will eventually disappear by bits. Is the obsession with a wedding cake of both protagonists Strasnoy´s or Mercado´s idea? I don´t know, but they end up with a whipped-cream (or meringue?) masque.

            In the final stretch of this 50-minute piece comes a surprise: the producer taking advantage of the hall´s architecture, 45 girls in white wedding suits slowly climb the right-side ramp, proceed to the far back of the stage and then start going down the left-side ramp. In the strange ending, the man covers himself (he is in underpants) with female garb and jumps into the procession, whilst the bride does the same...Bad marriage ahead, no doubt.

            Eleven excellent players (such as oboist Michelle Wong or violinist Lucía Luque) were conducted metronomically by Annunziata Tomaro. Good costumes by Magda Banach and lighting by Claudio del Bianco and David Seldes.

            Anecdote: the CETC sent a mail weeks ago looking for volunteers to participate in this production;  among the takers was  the daughter of a friend of mine.

For Buenos Aires Herald

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