The day after La Prima at Teatro alla Scala, and I'm still trying to digest the entire night. It came and went in such a whirlwind of activity, I almost wish it were here again...
I spent the last week fretting over what to wear, naturally, as I had been told that at La Prima at Teatro alla Scala, I would be among the company of the world's most prestigious opera critics, authors, Eurotrash, celebrities, dignitaries, politicians, presidents, designers, and banking moguls. Okay, whatevs. I mean, this girl has done NYC, has gone to loads of exclusive parties, and surely can do Milan. Right? *cringes*
Well, I had previously survived the grueling trial of Teatro alla Scala's annual Concerto di Natale last December 2005 (where Barenboim conducted Beethoven’s Ninth which RAEWKED! btw tia), which happens to be the second-most prestigious event of the annual Teatro alla Scala opera season. And I am proud to report that I had been victorious, surviving the night relatively unscathed, so I knew already the art of floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee.
Therefore, I went as classic and black as possible, not wanting to draw too much attention, and bought a pair of Emma Hope brass button shoes in black suede, a Nancy Gonzalez crocodile clutch, a classic Ann Demeulemeester short-sleeved black silk dress with the matching silk scarf, black sheer stockings, and a Nanette Lepore black velvet and white embroidered ribbon coat.
You'd think that I had it going on, but stacked-up to the gratuitous opulence of miserable model/escorts, fashion designers, and Belgian ambassadors’ wives, I looked rather plain. But I looked good. We had a very eclectic mix last night at the theater of World Cup soccer players, washed-up actresses, diplomats, oil tycoons, finance ministers, tanned media executives, ancient Italian bankers, and a load of skanks with horrible plastic surgery, swathed in more fur than PETA could ever douse in bloody buckets of pig blood throughout their lifespan.
The women boasted shoulder-less gowns with full-arm satin gloves, white fur stoles, gigantic pearls between layers of velvet and satin, etc. The men in mostly white tie, and a few diplomats and generals sported those braided, gold aiguillettes like the French Garde Républicaine (which make me laugh because I always think of The Nutcracker).
As European celebrity is still quite new to me, I luckily could not identify most of the famous (really, ignorance is bliss). But I was able to recognize basically only the Inter Milan soccer players (thanks to the 2006 FIFA World Cup and the whole Zidane/Materazzi head-butting hilarity) who had flocked to the celebrity event. Last night saw the appearance of Marco Materazzi (now with less head-butting), Julio Cruz, and Luis Figo. I also recognized Italian “actress” Valeria Marini for her freakishly and painfully immense silicone lips, and also a Donatella Versace sighting. Ewwww.
We arrived in darkness (with a 6:00 pm curtain time) but thankfully dry (it’s been raining and overcast here in Milan for basically the last month), as I had my hair blown-out to a stick-straight style earlier that afternoon. Getting into the actual theater was quite a challenge, as there were more police in attendance with equally ubiquitous road blocks that had been erected throughout Piazza della Scala, Via Verdi, and Via Manzoni. It was chaos. Finally entering the theater on such a drab, rainy night was a pleasure, and the energy and warmth in the lobby was overwhelming, red carpet and all, flowers everywhere.
As we entered the auditorium (a.k.a. “Little Cairo”) Frengo had greeted the audience by channeling his inner interior-designer, and had mounted floral arrangements of dried green palm-fronds and Egyptian flowers. On both sides of the central Presidential Box, there were placed two gigantic, six-foot fronds with white Egyptian water lilies, and salmon-pink roses. Also sitting in the Presidential Box was a cast of characters that would have made me crap myself if I had known who they all were at the time. We had Letizia Moratti, Karolos Papoulias, Ivo Sanader, and Romano Prodi. Also stationed throughout the rings of palchi were bouquets of smaller palms and flowers. It was a nice touch, but I started thinking that maybe Frengo at some point was talked-out of pulling a “P-Diddy East Hampton White Party”, and maybe wanted to required that all guests show up in Egyptian-inspired costume.
Chailly appeared in a full tuxedo, but with his charlatanistic scruffy face. I believe now that there is really nothing in this world that will ever make Chailly go with clean-shaven cheeks, because not even Frengo's fastidiousness and overbearing dictatorship could touch his whiskers. Regardless, the opening overture was delicious. Chailly choose a full, strong sound for the night, and although it was large, it wasn't overpowering. It was just lovely.
The curtain rose on Act I and bathed the entire auditorium in a gold light, with the gilded sheen rising from the scenery to the costumes. The entire stage was filled with an immense frieze covered in hieroglyphics and figures of ancient kings and pharos. Frengo had channeled Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman, and Alagna appeared in a completely golden tunic, golden robe, golden tiara, golden breastplate, golden shin-guards, golden Wonder Woman wrist-guards, etc...Boy was ghetto-fabulous, but I was worried he was going to OG (death by an overdose of gold).
Alagna’s (btw, when I spell-check “Alagna’s”, MS Word suggests to me “Lasagna’s”) loalz. heh. Sorry. Aaaaanywaay, Alagna’s inaugural outfit heralded the appearance of platform sandals. Alagna was seriously standing on at least four inches of wood there. As he changed outfits throughout the night, the platforms remained, but in coordinating colors to match his robes. No wonder Alagna was so cranky with this production. Everyone else wore these light, little elf-like sandals with upturned toes. The costumes and design were so meticulous, and even the chorus was given as much attention as the leads. It was really magnificent.
