OC is v a r y s l o o o o w l y recovering from a Wagner-induced hangover today, which not even the strongest caffè macchiato & brioche have yet chased away. Since the last time La Scala performed Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, OC was just planetary fumes, she thought she’d go out in style: I arrived last night @ the Piermarini in Alexander McQueen round, bubble toe platform stilettos with white stitching, sans stockings (c’mon…those are for old Milanese grannies), and a matching McQueen black silk suit: cigarette skirt covering my legs, and a fitted matching jacket with a ribbon tie. Underneath instead of ridiculous jewels (OC wanted to go as minimal as Patrice Chéreau’s streamlined production), I wore a Dior white silk ruffle collar blouse. Then to hold lipstick & cash, a vintage Lanvin patent leather clutch, and over everything, a vintage black Chanel wool jacket found this summer at Resurrection Vintage in Los Angeles (although we passed on the Chanel fanny pack).
Sadly last night, OC was in the minority for her choice of outerwear, as there were more old women in fur than you could shake Toscanin's baton at: fur wraps, fur collars, and miles of fur jackets. It honestly made OC a little queasy, all that old, natty, syrupy fur wrapped around black dresses. And yes, as always, black was the color to be seen in, a safe and predictable wardrobe standby @ the Piermarini. And all VIPs -- doctors, lawyers, former heads of media houses, architects -- all the old European money marking that glistens as bright as the ancestral jewels and that scary plastic surgery on the blondest of former brunettes.
OC arrived easily at the theater, having learned from last year the most crowded and anxiety-ridden routes to avoid. Awesomely, this year was markedly less skankeriffic, and displayed more Milan elegance as opposed to last year’s load of horribly appointed escorts and their balding lawyer pimps. @ this year's Teatro alla Scala la prima, the Italian newspapers have a few lovely photo galleries, which you can find online: 24 photos here, 20 photos here, and 5 photos here [ed: found 7 photos here @ Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung].
To describe the scene outside, the police close-off the entire Piazza della Scala, with the statue of Leonardo pleasantly looking on, and many surrounding streets as most arrivals stream from via Manzoni. Cops in riot gear lollls heh and police on horseback roamed the cleared areas in the streets, and tons of tourists and locals stood behind the metal barriers to get a good look at the arriving VIPs. A mountain of paparazzi hovered by the front doors. Across the piazza, there is almost always a large demonstration in front of Palazzo Marino (City Hall) where this year, almost 1K VIP guests would be dining after the performance, making a fuss for the heads of state (this year it was a protest from Alfa Romeo – we want moar hoarspowah!!). Again, this year arriving at the theater under overcast skies (better for OC so she didn’t have to figure out where to put her Tom Ford sunglasses during the performance), but leaving the theater in the cold Milan rain was such a huge pain in the a$$ when hauling around all this gorgeous vintage.
The smell of fresh paint greeted us @ the theater, all the burnt-out bulbs had been replaced, and garlands of red roses were hanging over the central Palco reale (the prestigious President’s Box), where sat Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, with the premiers from Austria, Germany, Qatar, and Greece...among others). There were cameras throughout the auditorium, as the show was being broadcast live via Italian Classica channel, and on the French ARTE channel.
A few minutes after 5’o clock, applause for the five heads of state in the central Palco reale, as Italian president Giorgio Napolitano entered. The lights went down, and then an announcement (in Italian, natch) that requested a moment of silence for a Fiat workers who had died the day before in Torino at the German steelmaker plant ThyssenKrupp. [«La direzione, gli artisti, gli ospiti e i lavoratori del teatro invitano a un minuto di silenzio in commemorazione del grave incidente sul lavoro avvenuto a Torino».]
Everyone stood and kept silent, as we shifted around our clutches. Then a final Grazie to mark the end of the silence, and Barenboim took to the podium in all black: a black button down shirt, black jacket, and black pants. Can’t this man wear a freaking frak for once? White tie it's where it's at. This is la Scala. Then Big B raised his magic wand and led the orchestra in the national anthem.
