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Archive for September, 2018

If you are in South America in 2018 and have missed a performance of R. Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, then you really did not want to see it at all. It has been an item in the season of Buenos Aires’s Teatro Colón, São Paulo saw it staged for the first time by a Brazilian company in the Theatro Municipal and now the Teatro Mayor Julio Mario Santo Domingo offers Bogotá its Colombian première.

Spanish conductor Josep Caballé-Domenech, artistic director of the Orquesta Filarmónica de Bogotá, is the man behind the Colombian première of R. Strauss’s Salome in 2016 and renews his advocacy of the Bavarian composer’s music introducing the Feldmarschallin to the audiences in the Teatro Mayor. His view of this score is very objective in a non-Karajanesque way. His main purpose seems to be clarity and, if he allows his singers enough flexibility, he never seems to loose sight of forward-movement. This is actually a sensible choice if one keeps in mind that his orchestra lacks tone. When things are loud and fast, it acquires something of an edge that carries across the auditorium. Below that dynamic level, it sounds very much in the background, leaving singers to fend for themselves. This has been particularly harmful in the Presentation of the Silver Rose. In terms of articulation, the string section was often left wanting, what make the third act something of a blur until a final trio in which the conductor demanded everything from his musicians and got enough to produce some excitement. In any case, if one did not had the Vienna Philharmonic in mind, the performance did not fail to show the complexities of R. Strauss’s orchestral writing but rarely delivered its emotional content as it should.

In terms of casting, this is a group of singers one could have seen in a non-festival evening in the Bavarian State Opera, some of them in A-casts in Berlin and Salzburg. Michaela Kaune, for instance, is an experienced Marschallin who knows music and text inside out. In purely vocal terms, this is probably her best part. Its rather central tessitura flatters her warm middle register and does not expose too much her unfocused high notes. Her interpretation is often Schwarzkopf-ian in her intent to point out the meaning of every syllable, but she knows the moment to let things more spontaneous. This was particularly effective in Die Zeit, die ist ein sonderbar Ding, when she could find a very particular and intimate vocal coloring that worked the magic by itself. No wonder it inspired her Octavian to produce her best singing after that. Although Angela Brower is billed as a mezzo soprano, her basic sound is that of a lyric soprano and not a particularly heavy one. In terms of weight and color, it sometimes made me remember Irmgard Seefried’s recording with Karl Böhm. Ms. Brower, however, is not as crisp clear in her delivery of the text, but wins the audience over with the artlessness of her phrasing and the beauty of her mezza voce. She is too girly an Octavian, what makes the Mariandl episodes a bit confusing for the audience. The fact that she handles soft dynamics far better than her Sophie could also be a bit puzzling. Anna Virovlansky’s bell-toned soprano shines in most of what Strauss wrote, but high mezza voce eludes her entirely. She rushed through the delivery of the silver rose and her attempt to float high notes often sounded wiry and sometimes below pitch. This is a pity, for she handles the conversational passages most efficiently and the tone itself is pleasant and silvery as it should. Although Franz Hawlata’s bass has lost resonance in both ends of his range since the days where he was omnipresent in the role of the Baron Ochs, it is still dark and firm. Even in his prime, he never was very precise in it and rather concentrated in the theatrical aspects of the role. In this sense, he is still efficient in his delivery of the text and in tone coloring. After a lifetime singing this opera, his paintbrushes are now rather broad, but that does not seem to bother the audience, who had fun with his comedy timing and acting abilities.

Among minor roles, one must mention Robert Bork’s Faninal, forcefully sung without the usual disfiguring exaggerations and Martina Dike’s very hearable Annina (a rarity in this part). Sara Caterine’s Marianne Leitmetzerin deserves mention for her firm top notes and very expressive face too. Humberto Ayerbe was a warm-toned Valzacchi, a bit too discrete, and César Gutiérrez did not seem to find the Italian tenor’s aria too high-lying.

Alejandro Chacón’s staging is extremely traditional in terms of Personenrégie and veers dangerously close towards cuteness. Many scenes that would gain a lot in terms of expression are underplayed for business and overexplanation. The visual aspect of this production is hard to define. It is rather poorly executed and sometimes amateurish, especially the sets. I still do not know what to make of the concept of having the boiseries painted with tropical motives, although there seems to be something there. Seeing the grand-monde’s small dramas unfold among the images of the jungle is an idea that could work in more expert hands, but the concept was polluted by lack of clarity to start with. Costumes, on the other hand, were quite correct and well-fitted to these singers.

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