Urmana was given some sort of dreadlocked black wig, which really made her look like the Predator monster unmasked from the Alien vs. Predator movie. She was draped in amazingly-slimming magenta and purple robe, which actually worked well for her robust physicality. She had opted for a rather dark slathering of theatrical greasepaint all over her body, much darker than Alagna. There were half-dozen guards stationed in blue tights and gold accented-blue robes, who had been given a washing of blue grease paint, which made me think of that episode of Arrested Development with Tobias and The Blue Man Group. heh.
Frengo introduced a clever method of using shiny gold rods, weaved into valances, that were stationed throughout almost every act as a kinetic element of the scenery. To me it seemed like the visualization of electricity. I thought it was brilliant, and really liked the effect, although I've been known in some circles to have a Calder fetish. Sometimes the silver rods were lowered past the entire stage to create distance and blocking, and other times they were raised to the very top of the scenery to create a sort of polishing finish.
Alagna sang adequately, but started-off a bit strained. Celeste Aida was a little thin; his platforms were maybe on too tight. Seriously, one day after and I still can't believe he agreed to wear platform sandals. But the audience loved his inaugural aria anyway, and there were loads of bravo and compliments. But in the end, Alagna got his arse served and his voice completely sung-over by the sheer awesomeness of the two lead ladies, Violeta Urmana's flawless Aida and Ildiko Komlosi's Amneris.
Act II opened with another golden wash of the stage. This grand opera was really give the appropriate treatment, thanks to Frengo. There must have been like five-hundred chorus members on the stage. I swear, it was a sea of gold. A giant gilded sphinx head loomed behind, while four more gigantic, towering statues of various pharos flanked the aisles. The audience began to note the presence of skinny topless male slaves, clothed only in short tunics. When it came time for Act II's Marcia Trionfale, Frengo and choreographer Vladimir Vassiliev gave the flawless ballet-dancer Roberto Bolle a tiny man-thong, with a giant golden cod-piece on the front. Of course, he danced superbly, but omg that cod piece omg! It was almost painful to watch Bolle take his curtain call and strategically, calculatedly prance between the curtains by walking backwards with an embarrassed smile. Bolle was also accompanied by nubile female and male secondary dancers, clad in tiny golden and white bikinis, and of course, more thongs than a Victoria's Secret catalogue. Gah. But the scene was awesome. But I also kind of felt like I was at Les Folies Bergère.
Act III recreated a giant desert oasis, and this scene marked the end of opulent gold and twinkling light. The scenes were now bathed in a very dark, blue lighting that washed over the singers. Frengo had kept the giant pharos sphinx head from the previous act in the background, but moved to the center of the stage a gorgeous island replete with like a dozen full-sized palm trees. It was insanity. Really, like a full forest in the middle of the stage. The singers never even set foot into the enclave. It was just scenery. Alagna and Urmana were now wearing darkly colored robes. Alagna's was black and grey with silver detail, and Urmana's was a dark sky blue with bronze details. Their duets were lovely and rich, and Alagna tried so hard to match Urmana’s power. Act III also marked the end of Orlin Anastassov’s Ramfis, who was replaced by Giorgio Giuseppini
Act IV was equally dark, and the palm-tree island was replaced by a stark concrete temple, with a bare altar in the middle. Again a giant Egyptian deity loomed in the background. Everyone donned heavier robes, and it was like a fabric bazaar exploded onto the actors. I think Frengo layered on the fabric too much, as during the curtain call, Ramfis almost lost his tunic under his sandals, as the audience gasped in anticipation of seeing his golden codpiece. But the finale was gorgeous, and Frengo slowly lowered a cage of the trademark metal pipes, and behind it he released two winged men appearing as phoenixes, which could have been really ghey, but was instead pretty cool.
Curtain call brought everyone on the stage, from a visibly-moved Frengo, replete in his nominal cashmere scarf (last night he wore a creamy white one), under a cascade of roses and flower petals. We also had the always-fezzed costume director Maurizio Millenotti, as well as choreographer Vladimir Vassiliev. Amneris's curtain call was amazing, and the audience lavished her with applause. Violeta Urmana almost lost it during her applause, and was holding-in her tears the entire time. She kept squeezing her eyes, covering her face with her entire hand, and pinching with her thumb and index finger and covering the rest of her face to hold back the tears.
The opera, despite its numerous intermissions, seemed like a breeze. The house was full of energy and tastily perfumed celebrity sweat. Since there was no way I was going to bring an umbrella to the theater (nor would it have fit between my Chanel compacts in my Nancy Gonzalez clutch) when we left the theater a bit after 10:15pm, it was pouring! Normally it would have been hilarious to watch us all holding our long couture skirts off the wet sidewalks, and hold our vintage clutches over our lacquered hair to shield the pouring rain...well, hilarious if I was watching it all happen from a café across the street in a warm Burberry overcoat and a pair of dry Wellingtons. But it kind of sucked.
I'm sad to state that my Emma Hope suede shoes are destroyed, and my Nanette Lepore velvet jacket looks like it melted, but to see Urmana crying and Frengo humble and shaken (it was stated that Frengo said of La Prima , "La più bella serata di tutta la mia carriera"...Translation: "The most beautiful of all of the nights of my career"), to see Bolle in a golden thong and Alagna in three different pairs of platform sandals was worth the price of the shoes and the jacket combined.