Posts Tagged ‘Theatro Municipal de São Paulo’

The Theatro Municipal de São Paulo seemed to have regained its footing, especially after Roberto Minczuk was appointed general musical director, when a press release informed that there would not be an announcement of this year’s season due to uncertain funding. Therefore, the management has decided to play safe and announce each item in the opera season as soon as the money to pay for it is guaranteed.

Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia is not my favorite opera, rather the opposite. And yet I couldn’t help supporting a company that is really struggling to offer its very best. I could overhear today a 20-year-old girl explaining her friend that since she saw Tosca in the Theatro Municipal she has become a subscriber and has insisted that her friends come along. “At first they are convinced it’s going to be boring, but when they’re here, they realize it is a experience like nothing else”. The taxpayers in the state of São Paulo can rest assured: their money is here – if almost nowhere else – being put to good use.
Maestro Minczuk’s ability to make the best of the forces available is a lesson to every conductor. On every occasion I see him  in São Paulo, I cannot cease to marvel at how he finds the exact balance between doing justice to the score and respecting his musicians’ limitations. This evening, for instance, Mr. Minczuk took profit of the house band’s lean orchestral sound to produce a quicksilvery aural picture  that proved to be ideal to ensure clarity in Rossinian ensembles. Also, as his strings are not the nec plus ultra in passagework, he made sure that his beat was buoyant but not hectic. That also helped his singers to sound “happy” while dealing with impossibly difficult coloratura. I can only imagine that this must be helpful when you’re singing an opera buffa.
Luisa Francesconi has all the elements of a perfect Rosina: the tone is distinctively fruity, her low register is firm and bright, the passaggio is 100% smooth, she masters the art of mezza voce, her diction is crystalline, her fioriture are clear and she is charming and acts with naturalness. At this point in her career, her extreme high notes can have a touch of vinegar, but once the voice is warm one hardly notices that. Her Almaviva was American tenor Jack Swanson, whose dulcet tenor can acquire a pronounced nasality when things turn high and fast. He too gained in strength during the performance and wowed the audience with the rarely sung Cessa di più resistere in the end of the opera. Michel de Souza offered a Mozartian Figaro à la Hermann Prey, whose congeniality he evokes too. His baritone has a hint of throatiness that is not really bothersome, but his vowels are more Brazilian than Italian. That is a problem this evening’s Doctor Bartolo, Savio Sperandio, has as well. He made a fair stab at the role, dealing with the patter commendably. I was going to say that there were moments when his voice was all over the place, but that is something I could say of most Bartolos I saw on stage. Carlos Eduardo Marcos was a light, firm-toned Basílio, and Vítor Mascarenhas showed a promising baritone in the small role of Fiorello.
Cleber Papa’s staging brings nothing new to Rossini’s most performed comedy, but what he offered was solid and dependable. The slapstick approach was perfectly timed, every singer was comfortable on stage and their acting was so well integrated that one couldn’t help but calling them all good actors. The sets seemed to have been bought in the supermarket shelf for “Productions of The Barber of Seville”, but costumes were a bit inconsistent. I don’t understand why Rosina was made to look unattractive in unbecoming gowns and wigs.



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Although Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier had already been performed in São Paulo before, first by a visiting German theatre on tour in 1959 and 10 years ago in concert with Anne Schwanewilms and the OSESP, this run of performances in the Theatro Municipal are its first local production. Even if Richard Strauss himself conducted the Vienna Philharmonic in Brazil in the 1920’s, this was not enough to make him a household name in opera houses deeply rooted in Italian tradition, such as those in Rio or São Paulo. There have been occasional incursions in his operatic works, especially Elektra and Salome, and the new Rosenkavalier might represent a renewed interest in the music of the Bavarian composer in these shores.

Roberto Minczuk is an experienced conductor in this repertoire who has been nurtured in the right tradition in his days in the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig. This evening he has shown his deep understanding of the score in a performance that flowed in natural tempi, structural clarity, preference for warm sonorities and feeling for highlighting the Hauptstimme in almost Mozartian dialogue with his singers. The fact that the complex writing challenged his orchestra was never an issue in terms of putting across his vision. One could see that his strings left a lot to be desired in terms of articulation, but whenever it has to produce a key effect, such as in the closing of acts 1 and 3, this was never an impediment, even if one could wish for improvement. In any case, the brass section offered playing above its usual level and blended naturally with woodwind.
If act 1 lacked some atmosphere in the Marschallin’s monologue (the house orchestra’s strings tend to loose color in softer dynamics), the delivery of the silver rose proved to be the major misfire in the evening. In the slower pace chosen by Mr. Minczuk, a soprano ill at ease and meager orchestral sound just hanged fire. The ensuing duet showed everyone in better form. Act 3 made me think of Karl Böhm’s Dresden recording in the way it integrated comic and lyric moments. It can sound a bit all over the place, but not this evening, crowned by a final trio that built up steadily in a slower pace in a powerful conclusion.
I am not so enthusiastic about Pablo Maritano’s staging, the bureaucratic sets and anachronistic and often ugly costumes of which did not added up to any particular dramatic purpose other than fitting into a limited budget. The Personenregie tended to be overbusy, but the director benefited from the cast’s above-average acting skills. To his credit, he seems to have read the libretto from scratch and offered some fresh ideas. I have particularly enjoyed the end of act 1. Here the Marschallin sings very expressive music while she explains transportation arrangements. This has always puzzled me, but not this evening. As conceived by Mr. Maritano, the Marschallin is just trying to prevent an emotional breakdown by keeping things as objective as possible. When she is finally alone, she can’t hold back her tears anymore.
Argentinian soprano Carla Filipic Holm has acted here and elsewhere very convincingly. She has an expressive face and, although her voice and attitude are rather Germanic, one can see her South American emotional generosity behind that. This has made her a particularly multidimensional Marschallin. In terms of singing, Ms. Filipic has a creamy tubular soprano à la Angela Denoke that soars in high mezza voce without effort but and yet can acquire  a splash of hootiness at moments. She is sometimes a bit imprecise with pitch, especially in the end of phrases and her delivery of the text is not truly clear. Yet she knows the style and can produce beautiful sounds, such as in the opening phase of the final trio.
I have always enjoyed the artistry of Brazilian mezzo Luisa Francesconi, especially in Mozart, and was curious about this Straussian venture or hers. It is true that her voice is a bit on the light side for the role, but her fruity, firm-toned mezzo is appealing, her diction is crystalline and her German is very good. She floats pianissimo beautifully and, if she can sound cautious in exposed high notes, she compensates with ideal illusion of boyhood (she actually looks very “handsome” as Octavian) and her Mariandl was quite effective.
Elena Gorshunova’s soprano is pretty enough for Sophie, but she doesn’t master the art of high mezza voce and messed things up in the beginning of act 2 and at the end of the opera. Elsewhere, she could be s little bit more engaging if she were a little bit more engaged, especially in the acting department.
Dirk Aleschus knows everything one is supposed to know about the role of Baron Ochs, but at its present state his bass lacks tone and volume, especially in both ends of his range and he can be really imprecise in what regards intonation. He is a funny guy and had the audience at his side nonetheless.
Annina, Valzacchi and Faninal are not minor roles and require singers more adept than those cast for these performances. This was a serious if not major drawback in the overall effectiveness of this evening’s performance.

