December 6, 2013
Next Colón season: not so bad, not so good
For the Herald
Something to look forward to, but small budget continues to hinder production
The press conference announcing the 2014 Colón season was well organized, and the press had its own sector, close to Pedro Pablo García Caffi, the theatre’s director. To create suspense, he produced a parade of directors of different areas, each one giving some inkling of what would happen in their area. Finally, García Caffi referred to the grand lines of the two main points: a new concert subscription series called Abono estelar, and the opera season. A question and answer session followed, and then a well-catered food and drink aftermath.
Big news: the Berlin reunion of Martha Argerich and Daniel Barenboim will have its Porteño repeat. Barenboim and his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra will accompany Argerich on Beethoven’s First Concerto, and he will team up with her in another concert featuring two-piano music. That subscription series will also feature pianist Lang Lang, the splendid Bavarian Radio Symphony under Mariss Jansons with the long-awaited début of pianist Mitsuko Oshida, and a strange contraption: Barenboim will team up with Les Luthiers on Stravinsky and Saint-Saëns.
Barenboim and his orchestra will also be in the opera season in what will be both a great concert and a wrong inclusion: we are not getting Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde in its entirety, only the Prelude, the Second Act and Isolde’s Love-death. Granted, it will be a star-studded cast: Waltraud Meier, the débuts of Peter Seiffert and René Pape and the return of Ekaterina Gubanova. But, for the second consecutive year, we will have piecemeal Wagner, when fundamental operas like The Mastersingers and Parsifal are still waiting: the former was last offered in 1980 and the latter in 1986.
The main objection to this season: it is much too short (as happened this year) for a theatre that wants to be considered among the world’s most important: the building is, even if unfinished, but the season isn’t. Only eight operas when, in the 1960s, we had from 18 to 20 is rather poor for a theatre with more than 900 people and fully integrated production.
One of the main problems is that the workshops are still in two separate sites: the Colón and a place called La Nube in the Belgrano neighbourhood.
This arises from the concealed fact that the Colón isn’t finished and there are no plans to do what is necessary.
The Colón’s small budget is another culprit, and the productions are expensive, even if the main item is wages. The Colón must stage a minimum of twelve operas in the big season, plus one opera, at least, in the summer season. The enormous repertoire turnover is only logical because the delays are huge too. No opera should be offered more frequently than one season per decade, and key works should be premières. Every choice must be meticulously examined, for any mistake involves lack of proper information for the audience. Young opera lovers have had no parametres in many basic operas, especially in those that can’t be staged by private companies in smaller theatres. It would seem that the only solution is a good DVD collection. That, or being able to afford frequent travel. I agree with the concept of having two premières; 25 percent is a good proportion if the remaining 75 percent includes exhumations of long-neglected titles, which is not the case this year. Of course, they must be chosen very carefully. Frankly, I don’t know if García Caffi’s enthusiasm for Detlev Glanert’s Caligula is warranted, maybe I will have a pleasant surprise; but I do know that it is nonsense to wait any longer for any Hindemith or Henze opera, or for Britten’s Billy Budd. Or, for that matter, much older masterpieces, like Glinka’s two operas. The other première is a Colón commission, in principle a good idea; can Oscar Strasnoy’s Requiem for a Nun (on Faulkner’s novel, in English) erase the bad impression left by the same composer’s Cachafaz? Perhaps...
—The Barber of Seville: completely unnecessary, we had a good one this year from Juventus Lyrica (anything offered in Buenos Aires is competition, and sometimes better than the Colón).
—Falstaff: warranted because of our frustration when it got only one performance two years ago due to workers’ strikes. It will feature a much praised lead, Ambrogio Maestri.
—Elektra: done in 2007, a much better choice would have been Der Rosenkavalier (1998) to celebrate the Strauss year. I will have a good female trio: Linda Watson, Iris Vermilion, Manuela Uhl. Back to Puccini with Madama Butterfly (last, 2000), with the interesting début of Patricia Racette, producer Hugo De Ana, conductor Ira Levin.
—Idomeneo: staged here in 2003, Mozart’s admirable opera seria features the return of producer Jorge Lavelli and the début of tenor Richard Croft. No French and no Russian opera (the deal with Maryinsky’s director Gergiev did not materialize).
—Ballet: the main item will be the première of Rodin, the great sculptor as seen by his muse Camille Claudel, choreography by the Russian Boris Eifman. The usual Tchaikovsky (Swan Lake, The Nutcracker), The Corsair again, and the welcome recovery of Macmillan’s Romeo and Juliet on Prokofiev’s music after a 17-year absence, with Paloma Herrera. The Ballet needs more innovative repertoire.
The remaining items, mainly the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, will be discussed in another article.