Fernando Fiszbein - Avenida de los Incas 3518
Le Balcon, 2012
Maxime Pascal, Damien Bigourdan, Cyril Costanzo, Pablo Ramos, Rodrigo Ferreira, Elise Chauvin, Florent Baffi, Basile Seck, Camille Merckx, Minino Garay
The method of expression and how it relates dramatically to the storytelling is not always clear in Fernando Fiszbein's Avenida de los Incas 3518, but it's an intricate short opera that is well-staged and performed in this 2012 recording, commissioned and performed by the specialist contemporary music ensemble Le Balcon.
I'm tempted to say that the work operates on a number of levels - and I'm sure musically it does - but that would be too much of a play on the setting of the work. The opera does indeed take place entirely within an apartment block on 3518, Avenida de los Incas, presumably in Buenos Aires. Visually, the staging by Damien Bigourdan successfully gives the work a vertical dimension with the use of projections, but there's a similar dynamic in the rises and plunges of the music score.
Structurally, Avenida de los Incas 3518 opens with a murmur of intercutting voices from the different apartments of the high-rise block, and it ends with a cacophonic orgy of screams of pleasure and of fear. The main body of the story is furthermore played out in flashback at the moment that three men in a lift plunge down an elevator shaft. Pablo, Diego and Nico have discovered a service elevator from old blueprints of the building and have been using it to intrude on their neighbours apartments. Mostly, it's to have fun, get high and play pranks by removing small objects and placing them in other places, but occasionally their incursions can even be beneficial, such as the time that Alma, living alone, got locked in her bathroom.
From the minor incidents related above, it's not immediately obvious that the narrative or the structure of this drama merits the attention it has been given musically, vocally and theatrically. Reflecting its setting, it's a slice-of-life drama with several domestic situations that interlink in the manner of filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu's 'Amores Perros'. Like Iñárritu's film, there's an effort made to see the relatively simple but melodramatic soap-opera situations as relating to something that has connections to and resonance in the grander scheme of the universe. Fiszbein even introduces an omniscient narrator half-way though who provides a recap for the audience in French, possibly for those who haven't followed the Spanish language libretto.
Fernando Fiszbein's ambitions are not quite so elaborate as those of the Mexican filmmaker. Perhaps it's the use of music, the language of opera, that allows the opera to be rather more modest in its range and thus more successful in how it represents the story. Opera music traditionally has the function of heightening and expressing emotional content, but here it's employed differently, actually downplaying issues that would feel somewhat overblown if they were merely dramatically represented and artificially interconnected. There's a sense that the tumbling notes, the dissonant interjections of brass and flute trills (and even a section played on typewriters) are an attempt more to capture the background cacophony of life and its little moments of colour that arise out of it.
Running only to a modest 45 minutes moreover, Avenida de los Incas 3518 never tests the viewer's patience either. The staging engages interest with the simple use of a screen that projects the ascent and descent of the lift though an identical arrangement of rooms, occasionally using some filmed footage for more elaborate sequences. Even its difficult modern musical language, which is played with beautiful precision by the Le Balcon ensemble, is accessible at this length, working as it does with the tone of the drama and the singing. The singing performances are all excellent, capturing all the colour of personality, location and life as it's lived on Avenida de los Incas 3518.