The Metropolitan Opera of New York just made official the 2007-2008 season (with too many awesome new productions to even begin listing), and bombarded the public with a supar-sexay, supar-edgy campaign, previewing a smattering of press images that could have been taken directly from the pages of Elle (well, circa 1990, at any rate) or present-day Glamour. You can find The New York Times article here.
The image (above) of Natalie Dessay from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor is so kewl that I can barely see through the reflection of awesomeness...
...and the image below of Alice Coote and Christine Schafer from Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel is better than shattering the backboard in Dr. J and Larry Bird One-On-One.
Mazzocchetti, one of the twenty other singers currently crooning lame Italian pop at the 57th Sanremo Festival, deftly premiered the song a little while ago, which was promised to be sung by Alagna before the predictable cancellation on January 7, 2007.
Although many Milanese have wiped their hands of Alagna forever after his Aida walk-off, we all agree that at least Alagna saved his last, dying shred of dignity by cancelling participation in the painfully lame Sanremo.
Also, like Shannen Doherty and Paris Hilton before him, one of Mazzocchetti eyes are slowly fighting their way off his face. That is all.
Some choice quotes follow. Here's one from our friend Franco "Frengo" Zeffirelli (who, since Angela Gheorghiu will be Violetta, had promised a superhawt "very erotic" staging with the husband-and-wife team):
"Alagna wanted to sing for two nights only, I don't stage an opera with a singer who stands there with a watch in his hand. Then, immediately thereafter, I was supposed to work with another tenor. It wouldn't have been respectful: not for me, nor for the audience".
The Corriere della Sera writer then hints what everybody -- Zeffirelli and the Opera di Roma -- was really afraid of: some other incident with the loggione -- Roman opera lovers, maybe, would not accept to be upstaged by their milanese colleagues.
The story also carries an awesome little piece of news: the Opera di Roma Artistic Director, Mauro Trombetta, has personally flown to Vienna (where Alagna will debut next Saturday in Massenet's Manon, at least if doesn't change his mind again) to try to talk some sense into Alagna:
«It is not appropriate to start an argument. Alagna wanted to come to Rome to please his wife Angela Gheorghiu, but had other commitments. He asked for forgiveness, he told me it's been a long time since they sang together: the problem is he has to study a part for another opera he's not familiar with, and just didn't have the time».
Swept by the idyllic Salzburg walks, and blinded by the chance to go shopping at her favorite food store in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Opera Chic missed the chance of going to Barbara Frittoli's recital at la Scala tonight: thankfully, we had various friends at the theater (none of them, sadly, for various reasons, with Opera Chic's ninja skills for surreptitious picture-taking, so no images tonite sorrie!).
One of our friends just explained to us that after the first part was received very warmly (Schubert and Verdi, duh), the second part of the recital was accompanied by polite applause and a faint feeling of okokhuhuyawnkaynext! boredom in the audience.
The "bis" -- Vissi d'arte and Io sono l'umile ancella, not the most subversive choice of encores -- obviously brought the house down, with wild cheering and standing ovations.
The problem is of course that the second part was made of EIGHT songs by Henri Duparc -- basically half of the entire production of one of classical music's most outstanding -- and most forgotten -- geniuses.
A friend -- a kicka$$ lady of the Milanese old skool who attended the event with a similarly old skool buddy, a lady whose début here in the palchi happened when Maria Callas was on stage, not the otherwise excellent Frittoli -- pointed out: "Che gente alla Scala!", they're only happy with the big crowd-pleaser arias and prone to diffidence and even utter boredom when something less well-known is being performed.
Poor maestro Sinopoli had the same problem: every time he added, say, Zemlinsky to his programs, Opera Chic is told that people here would go all huffy, waiting for their beloved works they had already heard dozens of times.
This terrible habit of a nice chunk of la Scala's audience hasn't been broken during the Muti years -- operagoing and concertgoing as social event, light entertainment that must not interfere with one's comfort zone. And considering that Lissner's choice for this year's la prima was Frengo's Aida xtravanganza spectacular we doubt that the solution is around the corner. It's just, to quote Schopenhauer, lame.
And now if you'll excuse us, we need to pump up the volume, Bidu Sayao's version of Duparc's Chanson Triste is coming up on the vintage McIntosh sound system. Again and forever, merci Henri.
A kind reader alerts us that Opera Chic's little liveblog BlackBerry post, last Tuesday night during intermission at La Fille du Regiment, has been given a nice shoutout (without link, tho) from our friends @ the CBC (which is kinda like the BBC, only with funnier accents)!
Here we go:
One opera fan even blogged the event during intermission.
