From Giacomo Puccini to Ari Kaurismäki, what the New Opera Festival will be like

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From Wednesday 23, the new productions of the festival will be able to be seen by streaming, among them the video “Winter School”, in which the original Finnish film director participates.

In Winter school, video that is part of the New Opera Festival 2020 program, the composer Oscar Strasnoy and the writer Florence Werchowsky they talk about opera.

Oscar Strasnoy (Buenos Aires, 1970) is one of the most prolific and talented composers on the current scene and has been based in Berlin for several years; Werchowsky is an Argentine writer and former classical dancer at the Teatro Colón, who has also made some forays into contemporary musical theater, such as The dancers don’t speak (based on his homonymous novel). Both artists have a distant conversation, typical of the pandemic era, to which in a way the Finnish film director Ari Kaurismäki joins. The filmmaker does not appear on camera, but his answers do appear in writing to questions that Strasnoy asks him (also in writing).

The starting point of this conversation is the following. In January 2020 Strasnoy went to see Bohemian from Puccini to the Berlin State Opera, as it was directed by a friend, and two or three days later, in a casual way, the musician saw Kaurismäki’s film at the city’s Cinematheque. Bohemian life (1992), based on the same book on which Puccini’s opera was based, Scenes of bohemian life, by French Henri Murger. Then it occurs to Strasnoy to write an email to Kaurismäki and ask him if he can ask him some questions for the video that he and Werchowsky are preparing for a group of Argentine artists on “contemporary opera” (“whatever that means “, Says Strasnoy) and on the topic of” bohemian life “(which in Argentina was perfectly embodied by the Polish Witold Gombrowicz, who, as Strasnoy says, passed almost nonstop from adolescence to old age and whose literary work was not to know well into his sixties).

Led (and heavily intervened) by Alejo Moguillansky, the video projects images of Kaurismäki’s film and Puccini’s opera, as well as those of Strasnoy and Werchowsky in their respective studios, among others. Basically, it is a conversation about the theatrical and musical times of opera, opera in general and of Bohemia in particular.

How long has it been since Rodolfo and Mimi meet for the first time in the attic of the Latin Quarter in Paris and promise to go live together? No more than four or five minutes, Strasnoy counts. “The characters are from real life -concludes the musician- but the contexts are unreal.” You have to understand a whole world in a concentrated time. “In the first act there are four useless (the bohemians: the painter, the poet, the composer and the philosopher), an unpaid rent and a guy who falls in love (the poet Rodolfo de Mimí)”, summarizes Strasnoy.

Kaurismäki’s film has nothing to do with Puccini’s opera (“I like that opera, but I never read the libretto or saw it on stage,” says the director), but his images add their own. Kaurismäki’s characters speak French, as in Murger’s original, but they don’t know French; They speak by phonetics (the director clarifies that he works with his Finnish actors friends, and none of them can speak French). That is how That film so far removed from the opera at one point comes close to the experience of the opera; or, more precisely, to the subject of understanding in opera. Because those characters in the film, who speak in a rather comical way without giving an idea that they are knowing what they say and what they hear, lead to the question of how to understand an opera or what is to understand from a libretto.

In this sense, Werchowsky appreciates the existence of the subtitling that began to function in the Colón room in the 90s under the direction of Sergio Renán, which allowed him to understand the text of works in foreign languages.

Although Strasnoy casts a cloak of doubt on this last point: “Opera is never understood, not even when sung in your own language. What you don’t understand from the text, you understand from the music. When you leave the opera, you come out of a strange nightmare where all the senses, even the olfactory, bombarded you ”, concludes the experienced composer.

The productions of New Opera Festival Buenos Aires 2020 They will be presented from September 23 to October 4 by streaming, through the site

In addition to the video of Strasnoy, Werchowsky and Moguillansky, they will be able to see Mother Amber, chamber opera with images and direction by Juliana Iriart and Sebastián Zubieta, on anonymous text. The music, intentionally written before the selection of the text, distributes a melody between four singers, accompanied by a viola and brief vibraphone and harp interventions.

#environmental capital, by Andrés Genoud, is a performance opera in three installments, which will be screened live on September 25 and October 2 and 3. It is, based on concepts of Capital by Karl Marx and in the work of the pioneer in ethology and cybernetics, Jakob Von Uexküll.

The program is completed with two creations in residence, within the framework of the New Voices project of the Williams Foundation: The dreams of matter, by Sebastián Verea and Juan Cruz Forgnone, a mixture of experimental opera and video game; and Rosario Vega placeholder image, an apocryphal biography, De Carolina Piola, Santiago Villalba, Agustina Crespo and Ana Crapis, works that, according to the authors, seek to create a narrative device with a scenic-sound base that appeals to the fragmentary and subjective archive of memory -both individual and collective – as a tool for the creation of an apocryphal biography.

They are not operas performed in theaters or in conventional contexts, but creations in times of pandemic. As the Festival director explains, Miguel Galperín (director of the Centro de Experimentación del Teatro Colón), “These projects existed on paper and ended up taking shape to be transmitted over the Internet and as responses to the isolation of the pandemic.”

The Nueva Opera Buenos Aires Festival dates back to 2010 and was born as part of the CETC programming. “At one point I realized – says Galperín – that there was more production than available spaces, and although the CETC room is a very flexible space, it is still a room”.

The Festival ran for several years within the framework of the CETC activities, and included an annual seminar for young local artists given by creators such as Oscar Strasnoy, Heiner Goebbels, Pablo Ortiz and other artists from different backgrounds. With the change of authorities in the artistic direction of the Colón, the Festival had to emigrate from the CETC, and today it has its headquarters and main support in the Williams Foundation.



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