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Archive for July, 2019

“Die Zeit, sie ist ein sonderbar Ding”, says the Feldmarschallin in Der Rosenkavalier, and, although the title role in Ariadne auf Naxos repeatedly speaks of her mental confusion, it would be only normal if she had no idea about what time it is in Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s play. The libretto places the action in the days of Molière, the intermezzo performed in the play a mythological setting. As it is, the lucky audience who attended the Viennese première in 1916 saw a prologue set three centuries earlier and the “opera” in the aesthetics of the XVIIth Century (as mythological plays used to be staged back then). R. Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos has been increasingly staged with the prologue set in our days, what sheds a different light over the proceedings. In Hofmannsthal’s original concept, the characters in the prologue would not see the genre opera as something decadent. On the contrary, in the days of Molière it was quite avant-garde, especially in Paris, where it was in the core of the debate about a national style of musical theatre.

In Marcelo Lombadero’s new production for the Teatro Colón, however, opera is shown at its most caricaturally decadent – wigs, panniers, stock gestures. The fact that the director has decided that Zerbinetta and her troupe rescue the opera seria from its outdatedness is, therefore, intriguing.  Commedia dell’arte is only a bit more recent than opera – and I wonder if Hofmannsthal considered that his libretto had to do with an obsolete art form being rescued by contemporary sensibilities. Actually, a contemporary Zerbinetta would find the whole affair around “The Unfaithful Zerbinetta and her four suitors” the stuff of museums. That is precisely why I find Mr. Lombadero’s régie anachronistic: here the Composer is a woman and I anticipated that her duet with Zerbinetta would be something of a revelation to her. Remember: after that, the Composer says he(she) sees things entirely differently, that the depths of existence cannot be measured and that there is much in the world that cannot be said in words. Well, here the composer just gives Zerbinetta a sisterly hug and a “thanks for sharing” facial expression. I guess that everybody found that this is more conservative than the genre opera itself.

Curiously, Mr. Lombadero’s staging of the opera inside the opera was very satisfying in its creativity, provided if you shared the view of “the richest man in Vienna”, i.e., that the tragic and the comic should be staged simultaneously at any cost. Here the director never let Ariadne’s rediscovery of love involve the audience – this has been drowned in comedy and overbusiness. In the end, one could see that the director really agrees with the Dance Master and tried to save Strauss’s exquisite concoction from boredom through a generous dose of slapstick.

Conductor Alejo Pérez too did not indulge the score’s late Romanticism, but his objective eye had the perks of structural clarity, a minor advantage in the context of poor orchestral playing. Strings sounded wiry and intonation was far from faultless, to start with. The very irregular cast was redeemed by the serio characters. Carla Filipcic Holm, whom I had seen as the Feldmarschallin in São Paulo, offered a compelling performance of the title role. Hers is a very peculiar voice – if you put Gundula Janowitz and Alessandra Marc in a blender, maybe you’d get something close to the Argentinian soprano’s voice. A lyric soprano, Ms. Holm has enough volume and heft for the more dramatic passages and floats pianissimo at will. Her diction could be clearer, but her sense of style and sensitivity are undeniable assets. She was a bit tested by the low tessitura, but had no problem with long phrases and proved to be one of the most satisfying Ariadnes I have seen live in the theatre. This is something I cannot unfortunately say of this evening’s Zerbinetta. Ekaterina Lekhina’s grainy and unfocused soprano was barely hearable in the prologue. In her big aria, she showed some improvement and handled trills adeptly, but she fought with her in alts and is definitely not legato’s best friend. For someone who had been billed as a mezzo, Jennifer Holloway sounded quite juiceless in her low notes. Her voice lacked radiance throughout and she did not project as she should when things got high and loud. In her favor, the fact that she handled the more exposed passages forcefully and could scale down for the more lyric passages too. The three ladies left nothing to be desired in terms of acting.

At first, Gustavo López Manzitti’s Bacchus sounded labored and overdark, but he rose impressively to the challenges in his difficult part, supplying big round high notes. Hernán Iturralde sang richly and securely as the Music Master and Pablo Urban was an incisive and funny dance Master.

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