"I am not a composer of music, I am an inventor of music" - Igor Stravinsky
Salzburg, where Opera Chic sometimes spends the weekend (not at Riccardo Muti's villa, unfortunately, at least for the moment) and where a certain composer with terrible manners and a funny wig was born 251 years ago, has a very good little museum of modern art, where the exhibit "Stravinsky: I Need To Feel Art" for the 125th anniversary of the composer's birthday has just opened.
Full review and big flickr album tomorrow.
A sneak preview of our review: suffice to say that Stravinsky is gangsta. Photographic evidence below.
Try to guess where Opera Chic's spending the weekend:
Lighter posting tomorrow, and Monday night we'll be back to Milano just in time to say ciao to Frittoli. If Alagna makes us, we'll post again anyway. Even from our buen retiro, between bites of delicious Esterhazy Torte (and a very nice museum show).
Alerted this morning to Opera Chic by kick-a$$ reader fignaz, and now verified: Roberto Alagna has PULLED-OUT of the upcoming April 20, 2007 Teatro dell'Opera Roma La Traviatala prima (with direction and staging by our very own Franco "FRENGO" Zeffirelli).
We have it confirmed by unimpeachable authority that it went like this:
Zeffirelli, still royally pissed because of the Teatro alla Scala snub, told Alagna that he'd have to join the second cast, because he didn't want him around for la prima. Alagna (obviously) laughed in his face, and called the engagement off.
May gawd keep him safe and sound for many, many years to come -- he is out favorite manga-like monster plushy toy.
As Opera Chic's bff4e&e reader Donna Anna wrote us, and you cannot describe the Gergiev magik any better than that:
The first half was Petrouchka, the 1911 version. All those wonderful passages shimmered, and he shaped it beautifully. I've seen this performed with Nureyev but one almost doesn't need a ballet because the story plays-out in the score. His ability to shape dynamics is without peer. At the end, the strings were barely audible but the sadness was all there.
Tchaikovsky's 5th was just...amazing. Talk about shaping and structuring! During the second movement, I had the sense that the orchestra was like a pair of lungs breathing in and out, crescendo to diminuendo in gorgeous hair-pin sequences. All the textures and sonic lushness played out and the orchestra sounded top of the line.
He's fascinating to watch. Very spare; and not a lot of jumping around until the end. All the drama and movement are in his hands which are like rubber. And he did keep flicking his hair back.
The audience went wild. Four calls, the orchestra wouldn't rise for the final call and all the Russians in the audience were hollering full steam. Lots of bouquets, and all well deserved.
Lucky Donna Anna! Let's just hope Gergiev had a designated driver somewhere!!!111 //i keed, i keed.
Because Filianoti's a good tenor and a good man, and because Francesco Cilea can't get the respect he deserves -- especially among way too many misguided opera snobs. Truly a major composer, he's most often either dismissed as the "Umile Ancella" one-aria-wondah dude (like the truly lame Catalani) or, even worse, dissed as some sort of lightweight hack with delusions of grandeur.
Whenever people asked the great, late, Carlos Kleiber which opera he would have liked to conduct next, he used to stun his audience answering "Adriana Lecouvreur, of course: a most elegant opera".
Now, L'Arlesiana may not be as perfect, but we're talking about a giant among opera composers here -- in all Cilea-related issues, Opera Chic blindly follows Carlito's Way. Of course poor Kleiber, paralyzed-by-fear and terribly haunted by the ghost of his father, a much lesser conductor than himself, never managed to conduct his Adriana. But we're grateful for Cilea's increasing presence in major opera houses programs -- soon at la Scala, too -- and we're grateful for young (he's just 33) Filianoti's -- Cilea's fellow Calabrese -- talent.
The young Italian tenor Giuseppe Filianoti made a dashing début as Edgardo in “Lucia di Lammermoor,” and acquired a fan club in the upper balconies by the fifth performance. An old-school, from-the-heart singer in the mode of Giuseppe di Stefano, Filianoti plucked off high notes with a clear, pinging tone, maintained a generous long line, and threw himself into the role with infectious, almost loony enthusiasm.
Maestro Muti, back in Milan today, took part at the Biblioteca Ambrosiana -- the beyond-awesome library where the Codex Atlanticus by Leonardo da Vinci is kept -- in the official press conference for the Pentecost Festival in Salzburg of which he is the director. The Italian maestro, proud of his Neapolitan origins, will bring obscure -- and even forgotten -- baroque masterpieces (operas and oratori) to Salzburg in May.
Because, see, Maestro Muti got all Indiana-Jones like, and he has discovered "new" (aka lost) works by Scarlatti, Cimarosa and Paisiello and will conduct those works with "his kids", the young Orchestra Cherubini. Having spent months in the old library and archives of the Girolamini Monastery in Naples, and in the Conservatorio of San Pietro a Maiella, and having pored over autograph manuscripts by Alessandro Scarlatti, Leonardo Leo, Donato Ricchezza, Niccolò Jommelli, Francesco Feo and other Neapolitan composers, Muti can now proudly introduce a unique music festival.
