BuenosAiresHerald.com | Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Monteverdi in Baroque café concert
By Pablo Bardin
A ballet on Alice in Wonderland brings kaleidoscope of music classics
The last winter holiday week-end brought me opposing sensations. On Friday I was at the Colón with my wife and my three eldest grandchildren (6 to 8-years-old) attending a ballet adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Saturday night, I was present at a curious experiment involving Claudio Monteverdi and his Italian contemporaries in a sort of Baroque café concert. The venue was in Almagro, an ample hall called Hasta Trilce (it also has an auditorium, not used on this occasion).
Let us start with the latter show. It was a way for producer Marcelo Lombardero to keep in touch with his public after having resigned as artistic director of La Plata’s Teatro Argentino some months ago, due to a monumental crisis provoked by deep financial provincial troubles and consequent labour unrest. The new venture is called Bromas y lamentos (“Jokes and laments”, “Scherzi e lamenti”) and it is a 70-minute string of splendid pieces written in the first half of the 17th century sung by five artists and played by five instrumentalists.
Lombardero has provided a skeleton staging in a small acting area and various places in the hall. There is no plot, just contrasting pieces involving, yes, jokes and laments on one exclusive subject: love. The audience sits around tables and in the half-hour wait before the show starts it consumes drinks, pizzas or cocktail food. But once the uninterrupted pieces start the service stops, as it should. The place was packed, and as two more Saturdays are already sold out, there will be added performances.
Curiously enough, this happens as the starting shot of a new endeavour called TMC (Teatro Musical Contemporáneo) backed by the Fundación Williams. Apart from the décontractée setting and modern clothes, the only 21st century element was video in a couple of pieces and it wasn’t a good idea, as the synchronization of voice and image was quite awry. And the use of tablets by the audience to follow the show (there was no hand programme) failed at least in my case, for the tablet functioned poorly. I later obtained the complete information. Frankly, a semi-staged concert in Hasta Trilce’s auditorium would have been better. So what I saw was an acted series of songs with a couple of instrumental interludes and the café concert setting wasn’t necessary. But truth to tell, the audience was raptly attentive and after those 70 minutes applauded wildly and justifiably, for it was splendid music beautifully sung and played and very well-chosen.
This was the start of the Baroque, opera was born and a new sensuality prevailed. Monteverdi straddled late Renaissance and early Baroque in his long life and was the greatest composer of those times, especially with his nuova prattica music, innovative, deeply expressive, erotic, harmonically advanced and audacious. There is no space here to give full details, but no less than eleven of the total seventeen pieces were by him. I was surprised, however, that the two series of Scherzi musicali were left untouched when precisely Bromas is Scherzi… But it was sheer pleasure all the way; two of the pieces were from his operas L’Orfeo and L’incoronazione di Poppea, and all were late in his career.
The other composers were also interesting. Francesco Cavalli was Monteverdi’s disciple, and it shows in the two Laments included. The unknown Angelo Branduardi contributed Novello Cupido, there was a sonata from Giovanni Cima (not Chima as wrongly put in the information) and two splendid scores from Tarquinio Merula, the Canzona La Strada and the lovely madrigal that closed the show, Folle è ben che si crede.
All players were first-rate: Jorge Lavista (director, chamber organ and spinet), Miguel de Olaso (archlute and Baroque guitar), Pablo Angilletta (viola da gamba), Joëlle Perdaens (Baroque violin), Eugenia Montalto (flutes). The ladies were beautiful and sang like angels: Oriana Favaro and Cecilia Pastawski. The suitors were very musical singing together; Santiago Bürgi has an expansive tenor voice, well-used and histrionic charisma; Pablo Travaglino alternated between countertenor and tenor registers; and Mariano Fernández Bustinza, from baritone to bass.
It was a good idea to present for the holidays a ballet 50-minute adaptation of Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland; the four performances were sold out and the kids liked it, witness my three grandchildren (the six-year-olds making their first visit to the Colón). I do think Alejandro Cervera, the choreographer, veered out of the way sometimes, and I felt that both the milonga and the flamenco were mistakes. Granted, it isn’t easy to render in movement the boundless imagination of the writer, but important characters had little weight. And some bits hung fire, they were too slow for children (the Adagio for the cards).
However, Alice (Natalia Pelayo, second cast) was very charming and airy, the Rabbit was danced with much agility by Dalmiro Astesiano, the Queen of Hearts was truculently done by a man, Vagran Ambartsoumian, and the “corps de ballet” was enthusiastic and disciplined. The music was a kaleidoscope of classics (Mozart but by The Swingle Singers, Purcell, Händel, Khachaturian) and traditional music from Tibet, Africa, Japan, Italy and Spain, plus a tango by Pedro Laurenz, and two final pieces, one of it from the circus and the other from Satie’s La Belle Excentrique, all compiled by Cervera and Zypce and recorded. The good narrator on stage was Roberto Carnaghi.