Buenos Aires Herald | Saturday, June 23, 2012
Teatro Argentino: from zarzuela to Mahler
A scene from Doña Francisquita as staged at the Teatro Argentino.
La Plata’s opera house proves a powerful, integral arts centre
By Pablo Bardin – Herald staff
As readers know through earlier articles, La Plata’s Teatro Argentino is functioning as an integral art centre for opera, ballet and concerts.
Their productions can be seen not only at the big Sala Ginastera (over 2,000 capacity) but also at the Sala Piazzolla (chamber size) and at the TACEC, devoted to experimentation and located in the basement. Before its inauguration, the Argentino had to live for many years at makeshift venues such as the Teatro Rocha, due to the fire that, regrettably, ruined the beautiful Italian-model theatre that stood where the immense, Brutalist cube the Argentino building is now.
A powerful team has taken over in recent years: Leandro Iglesias as General Administrator, Marcelo Lombardero as Artistic Director and Alejo Pérez as Conductor of the Resident Orchestra. Many good things come from Daniel Suárez Marzal’s years as Artistic Director: especially interesting repertoires with valuable revivals, quality productions and well-chosen casts.
But in all these aspects, certainly helped by substantial budgets and increased personnel, the Argentino is now a major theatre where the negative “provincial” connotation has disappeared. It is a serious rival to the Teatro Colón, and considering that it takes only an hour under reasonable traffic conditions to go from Palermo to the Argentino, music lovers from BA should certainly schedule visits to the “platense” venue.
Its dependence on the so-called Instituto Cultural de la Provincia had some rough rides in the past, but in recent years the relationship has gone smoothly. In fact, the Argentino is now as complex as the Colón.
They both have resident orchestra, chorus and ballet (the Colón has another orchestra, the B.A. Philharmonic), integrated production, a students’ area (the ISA at the Colón, the Opera Studio and the School of Arts and Crafts at the Argentino), experimentation centres, administration offices.
Years ago, I thought the huge Argentino had only two possible fates: becoming a white elephant, or growing to the level of a first-rate national arts centre. Fortunately, the latter is the case.
This doesn’t mean that I agree on all points with the current directors. I certainly feel that endorsing distorted opera staging in the unfortunate European mold has led to aberrations such as their productions of Giulio Cesare and Lucia di Lammermoor.
But the technical quality has been impeccable even in those misconceived productions, and the sheer size of the stage permits full-scale shows.
When the audience have the good fortune of appreciating the work of a team that respects the pieces, doing them with freshness, splendid visuals and theatrical sense, you have the true success the Argentino has achieved with the recent Doña Francisquita, certainly the best zarzuela production of the last decade easily available to Porteños.
The Argentino hasn’t done a zarzuela since the Doña Francisquita staged at the Teatro Rocha in 1989. A warm welcome to the return of the genre under such good auspices.
This famous zarzuela is the best of the prolific Amadeo Vives. It was written in 1924 and it was a success. For good reason: the libretto by Federico Romero and Guillermo Fernández Shaw, based on Lope de Vega’s La discreta ena-morada, has charm, wit and rhythm, and the music has memorable melodies.
In Argentina we have trouble finding local artists that can give an authentic Madrileño flavour, especially in the extensive spoken bits (cuadros de letra).
The first cast was reasonably up to par. Marisú Pavón is very Spanish in her style and has the right technique for the florid fragments, in spite of a touch of unwelcome acidity.
Alas, although Mónica Sardi is a beautiful woman, she lacks the earthiness a character like Aurora La Beltrana requires.
A splendid Mexican tenor, Ricardo Bernal, made his debut as a wholly convincing Fernando. Santiago Bürgi was fine in the humoristic part of Cardona.
Luis Gaeta was masterful as Don Matías and Marta Cullerés funny and natural as Doña Francisca.
Nice contributions from Ricardo Crampton, Patricio Olivera, María Luisa Merino Ronda and the three Carnival celebration “cófrades” (Arnaldo Quiroga, Mirko Tomas and Alberto Jáuregui Lorda). Excellent work from the group of dancers in the pleasant choreography by Nuria Castejón. An alert orchestra responded admirably to Guillermo Brizzio’s idiomatic conducting, and the choir under Miguel Martínez was very good.
But the highest praise goes to producer Jaime Martorell, in a lavish production with Carnival actors, air balloon, beautiful and varied costumes (Pedro Moreno), brilliant lighting (Horacio Pantano) and an imaginative stage design by Daniel Feijóo, with buildings moving about the stage and creating different ambiences.
From the lightness of the zarzuela to the metaphysical and anguished world of Gustav Mahler. Showing again the great talent of Alejo Pérez, and the Orchestra’s good standing, they tackled Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, the one with the sublime Adagietto for strings and harp.
It was played recently in BA by a first-rate orchestra, the Deutsche Symphonie, under Ashkenazy. In sheer orchestral splendour and accuracy, the Berliners are ahead, of course.
I was astonished by the sound of this complex score, with admirable trumpet work at the very beginning and, from then on, clean, no-nonsense conducting and playing. I was sorry to miss due to a mistake (mine) on starting time Beethoven’s Triple Concerto with Antonio Formaro (piano), Fernando Favero (violin) and Siro Bellisomi (cello).