Thursday 27 April 2017

Strong stuff: Ginastera's Bomarzo returns

Ginastera: Bomarzo - German Olvera, John Daszak, Hilary Summers - Teatro Real, Madrid (Photo Teatro Real)
Ginastera: Bomarzo - German Olvera, John Daszak, Hilary Summers - Teatro Real, Madrid (Photo Teatro Real)
Alberto Ginastera Bomarzo; John Daszak, Hilary Summers, Thomas Oliemans, dir; Pierre Audi, cond: David Afkhan; Teatro Real Madrid
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Apr 14 2017
Star rating: 4.0

A towering performance from John Daszak sets off this psychologically acute production of Ginastera's rarely performed opera

Ginastera: Bomarzo - John Daszak, Milijana Nikolic - Teatro Real, Madrid (Photo Teatro Real)
Ginastera: Bomarzo - John Daszak, Milijana Nikolic
Teatro Real, Madrid (Photo Teatro Real)
Alberto Ginastera's opera Bomarzo has had a somewhat mixed history. Premiered in Washington DC in 1967, it was famously banned in Ginastera's native Argentine and not performed there until 1972. The opera had its UK premiere in 1976 at the London Coliseum in English. Since then it has not been much seen, and this was the first European staging since 1976!

The 2016 centenary of Ginastera's birth seems to have been the impulse for a new production of Ginastera's Bomarzo shared between Amsterdam and Madrid. We caught the productions premiere at the Teatro Real in Madrid on Monday 24 April 2017. Directed by Pierre Audi, designed by Urs Schönbaum and Wojciech Dziedzic with choreography by Amir Hosseinpour and Jonathan Lunn, and video by Jon Rafman. The production feature John Daszak in the title role as Pier Francesco Orsini, Duke of Bomarzo, with German Olvera and Damian del Castillo as his brothers Girolamo and Maerbale, James Creswell as his father, Hilary Summers as his grandmother, plus Milijana Nikolic as Pantasilea (Pier Francesco's first sexual experience), Nicola Beller Carbone as Julia Farnese (Pier Francesco's wife), Thomas Oliemans as the astrologer Silvio de Nardi, Albert Casals as Nicolas Orsini, Francis Tojer as Mensajero and Amaury Reinoso as Abdul. David Afkham conducted the chorus and orchestra of the Teatro Real Madrid.

The work has a text by Manuel Mujica Lainez based on his novel of the same name, which deals with the life of the hunchbacked Duke of Bomarzo in Sicily who created the series of monstrous sculptures in his gardens in the 16th century (still visible today). The piece starts with the astrologer Silvio de Nardi (Thomas Oliemans) preparing a potion to make Pier Francesco immortal. It poisons him, and he relive episodes from his life in flash back, his brothers tormenting him, his father's dislike of him, his culpability in the deaths of his elder brother Girolamo and father, his obsession with marriage to and failure of relationship with Julia Farnese, his obsession that his younger brother Maerbale is having a relationship with Julia Farnese.

Alberto Ginastera wrote the work using serial techniques, with a huge orchestra including piano, harpsichord, and much percussion (73 percussion instruments in all). The chorus, in the piece, commented and sometimes formed part of the orchestra texture. Essentially the opera unfolded in Pier Francesco's head and Pierre Audi created a series of phantasmagoric and psychologically acute scenes with Urs Schönbaum's black box set. This transformed into many spaces aided by Jon Rafman's videos. Bomarzo's famous statues were referenced, but so was much else.

Ginastera: Bomarzo - Hilary Summers, John Daszak - Teatro Real, Madrid (Photo Teatro Real)
Hilary Summers, John Daszak - Teatro Real, Madrid (Photo Teatro Real)
Ginastera's score uses a lot of orchestral interludes and the effect was to heighten the lack of naturalism, we saw Pier Francesco's thoughts and obsessions. In addition to a group of 10 dancers, there was a sequence of boys and men, from child to old man, all dressed as Pier Francesco and representing his life, reflecting the characters' obsession with Pier Francesco's horoscope and the way it implied his immortality.

Another thread running through the staging was the contrast between Pier Francesco's self image and the more perfect human form. His brother Girolamo, out for a swim, goes to his death naked (German Olvera bravely showing all) showing a perfect athletic form, whilst Pier Francesco's strongest relationship seemed to be with his handsome servant Abul (played with seductive attraction by Amaury Reinoso).

The title role a huge and challenging part, Ginastera's angular vocal lines cannot be the easiest to sing, and John Daszak was only stage virtually the whole time. Daszak impressed with the way he turned Ginastera's difficult vocal line into something expressive and intense, gripping us throughout. He was impressively tireless in the long part, and caught the thoughtful human element as well as the monstrous. It was a performance which held our attention, and fascinated.

Ginastera: Bomarzo - John Daszak, German Olvera, Damiano del Castillo - Teatro Real, Madrid (Photo Teatro Real)
John Daszak, German Olvera, Damiano del Castillo  (Photo Teatro Real)
The first few scenes, in Pier Francesco's childhood and youth, were well done but the opera only really began to grip when Pier Francesco began his campaign of terror and let his obsessions run free. Here Daszak was aided by Hilary Summers' Diana Orsini, the grandmother from hell, whose love for her grandson led her to encourage his obsessions and egg him on, even participating in the killing of Girolamo.

Despite the scene where Pier Francesco has erotic dreams about Julia Farnese, the most intimately erotic moments in the production were the tender ones between Pier Francesco and Abul, with Pierre Audi making it clear why Pier Francesco was impotent with his wife. Thomas Oliemans was mysterious and manipulative in the important role of the astrologer Silvio de Nardi whilst Milijana Nikolic and Nicola Beller Carbone were the contrasting types of womanhood in Pier Francesco's life, the whore and the virgin.

David Afkham conjured some wonderful sounds from the orchestra clearly revelling in Ginastera's sound world which evoked the neurotic obsessions of the opera's anti-hero in timbral form.
Ginastera: Bomarzo - John Daszak & dancers - Teatro Real, Madrid (Photo Teatro Real)
Ginastera: Bomarzo - John Daszak & dancers - Teatro Real, Madrid (Photo Teatro Real)

Pierre Audi's production could not disguise the fact that the opera could do with a little tightening, but it certainly gripped. The fluid nature of the staging ensured that nothing in this dream world was quite as it seemed. Audi's staging of the scenes in Pier Francesco's childhood was both psychologically acute and practical. John Daszak, German Olvera and Damian del Castillo mimed the scenes between the brothers whilst the dialogue was spoken by three young actors from Pequenos Cantores de ORCAM (Ignacio Carci, Hugo Fernandez, Leandro Hollega) from the pit. The same group also supplied the young soprano, Patricia Redondo, who sang the shepherd's folk song which opened and closed the piece.

As a non-Spanish speaker, I have no idea whether cast's diction came anywhere close to being clear; there were surtitles (in English and Spanish) but these were so wordy it struck me as desirable to follow the opera without them. I would definitely be interested in hearing it in English, though I suspect that John Daszak, having learned it in Spanish, would be reluctant to re-learn it in English.

Ginastera's Bomarzo will never become a staple repertoire work, but this production showed it is a powerful piece. John Daszak's towering performance as Pier Francesco Orsini was a superb achievement and I hope it comes out on video. The production is on the Opera Platform from 5 May until 4 June 2017.

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