The opera will be later introduced to Italian audiences (in Ravenna -- December -- and Piacenza) and, from 2008 on, in Russia (St. Petersburg) and France (Paris).
The maestro has also slammed Italy: "I've found more enthusiasm for this project abroad than here in Italy. I still think that great culture makes Europe more united, but for this festival I've found more interest in Austria than I've found here. But then -- he observed bitterly -- I'm a dumb idealist".
* top photo: Bruegel's Naval Battle in the Gulf of Naples, Galleria Doria-Pamphili, Rome
First the bad news or the good? Let's get it over with the bad news first. La Scala did commemorate her great Toscanini without an exhibit, or a reasoned book (ED: yeah, they only had an extraordinary Daniel Barenboim Beethoven in memoriam concert attended even by the President of the Republic!!!wtf???), and the other night they spat in Toscanini's eye by allowing a tenor to deliver an encore after the most circus-like aria of the entire opera.
It was Donizetti's Fille du Regiment, with a bittersweet operetta taste, and the tenor was Juan Diego Florez, a prodigy of elegance and technique, a computer-like applause machine. The piece contains nine high Cs in the sequence, and even in light voices such as Florez's that is a lot of work. That is all. La Scala distinguished herself even in the cult of the composer's art opposed to the singers' old vanity. Toscanini had forbidden encores just for this reason. In recent years only Gavazzeni (with the chorus of I Lombardi) and Muti (Va' Pensiero) had broken that tradition, and these were two choral pieces cosely associated with our tradition. This, instead, was vocal athleticism. Regression, regression.
Among the names being floated around -- uninspiring Franz Welser-Moest, and our own Neil Shicoff -- the obvious choice (for his stature and his more than 35-year-long relationship with Vienna) is our great Maestro Riccardo Muti.
"Flórez-style is immensely strong, and immune to nearly any weapon. When it is properly used, it is almost invincible."*
*Enter the Wu-Tang/36 Chambers: "Da Mystery of Chessboxin".
Decked-out in a Pringle black cashmere dress (with a silk frill top and severely pleated skirt), I threw one of my Burberry trenches over, and made my triumphant return to La Scala. Without a scarf (in Milan = scandalous), I skipped down to the theater in black stockings from Kristina T and Boule de neige black pumps; Like a sweaty blind-date, Donizetti's La Fille du Régiment at Teatro alla Scala was waiting. But to disclose before I begin: Opera Chic was seated in a *very* conspicuous, open area, which made it a ginormous challenge to capture media for her lovely readers. But like a t-shirt ninja, I dug-in and infiltrated…because I ♥ you guys!
Soprano Désirée Rancatore was vocally stunning, and sang deftly. She played Marie's surly defiance well with her brash mannerisms and equally piquant voice. Dressed in garish costumes throughout the performance, she somehow was able to wield her petit frame proficiently. She however did flub at least three recitatives during Act I, omitting a few words, which were accompanied by a few titters from the audience. With her overall heaviness, she succeeded in making Flórez appear to float at least a few inches above the stage. I freely admit that if Natalie Dessay had not cancelled her commitment for Marie in December 2006, this performance really would have been something quite spectacular. Dessay's graceful, ballerina idiosyncrasies simply would have been better suited against lighter-than-air Flórez.
Onto Juan Diego Flórez: his Tonio was superbly placed, but then again, I've never been disappointed. Since my days at the MET witnessing the lamby-throated tenor in a bevy of performances, he continues to charm the audience with his charismatic smile and graceful elegance. He flitted around the stage during Act I in a red vest, green knickers, and white tights. And his hair is a bit bigger than his L'italiana in Algeri days at the NYC MET.
About that bis: The applause after A mes amis was about four or five minutes, with Flórez bowing deeply and solemnly the entire time. It was Le Caporal et Choeur who began the foot-stomping on stage (the traditional call for bis), which never really spread to the audience lol. But we all knew what was inevitable, and cheered regardless the perfection of this stellar tenore di grazia. Flórez was, after all, quite deserving of the endless cheers. Bis! Bravo! Viva il Flórez! Yves Abel picked-up the orchestra, and the tenor took A mes amis from an abbreviated point. He effortlessly nailed the 9+9 high Cs, leaving the audience breathless. His slang is mad dangerous…more deadly than the stroke of an axe, choppin’ through ya back *swish*…givin’ bystanders heart-attacks. (Wu-tang represent).