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My last visit to São Paulo’s Theatro Municipal had not been very happy and it took me a while to decide to buy a ticket to their new staging of R. Strauss’s Elektra. The cast list finally take my chance once more. I saw Catherine Foster´s Elektra (in concert, full edition) in Berlin only last year and thought it would be interesting to see her in a staged performance. Luck favours the bold – the theatrical aspect of Ms. Foster’s Elektra proved to be a valuable addition to her musical performance. To say the truth, the concert in Berlin showed her in really, really better voice than yesterday, when her soprano sounded on the unfocused side and many high notes were sung below true pitch. But that was her singing – her acting was entirely focused and she never missed one dramatic point. Even not in her best voice, the tone coloring was apt, the word-pointing was clear (the one improvement from Berlin) and everything she sang was a consequence of her gestures and facial expressions. I have the impression that the complex sceneries might have had something to do with that, for Emily Magee (Chrystothemis) found it hard to pierce through the orchestra. Hers is usually a sizeable soprano, but this evening she had to employ a little bit more pressure than usual. It took her a while to find an ideal compromise. Under these circumstances, subtlety was out of the question. She too was scenically convincing and well contrasted to Elektra. Although her mezzo was two sizes smaller than the part and the low notes required some gear change, Natascha Petrinsky took pride of place in what regards intonation and, for a change, it is nice to hear someone who is not fighting with high notes in this part. It is difficult to assess how successful her acting was –  Klytämnestra is here portrayed as some sort of Cruella de Vil, a concept wholeheartedly embraced by the Austrian mezzo. Is she to blame for a directorial choice? Jürgen Sacher was an efficient Ägysth, fazed by the acoustics as well. Albert Dohmen, even if a bit rusty (and visually old for the role), had the right gravitas for the part – and was the only person on stage whose voice truly blossomed in the auditorium. Maybe I was spoiled by the glamorous casting for minor roles in the Chéreau production , but the opening scene would have benefited from more solid voices and better diction.

The house orchestra is everything but a world class orchestra. Its strings lack tone, to start with. Then brass instruments had their bumpy moments, but, compared to what I heard in their Lohengrin, this evening was far more satisfying. Maybe because conductor Eduardo Strausser has “Strauss” in his name, he could find the right balance between minimally supplying this complex score’s demands and the practicality of the means available. As it was, tempi could be a little bit ponderous, but his concern with structural clarity and phrasing kept the proceedings “legible” and consequent. The Recognition Scene, for instance, was the moment where all these aspects found their best balance, the necessary lyricism and clarity all there.

As much as Patrice Chéreau, director Livia Sabag decided to present Elektra as a family drama and, in order to remove any hint of monumentality, she opted for an Ingmar Bergman-ian atmosphere, “Cries and Whispers” a clear inspiration. The set shows a cutaway side view of a mansion house – ground floor features the servants’ dining room and a storage area where Elektra treasures her mementos of Agamemnon, while the second floor has an entrance hall plus some stretch of the garden under a cloudy sky. The horrors described in the libretto are only hinted at by the scared expression of the servants. For atmosphere, videos are sometimes projected on the set – an image of Elektra buried alive in the opening scene or a corpse being unveiled by a man’s hand during Klytämnestra’s nightmare scene. The closing scene has too much information (most of each unrelated to the Hofmannsthal’s description of subjects overwhelmed by the victory of the legitimate king) and I confess I could not fully understand what was going on. As far as I can recall, maybe the whole encounter with Orest and what ensued only happened in Elektra’s mind, for the last chords show her hanging herself in her little storage room while the corpse of Klytämnestra is shown in a bathtub (until then, it was lying on the floor of the entrance hall, where it had been shown to Ägysth), while the rest of the sceneries and all other characters disappear from sight. If I understood it correctly, this is a clever and insightful idea that could have been developed a little bit more steadily since Orest’s first appearance rather than the coup de thêátre staged this evening.

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