The Ensamble Lírico Orquestal defines itself as "an independent alternative producing projects of classical and lyric music". It isn´t accurate, for opera is also classical. In fact they programme operas and choral-symphonic concerts. It is led by the married couple of conductor Gustavo Codina and soprano Cecilia Layseca, enthusiastic artists that have kept alive the institution during the last decade. I single out three interesting things they have done: the première of Verdi´s second opera, the comedy "Un giorno di regno"; Orff´s "Catulli Carmina", the middle work of the trilogy begun with "Carmina Burana" and ended with "The triumph of Aphrodite"; and Respighi´s charming "La bella addormentata nel bosco", an adaptation of the Sleeping Beauty story.
In recent years their home has mostly been the Auditorio de Belgrano, the venue for so many seasons of the National Symphony, now ensconced at the Blue Whale. As it is a very good auditorium with fine acoustics, I find positive that the ELO can present in certain Sunday afternoons four offerings, each one given twice. The AB thus has some representation of classical music in what otherwise is a stage for popular shows.
This year the ELO has very conservative programming: in opera, two surefire hits, Puccini´s "La Boheme" (though semi-staged) and Verdi´s "Rigoletto", fully staged; and in concerts, a Brahms afternoon including the German Requiem, and Beethoven´s Ninth Symphony, "Choral". Brahms and Puccini have already passed.
The Auditorio has no pit, so they have had to eliminate the first rows of the stalls to place the 35 players; as the acoustics are quite alive, the sound comes out powerful as if there were 60 instrumentalists.
As said, there are only two performances, and the decision was made to have two casts; I heard the second, but for information you´ll find in parentheses the name and surname of the singers of the first cast. Of Verdian operas "Rigoletto" is second only to "La Traviata" in popularity, and for good reason in both cases; even with some libretto faults, the warm humanity of "Rigoletto" touches the heart and the protagonist is psychologically very rich.
The opera is also demanding, and calls for great singers. Of course it is unfair to make in this instance comparisons with some admirable Colón casts, but memory keeps coming back as we hear. Just very few reminders for those readers who are long-standing opera goers: Rigoletto: MacNeil, Milnes, Nucci; Gilda: Gencer, Scotto, Jo; Duke: Raimondi, Álvarez.
Fernando Grassi (Enrique Gibert Mella) is a versatile artist of histrionic and musical proficiency both in comedy and drama; his Rigoletto was certainly meritorious, for he sings with good line and acts convincingly. What he lacks is a true Verdian voice, of ample dynamics and personal touch; he is more of a Donizettian.
Rocío Cereceda (Cecilia Layseca) was uneven in the center and low registers but firm and brilliant in the highs; after some uncertainties she found her form and did an interesting Gilda, well acted and intense. Cristian Taleb (Fermín Prieto) is still rather green; his voice needs to mellow, for at perilous moments it sounds precarious. He started poorly with "Questa o quella" but was better later on, and as an actor, though personable, he doesn´t project the Duke´s character.
Felipe Cudina (Claudio Rotella) was a satisfying Sparafucile, with a firm bass voice and strong presence as the murderer. Virginia Scavino (both performances) was a lackluster Maddalena, with little volume and personality, though musically correct. Alejandro Schijman (Sebastián Angulegui) was a good Monterone. The others were middling.
The best thing of the evening was the very firm conducting of Dante Ranieri, a true connoisseur (and back in 1986 a talented Duke at the Colón) leading a carefully selected orchestra of fine sound. The Coral Ensemble sang under Codina with reasonable quality and involved acting.
I´m sorry to say that I was disappointed with the stage direction of Luis Gaeta (now a veteran but still able baritone, he was a talented Rigoletto at the Colón in 1997 and 2002). This is a new activity for him, and although he was helped by reasonable stage designs by Victoria Chacón and Gabriela Mayoni (except the non-existent wall in Act 3) his decisions were often awkward and even absurd. Poor costumes by Paula Guidi Mantarás and Miguel Alejandro Flores. Supertitles by Damián Roger with many mistakes.
For Buenos Aires Herald