Opera Chic is thrilled to be part of this operatic history that was captured last night, but can't really quantify my sentiments...because we are talking about JDF here, and the half-lamb/half-prince can do no wrong in my eyes. If it was another tenor who called for the bis, I probably would have regarded it as a tacky, desperate attempt at show-boating. I can definitely see how Toscanini banned the aria bis, and branded it as a clumsy interruption of the artistic adhesion of an opera. But Flórez could make drying paint appealing. He could have wheeled-out his accountant and sorted through his taxes right there on stage, and I would be rapt with attention.
Anyway, the rest of the cast was lovely: Francesca Franci's La Marquise de Berkenfield was strong, entrancing, and entertaining. Anna Proclemer's La Duchesse de Crakentorp was almost mythical. Alessandro Corbelli's Sulpice was lovely, and great fun with his “rataplan”.
By the middle of Act II, the audience started demanding additional bis from like everyone and their mother, and there was a definitive moment of sheer stupidity when deafening applause and shouts of bis was called for one of Désirée Rancatore's later arias (regardless of the fact that she was treated to a very lukewarm reception during Act I). The soprano rightly did not deliver.
(Four images from the giant La fille du regiment catalog showing Frengo's sets & costumes.)
Frengo's garish, grating sets and costumes made the very subdued and elegant Opera Chic want to rend her eyes blind. Flamboyant pinks, yellows, and royal blue assaulted each outfit, and distracted from the wonderful singing. The scenery transpired as Victorian paper-cut-outs and comic-book inspired renderings that seemed almost demonic and twisted in contemporary times. Filippo Crivelli's beyond-old-skool direction hasn't been seen since that whiny, campy Bergonzi/Scotto 1952 L'Elisir d'Amore [well, it reminded me of that, although Crivelli wasn't culprit]. This production desperately is in need of a make-over. Of course, the Flórez 2005 live performance of Tonio at Teatro Carlo Felice springs to mind. And again, whereas Marie is supposed to steal the show, Flórez again upstages everyone, and becomes the very force that the opera revolves around.
At the end of the evening, some crazies in the loggione showered the orchestra from Galleria I with 4x6 fliers stating: “Lissner! GO HOME! Take the train to Paris!”
But more on that l8r...and more throughout the day…
Today's Corriere della Sera carries a great review titled, "Scala, Flórez’s Encore Breaks A Taboo", of last night's Fille du Regiment by the always interesting music critic and scholar Enrico Girardi.
Girardi loved Juan Diego Flórez, “the young, exceptional Peruvian tenor” (of course, who wouldn't), but advises against breaking La Scala's tradition of "NO ENCORES" in the future.
Here's his reasoning regarding "the encore":
“Is it right? Is it wrong? Is it an audience’s sacred right? Is it heresy? There’s nothing more mundane, in opera houses: an especially beautiful and well-sung aria gets repeated because of the audience’s furious requests. Not at La Scala.”
"Now, there’s no denying that Flórez is a truly exceptional singer, the point isn’t whether or no the derserved such an honor. The point is that until the other day, nobody would have been allowed to do an ancore by La Scala’s management. La Scala è La Scala, they would have told him: It just is not done here. With reason. The reason is not that "La Scala è La Scala", (La Scala needs to earn night after night the reasons for her pride) but that music is more important than those who perform it; it’s even more important than the audience: an unpopular, but flawless concept. It is fact."
"Anyway it happened, and there’s no reason to turn this into a drama. It happened. Amen. But it’ll be better not to have any encores in the future. We are happy to hear that the management had advised the young tenor against the encore (he had announced his plan the other day in a Corriere interview). Other things are more worrying anyway. For example, La Scala needs to avoid in the future that somebody like the boring and shallow Canadian Yves Abel gets hired to conduct an opera only on surface 'easy' such as La Fille Du Regiment. In his hands Donizetti’s opéra comique loses much of its lively, exciting spirit. This damages the already way-too-seasoned staging – from 1959 – by Filippo Crivelli and Franco Zeffirelli, with his fable-like atmosphere, the painted sets. Today, it looks like a parody of the traditional stagings: and in this sense, it is paradoxically modern."
We kind of agree: NEW RULE @ LA SCALA NO ENCORES FOR ANYBODY XCEPT JUAN DIEGO: JDF IS REQUIRED TO DO THE ENTIRE OPERA AS AN ENCORE @ OPERA CHIC'S HOUSE (AKA LA CASA DE OPERA CHICA) K?
The last singer to break Toscanini's rules, until last night of course, and perform an encore at la Scala, was majestic Russian bass Fedor Chaliapin: his Don Basilio in Barbiere di Siviglia was so powerful and just plain awesome that the endless cheering led him to repeat.
After that, 74 years of respect of Toscanini's rules: no singer was allowed to give an encore. The only exception were awarded to the chorus in 1984 ("Oh Signore dal tetto natìo" in I Lombardi alla prima crociata), 1986 and 1996 ("Va' Pensiero" in Nabucco).