September 3, 2014
Two refreshing traditional presentations
For the Herald
Thirty years ago I wouldn’t have included in the title of this article “refreshing traditional presentations,” simply because even the most audacious ones (some exceptions apart) respected the libretto. Of course there are many ways of doing something right, and the stagings had leeway for imagination, but the essential thing was that looking at a photograph you knew which opera was depicted; now frequently you don’t. And young people were given reasonably faithful images of what the composer and his librettist specified.
Now teenagers are offered complete travesties, and their ignorance doesn’t allow them to realise that something’s rotten in the state of Denmark. For humanistic subjects are relegated in school and few parents are able to give them what the studies don’t (often they know as little as their children). Generations that are now over fifty should know better, but often think that “you have to go with the times” and that “if this is trendy in Europe and accepted there, it should be here as well.” So kudos to people doing opera here that show some common sense and offer us productions that aren’t insulting.
As I am a veteran, I certainly don’t need yet another Rigoletto or Carmen, but at least I went away from two recent productions with some pleasure instead of strong irritation. Of course, private companies must make ends meet and this is increasingly difficult in a crisis-ridden Argentina with dwindling sponsors, so they tend to go to surefire hits. Thus Rigoletto at Juventus Lyrica’s 15th season at the Avenida, or Carmen by the Ensamble Lírico Orquestal at the Auditorio de Belgrano.
I believe Rigoletto to be the best of the so-called Verdian Popular Trilogy, the others being Il Trovatore and La Traviata. Three marvels, no doubt, but dramatically and musically Rigoletto is the most advanced.
This Rigoletto had two excellent points: the natural interrelation of characters as marked by producer Ana D’Anna and the lovely Renaissance costumes of Ponchi Morpurgo as spruced up by María Jaunarena. But I desagree with the heavy wooden unit set of Gonzalo Córdova, which is neither evocative of the Duke’s palace (it is a must visit if you go to Mantova) nor does it separate the street from the inside in the Second Act; and though his lighting is adequate for the dark needs of certain scenes, the joyful beginning of the First Act certainly needs more light.
In just four performances there were three casts; I went to the first one. Baritone Ernesto Bauer showed considerable progress in musical line and volume from earlier performances in other parts; he was always musical, expressive and thoughtful (forget enormous voices of superhuman expansion such as Cornell MacNeil). After some initial stridency, Natalia Quiroga Romero was a positive Gilda; by the Fourth Act she had found not only a softer voice and better line, but also touching inflexions. Sebastián Russo, tall and slim, looks the Duke’s part, and he has some agility as well as good highs, but he had trouble in maintaining a consistent musicality.
A new name, Felipe Cudina Begovic, showed a good bass voice as Sparafucile. Nicolás Secco was a rather strained Monterone. Griselda Adano has the right looks for the seductive Maddalena and sang well. The others were in the picture: Tamara Odón, Juan Font, Maximiliano Agatiello, Juan Pablo Labourdette and Ivana Ledesma. The choirs in this opera are only for men, and were quite satisfactory (Juan Casasbellas prepared them). The hero of this interpretation was Antonio Russo, who in his late seventies looks admirably fit and phrased with unerring vision, even if the orchestra had some smudges.
Last year the Ensamble Lírico Orquestal led by Gustavo Codina had offered a concert version of Bizet’s Carmen at the Auditorio de Belgrano. This time it had a production, and the orchestra accompanied from the stalls. The Auditorio doesn’t have a pit, but the first four rows were occupied by the orchestra (of course, the seats were taken away) and it worked well, for after about 30 precipitous steps from on high, the first rows go UP, not down. It doesn’t seem to bother the players. So it seems in a way that we have an alternative venue for opera.
Carmen is generally offered now with the Guiraud recitatives, much better here than the original opéra-comique with spoken parts, for very few are able to deliver decent French; singing masks defects.
Enrique Folger is a redoubtable José, intense and dramatic. Mariana Rewerski has the looks but not the tragedy for the title role and her voice lacks real mezzo colour. Cecilia Layseca was a tasteful though small-voiced Micaela, and Sebastián Angulegui was a poor Escamillo. Very good the Frasquita of Ana Laura Menéndez, less so the Mercedes of Milagros Seijó. First-rate the smugglers Sebastián Sorarrain and Sebastián Russo, and Claudio Rotella as Zúñiga.
Codina led an orthodox Carmen with a correct small orchestra; the choirs were middling. The best aspect of the staging was the adequate costumes of Mariela Daga; Raúl Marego (producer and stage designer) gave a pleasant image of the proceedings within the libretto indications. A pity that the hall was very hot, the timings went awry both before the opera and in the intervals, and the lighting was mournful during the latter. But the place was full and the show was roundly applauded. There were only two performances.