(A scene from Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. This year there was a Swarovski sponsorship.)
Capodanno (New Years) found Opera Chic splitting appearances between Milan and Cernobbio to enjoy/appease the best of both the city and the country, and drinking myself through an impressive reserve of early 1990s Moët & Chandon Dom Pérignon Cuve'e Vintage and 1970s Mumm Vintage. I'm not str8 edge by any means so the vintage bubbly was quite nice (Opera Chic follows Jay Z and Diddy's boycott of Cristal.)
(An ad on via Brera for the Beethoven Slatkin Concerto di Capodanno)
As per a blossoming tradition, the early hours of New Years evening were spent at Auditorium di Milano at Largo Gustav Mahler for the annual Concerto di Capodanno. Teatro alla Scala is dark for Capodanno, so we intrepid pirates must find music at alternate venues. This year at Auditorium, there was a performance of Nona sinfonia di Beethoven - Beethoven's Ninth - with the Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro Sinfonico di Milano Giuseppe Verdi, conducted by Leonard Slatkin.
Last year also found Opera Chic at Auditorium to enjoy Beethoven's Ninth, conducted by Herbert Blomstedt. OC remembers last year well, having just arrived in Milan a week prior, somewhat ignorant of the brilliance of Italian cashmere, and therefore unable to keep warm in the zero Celsius temperature. This year was much lovelier (nine degrees warmer) so OC set-out to Auditorium wrapped in a black short-sleeve waffle-knit Paul Smith cashmere sweater, with a matching Paul Smith high-waist black silk skirt; a vintage, double-breasted dark brown leather trench from Shabby Chic, black Chanel vintage pumps, and my Gucci midollino.
(A picture of the ceiling of Auditorium. I was sitting so close to the orchestra that it was impossible to snag a shot of the stage discretely.)
Singing Schiller's An die Freude was soprano Oksana Dyka, mezzo soprano Irina Cistjakova, tenor Simon O'Neill, and bass Stanislav Shvets. All were relatively worthy, but tenor O'Neill chose to interpret the usual old-skool heldentenor color instead with a very modern tenore di grazia. Whatever. It was almost impossible to hear him anyway, as OC's seat was about four rows from the stage, directly aligned with Oksana Dyka's deafening lyric. Also because of the proximity, I was unable to snap any good photos (too tacky!)
Slatkin made a bit of a mess with the Ninth Symphony. And when I say "a bit of a mess", I really mean, "a lot of a mess". Between the four movements, the concerto was a giant chaotic afterthought. I know that the orchestra is filled with kids my age, and I know that tackling Beethoven's Ninth symphony is a huge compromise and mastering between tempi, chorus, orchestra, as well as the conflicts within the sections of the orchestra; but Slatkin just didn't have any control. He sped through the entire performance at breakneck, careless speed which proved too fast for anyone but the strings to keep-up. His Allegro ma non troppo and Molto vivace clocked-in together at less than a half hour. The entire brass section was completely out-of-sync with the strings. They couldn't keep up. His Adagio molto e cantabile was even worse, with soloists flubbing fairly easy cadences. (The image to the left is of the interior architecture of Auditorium.)
It was only during the last movement, Presto, that Slatkin finally showed a bit of proficiency with the orchestra, and his frantic tempi (sort-of) worked. The reason being is that the chorus ignored his direction completely, and sang at their own speed, forcing Slatkin to slow down the entire tempo to one that was more manageable. Slatkin was just going too fast, and they weren't having it. This created a huge conflict within the entire ensemble, and the last movement was very tense. Overall, there were times when the entire piece went under, completely lost; there were also many instances when the piece didn't even sound like Beethoven's Ninth.
(A shot from 2005 Concerto di Capodanno at Auditorium; Blomstedt's Beethoven's Ninth.)