Applause and show time:
The overture began, showcasing Barenboim’s thorough understanding and embrace of Wagner, washing the audience in the most gorgeous strains of orchestral brilliance. Act I's curtain rose on a very dark and misty stage, Tristan’s ship. Slowly a weak light strengthened, and revealed a stone wall background with a cutaway arch. The arch framed a high platform about the size of a tennis court, where all the action took place, which was nice because it pushed everything to the center of the stage for those @ the theater with not-so-central seats. Luggage, wooden boxes, and steamer trunks were stationed all over the floor, and our Isolde, Waltraud Meier, was crouched in a large, sunken section in the middle. Costumière Moidele Bickel had dressed Meier in a long black jacket of fine wool, with a black silk slip beneath. A long, dirty blond wig covered her normally short reddish, brownish wavyish ‘do. Out came her maid, Brangäne, sung by Michelle De Young, who was equally drab in a long grayish, blue jacket with a matching dress underneath, and a white blond bun pulled behind her head.
The excellent Scala chorus appeared, a mixture of men in port-appropriate clothes, suspenders and lots of pirate caps, and some shirtless, but not like in a hot way. They were also clothed in all grays and blues, gritty, a very smoky palette. Then we hear Kurwenal, Gerd Grochowski, and were pleased. But not with his Dragonballz blond wig. Ew. He was also in a rubbery-looking motorcycle suit, with a gray trench coat too, of course. Tristan's Ian Storey was equally given a long gray trench coat. Brangäne and Isolde had a nice convincing dynamic. Meier was off to a great start in Act I, and I was expecting worse. The dirty-blond extensions worked for her, and she had a great stage presence. After Meier drank, she was wrapped in a red coat, which brought a nice burst of color to the drab stage and scenery. Patrice Chéreau’s overall direction didn’t really work for OC. It came across as totally generic for that minimalist thing. It was just too shallow held against Barenboim’s creamy and full conducting, and was a bad match. With Act I over, the crowds loved it, and answered to the curtain call with feet-stomping and screams of bravi all around.
The first intermission came at 6:30 pm, and OC was gifted with a headache, which was expected. The break was a very long 45 minutes, and Act II began at 7:15 pm. The curtain rose again to gloominess and darkness, another stone wall, blue light coming into the scene from the right, and a few cutouts. König Marke’s castle. I had thought that Act I was barely visible, but this was ridiculous yay. After 45 minutes of intermission, I was expecting um, something more. This act was really terribly boring and lame. Everyone around me seemed to be snoozing, and I can’t honestly deny that I didn’t drift off a few times. Brangäne was in the same costume as Act I, and Meier again in a red robe, very boxy and large. I wasn’t crazy about Ian Storey, which didn’t bring the impression I was searching for. The dynamic between Storey and Meier went well enough, but Meier’s singing took a nosedive, and was barely sustainable.
After their big duet, the back of the castle splits apart, and yay, it’s finally daylight. Two giant pine trees and some better lighting make the action turn a bit more exciting, and my eyes can at last make-out something colorful on the stage. The fight between Melot and Tristan was vary cool, with a very shaolin warrior feel to it with everyone holding long sticks. The second pause came at 8:30 pm, and again lasted for 45 minutes.
At 9:15 pm, we sat for the final installation of Triscuits & Iced Tea. There was insane applause this time when The Big B stepped up to the podium. It was thrilling. Everyone was excited for the prelude, especially OC after suffering through Act II. Which was off the hook. Oh noes, the curtain rose again on that same brick wall. Ugh. This time we had some stairs on the left and a big bed on the right (well, a concrete slab) where Tristan was laying, to represent the castle @ Kareol.
Then Tristan dies, crawling around the stairs, blood all over...Melot dies, and Kurwenal says bi. Meier is singing her butt off, and OC’s mild headache has turned into a throbbing hummingbird. Then Isolde dies, blood on her temple, and it’s over, and it’s 10:30 pm. Dang. Followed ten minutes of applause for the curtain call, and tons of flowers raining down on the stage, singers included.
At the end of the night, we just weren’t impressed with Storey’s Tristan. He saved his a$$ in Act III, but was overall a downer. Meier was much better than expected, and excluding her Act II blow-out, we were happy to have her singing Isolde. Barenboim led the orchestra on a gorgeous Wagner quest that made us not hate his composition a little bit less, although we always truly hate the playa.
Corriere della Sera annually does a special 20-ish-page supplement in their December 7th newspaper (screen shots -- not production stills -- below), which includes interviews, production shots, special advertisements, and the T&I libretto. You can find the link for the December 7, 2007 pdf download here. Enjoy~