Tribuna Musical: “Matinée Fantômas”, Argentine variation on a Weill-Desnos partnership

Tribuna Musical: lunes, marzo 07, 2016
“Matinée Fantômas”, Argentine variation on a Weill-Desnos partnership
From the hand programme of « Matinée Fantômas”:  “he was known as the genius of evil, the Emperor of crime, the master of horror.

He was the protagonist of dozens of feuilletons by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre in the early years of the Twentieth Century. Bloodthirsty mock-dandy and matchless robber, Fantômas was the antihero of five pictures by Louis Feuillade”. Well, that strikes a chord in my memories, for I saw decades ago one of these silent films and it was huge fun.

            In a way, the outrageous exaggerations of Fantômas´ adventures make him a successor of another feuilleton character, Rocambole; a couple of years ago I belatedly read the Ponson du Terrail account of his exploits, and I could understand why the French say “Rocambolesque” referring to improbable adventures; but again, as I had seen the Fantômas picture with pleasure,  I avidly read the wildly diverting course of a larger-than-life character.

            November 3, 1933, Radio-Paris and other broadcasting stations emitted “La Grande Complainte de Fantômas” (“The Great Lamentation of Fantômas”), dramatic suite in 12 tableaux by Robert Desnos on a melody by Kurt Weill, directed by Antonin Artaud (yes, the famous practitioner of the “théâtre de la cruauté”- the theatre of cruelty) and musical direction of no less than  Alejo Carpentier, the great Cuban writer who was also a musician. That same day Allain published in Le Petit Journal the first of a new series of feuilletons, “Si c’était Fantômas”, “great novel of unpublished adventures”, so the broadcasting officiated as publicity for the new printed series. 

            The broadcasting was called “Soirée Fantômas” (not “matinée”, an appellation that  is very nostalgic for veterans like me, for the term has little sense or use nowadays).  The Studios Foniric were the venue for this emission, and Desnos and Carpentier went on to work together at the radio until the war.

            One thing in this account (which I found in Google) intrigues me: it mentions ONE melody by Weill. And that brings me  to “Matinée Fantômas” (although the two shows were at 8 pm). It is billed as an “open-air radiophonic operetta”, idea, dramaturgy and translation by Ricardo Ibarlucía, direction by Walter Jakob and Agustín Mendilaharzu, conducting and composition by Gabriel Chwojnik.

            In fact, it was a commission of the CETC (the Colón Center for Experimentation, a cellar, not open-air) for the 2014 season (I didn´t see it then) and was incongruously (nothing is filmed) part of the BAFICI that same year.  So, as happened with “L´histoire du soldat” and with “Mahagonny Songspiel”, this was a revival of an earlier production. It´s easy to concoct a Summer season this way…

            But does it work? Well, it´s emphatically NOT radiophonic: what we see is a vertiginous succession of Fantômas´ exploits wirh two actors that bear the brunt of the show: the Inspector of Police and Fantômas       . They are assisted by two other actors in multiple parts, one a young man and the other a girl, though she sometimes takes on men´s parts.  And four other actors are seated like statues in front of microphones on the right side of the stage and do nothing for most of the 52 minutes the whole thing lasts. Plus a singer-emcee, who serves as fast interval between brief sketches of the actors. And at the end all eight sing together the final march-like tune (Weill´s?).

            The whole thing was rather diverting but I grew tired of the very numerous interruptions by the emcee, always singing the same basic tune with some changes. One bad thing is that the hand programme only identified the singer, Gabriel Carasso, but the actors´ parts weren´t specified; and as they are in alphabetical order I don´t know who did the main parts, which is unfair to the artists and the audience. Well, the Inspector and Fantômas took their gestures from silent movies, and the directors are right in that decision. The singer was portrayed as a mannered fop; he sang correctly.

            As to the musical side, I surmise that the interludes, rather shrill, are by Chwojnik imitating Weill.  There were only four players and again the artists weren´t related to their “parts” (instruments) in the hand-programme.  I recognised the player of clarinet and bass clarinet, Griselda Giannini, but I can only mention the other three: Matías Cadoni, Gonzalo Terranova and Martín Mengel. The other instruments were a trumpet, a bass and various percussions, plus a distorted Glockenspiel played by the director. Frankly I didn´t find Weill´s tune one of his best (and failed to find a recording in my R.E.R. catalogue of CDs). The sound had its problems, sometimes the music covered the actors.

            The basic stage props (by Ariel Vaccaro), especially the central one, were moved repetitiously and tiringly.  The lighting by Eduardo Pérez Winter was adequate and the costumes by María Emilia Tambutti were imaginative.

            It´s not an operetta nor is it radiophonic, but  I have a reminiscent side and I appreciate the attempt to bring back the feuilleton era.

For Buenos Aires Herald

Tribuna Musical: “Matinée Fantômas”, Argentine variation on a Weill-Desnos partnership

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