Last year conductor Herbert Blomstedt directed the same exact group of kids in Beethoven's ninth at Auditorium, but it could have been a completely different orchestra considering Sunday night's performance. Last year, Blomstedt was adept; the orchestra held tight, the choir synchronized, with everyone giving a very solid performance. Blomstedt propagated a ten minute standing ovation, whereas this year, we treated Stlatkin to like five minutes of tepid clapping before the orchestra scurried off the stage. (okay, there was one bis, with just the "fourth movement" of the Presto reiterated, and the soloists awkwardly smiling). yay.
The 2005 performance was also more exciting in the respect that OC had a run-in with someone quite spectacular. Last year as OC entered the garage where she had parked the car on Corso San Gottardo, as she was waiting for the auto, a large black 2005 model Mercedes pulled up. OC then witnessed the largest man she'd ever seen getting into the car. He was dressed impeccably, with a black cashmere overcoat and a gray cashmere scarf. OC was not yet familiar with Italian celebrity, but knew the world of soccer well. It was Giacinto Facchetti, a former legend of Internazionale Calcio, as well as the (at the time) current president of the Internazionale soccer team. (btw, when Facchetti passed away just this last September 2006, OC went directly to Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio the morning of his funeral to say goodbye. Arriving at 11:00 am, already the line was wrapped around the entire church, rows and rows of people waiting to honor the legacy of the former Inter leader. With appointments impending, OC had no choice but to leave, but it was touching to see so many people regardless.)
This year, no one of importance surfaced. Well, except me, of course! :)
And now OC must mention in passing the extremely awesome Beethoven's Ninth that she was treated to, the very evening she arrived in Milan last year. On Friday, December 23, 2005, she heard the Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala play their annual Concerto di Natale, which was also Beethoven's Sinfonia n. 9 in re min. op. 125. It was conducted by Maestro Daniel Barenboim with Thomas Quasthoff singing baritone.
It was most exciting because everyone in Milan knew that this was a precarious moment time in Maestro Barenboim's career, as he was the most favored candidate to fill some sort of leadership position of influence after the turbulent, former reign of Muti's artistic and musical direction. We had been hearing many rumors that La Scala was going to ask Barenboim to fill the position of a guest conductor or some other leadership role, so it was awesome to see Barenboim on his best behavior, smiling broadly and prancing across the stage, absolutely effervescent.
But Barenboim had nothing to worry about, as La Scala was completely enthralled by his appearance. As the concerto drew to a close, it was obvious that this was a monumental Beethoven’s Ninth, and the audience acknowledged it with about twenty-five minutes of applause. Barenboim was ecstatic, and braved his laudatory applause well. The orchestra began that steady, rhythmic stomping of their feet on the floor to beacon their approval.
(Image of the Mehta Concerto di Capodanno with the Wiener Philharmoiniker. My friends don't have plasma!)
Then after Concerto di Capodanno, Opera Chic drove to Cernobbio, and promptly got wrecked. But not wrecked enough to wake up bright and early the next morning for the traditional viewing of the all-male review of the Wiener Philharmoniker playing the Neujahrskonzert 2007 aka New Year's Day Concert (well, the concerto started at 2:00 pm, but close enough). This year it was lead by his highness Zubin Mehta conducting a Johann Strauß and Josef Strauß heavy program. Here you are treated to the orchestra and a montage of arial views of Vienna in the springtime and ballet at Schloß Schönbrunn aka Schönbrunn Palace. And constant shots of Mehta's gigantic-shouldered wife applauded between every piece. It's super-lame, but you watch it in an ironic way. There's also the fascination that the Vienna Philharmonic is comprised of an amazingly all-white, all-male contingent (or is there already a female harpist?), as Alex Ross recently reported. Anyway, it's a huge deal in Europe, and tickets have a five-year waiting list.
(Another picture of Giulini's baton and first violin behind the glass at Auditorium di Milano.)
So if there is anything to be gleaned from the auspicious New Year celebration, the upcoming year will be filled with bad concerti but good champagne. Not bad, but OC hopes she read the signs wrong.
Opera Chic's New Years Resolution? 1024x768.