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Opera seasons end with “Falstaff”
Por Pablo Bardin
TRIBUNA MUSICAL, Martes 30 de noviembre 2010

Giuseppe Verdi´s ultimate masterpiece ended the season at both the Colón and Buenos Aires Lírica. The duplication of "Falstaff" certainly wasn´t a good idea and it should have been avoided, but unfortunately there´s no coordination between opera companies. As it turned out, a Colón reasonably up to its standard proved a clear winner.

The Colón performances almost didn´t happen. The feud between the employees and Director General Pedro Pablo García Caffi had exploded several times before during the year, leading to numerous cancellations. The workers had delivered an ultimatum, expressing that the period of compulsory conciliation ended last Saturday; if no satisfactory proposal was produced by that time, they would decide tough measures of labor action (many times this had meant "strike"); but on this occasion cooler heads prevailed. Tenor Ricardo Ochoa of the Chorus gave last Saturday a brief speech before a big banner ("Trabajadores del Colón") saying that the performance would go on, though things were very bad for the workers, and asked for a minute of silence; some booed, many applauded, and then there was silence. The show went on.

I know I´m in the minority, but I happen to prefer "Falstaff" above all other Verdi marvels; I think that, along with Rossini´s "Barber of Seville" and Mozart´s "The Marriage of Figaro", it is the greatest of comedies in music sung in Italian. And Falstaff is as lovable an old rogue as exists in opera. The infinite variety of text and music never ceases to amaze me, and this was the thirteenth live performance I have attended through the decades (fourteenth with the Buenos Aires Lírica´s).

I was sorry that illness forced the cancellation of Alan Opie as the protagonist, for the Britisher is a redoubtable artist, but we got a good replacement in Alberto Mastromarino, a burly Italian whom I met before as a tragic Michele in Puccini´s "Il Tabarro". He has a good, firm voice, and is an accomplished actor. In a theatre where I´ve seen such greats Falstaffs as Taddei, Evans and Bruson I can´t put Mastromarino in the same level, but he is certainly a fine exponent of the part. It is a pity that there were other two changes; I would have preferred by far the announced Paula Almerares as Nannetta to Fabiola Masino, but Paula was singing a splendid Marguerite in La Plata´s "Faust. Masino was no match, with a tight, vibratoed voice that had no plangency or charm, and very fussy acting. A Russian, Elena Pankratova, replaced another Russian, Svetla Vassileva, as Alice. I like interpreters of that part to be more refined in singing and acting than Pankratova, who sings normally dramatic roles that are very far from the quicksilver qualities here required: Abigaille in "Nabucco", Tosca; but she is certainly assured and sings with plenty of volume.

I liked very much Czech baritone Vladimir Chmelo as Ford; his dark timbre is managed with impressive skill and he gives much character to the maniacally jealous husband of Alice. All three foreigners made their local debuts. Veteran Graciela Alperyn acted well as Quickly though her voice sounds limited by now. Darío Schmunck sang an agreeable Fenton. The flank roles were done with fine professionalism by Carlos Natale (Dr. Cajus), María Luján Mirabelli (Meg), Gabriel Renaud (Bardolfo) and Mario De Salvo (Pistola). The Choir sang well under the experienced hands of Peter Burian. Conductor Marco Guidarini (debut) has an important European career; he showed himself a fine artist, even if some extremely complicated ensembles didn´t quite jell, and got reasonably accurate playing of a devil of a score.

The well-proven team of Roberto Oswald and Aníbal Lápiz gave us a blessedly traditional view of the action, although with an Elizabethan bias (it looked about 1580 rather than the time of Henry IV, the 1420s), which is probably acceptable (Shakespeare´s "The Merry Wives of Windsor" may have had a similar slant in its original staging). There was a particularly suggestive and beautiful curtain drop with a Brueghelian hint. The interval came after the third of the six tableaux. Apart from some conventional humor and an objectionable solution to Falstaff´s dumping on the Thames, the action proceeded swiftly and clearly, with fine costumes and agreeable stage pictures, topped by a capital Herne´s oak.

At the Avenida for Buenos Aires Lírica things proceeded at a much more modest level, with the exception of the fine assumption of Falstaff by Luis Gaeta (and a good Quickly, Elisabeth Canis). But he, as the whole production by Fabian Von Matt, was affected by an overly clownish approach to makeup, acting, costumes and stage designs, including some gross mistakes, such as an insignificant Herne´s oak or the complete blackout whilst Falstaff is being pinched by the "spirits". Stage and costume designs by Daniela Taiana.

Carlos Ullán sang a pleasant Fenton and Leonardo Estévez sang with metallic voice but good acting his Ford. I found the other ladies uninteresting though acceptable (Vanesa Tomas, Gabriela Ceaglio and Cecilia Jakubowicz) and the character roles well taken by Gustavo De Gennaro, Walter Schwarz and Osvaldo Peroni. Although the proceedings weren´t lively (not their fault) the Choir under Juan Casasbellas sang accurately. The 45-member orchestra is too small for this score ( a constant problem at this theatre) and I found conductor Javier Logioia Orbe below his best level, with frequent scrambled passages.

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