First off, tonight's la prima of Gaetano Donizetti's Maria Stuarda (in a new production by Pier Luigi Pizzi) at La Scala boasted a substitution of Talbot. Ailing bass (or, bailing a$$ loalz) Carlo Cigni was replaced tonight by Simone Alberghini, who formerly starred on the Opera Chic blog as Anna Netrebko's ex-fiancé, after they called it quits in May 2007, victims of the seven-year itch. Alberghini was there IN SHOCKING GREEN!!!
OC ran down to La Scala earlier tonight in the Milan rain (that hasn't let-up since last Thursday) super casual and cozy in a pair of knee-high black Costume National heeled boots, black leggings bought @ Boule de Neige, a vintage YSL black silk blouse, a Miu-Miu dark gray cashmere cardigan (super huge and long...from the men's line), and an Isabella Tonchi black wool overcoat (black Chloé Paddington bag, Loro Piana dark grey cashmere scarf, and a Paul Smith umbrella). Too bad the new Louboutins bought in saldi last week will have to wait until nicer weather... :(
On with the show: The curtain rose on the scene of the Westminster court, which was materialized by Pier Luigi Pizzi as a large black platform in the middle of the stage, elevated by stairs on all four sides. Kinda like the Kaaba in Mecca. Mecha lecca hi. All around the stage walls had been erected scaffolding (as the scenery), which comprised of a ground level and a second level above the stage, where ramps ran, which singers were able to use as egress. They were backlit by screens that projected either white or orange light. YOUR CHOICE! 1 OR 2! The minimal staging was frankly, quite boring and unimaginative.
A dozen male guards (Cavalieri) circled about holding flaming torches. Pier Luigi Pizzi, who was responsible for direction, scenery, and costumes, managed to blow the entire trifecta all over the stage. OC's biggest beef with the production was encountering Pizzi's incongruity between the costuming of women and men. On stage, if you had balls, you were put into a tight pair of black leather pants. If you had breasts, you were swaddled-up in reams of cloth, not unlike Amish school marms. Women were totally desexualized in this production, de-divaized, de-fierceized, and totally fe-masculated…while the men were all totally empowered. wtf? So yeah, we had a dozen alternate males in the background in thigh-high black leather boots, which were tucked into tight, black leather pants, with tight, black leather jackets -- all topped with jaunty black leather berets. ugh. Their costumes were totally non sequitur within the whole production, but if that's what gets Pier Luigi Pizzi hot, so be it.
Act I gave us a view of the chorus and Dame d'onore, who were dressed sumptuously in gorgeous magentas, browns, and subdued gold period dresses, full length skirts and matching bodices, without a hint of cleavage, neck, or any flesh-colored things showing. Out came Elisabetta, Anna Caterina Antonacci, wrapped in layers and layers of white cloth.
Pizzi didn't even give the women's costumes any Elizabethan flair, and instead of exaggerating the hips, waists, or shoulders, the fabric was boringly draped over the hips in a, well, non-form form. These divas on stage were costumed to be shockingly less fierce than their larger-than-life references, which is what pissed me off. Pizzi stole their thunder. thare were no divas were n e whare 2 be found. Totally lame. No Sills-like awesomeness. The two queens were given careless wraps of fabric. I know this was the 16th century, and modesty was kinda what the kewl kids did, but we want diva power! Not some mousy queens dragging lead around the stage. Elisabetta was at least donning a Seamonkey white crown and collar, although she was slapped with a wash of white Kabuki foundation. In Engerland.
Act I, and the problems began immediately with Antonino Fogliani and Scala orchestra in an uncooperative brawl. Fogliani and the orchestra tampered Anna Caterina Antonacci with her Scene II appearance, and rudely barged over her voice, both in tempi and volume. There were loads of unsynchronized measures between the singers and the orchestra, and the orchestra was just overall too loud. It wasn't a matter of crescendi, but the volume was just too strong-armed and inelegant for this bel canto masterpiece. To be fair, I saw numerous times Fogliani shushing the orchestra, hand raised to his lips, but they weren't having it, so at the end of the night, both parties are guilty.
Scene III introduced Roberto, Earl of Leicester in thine tightie leathery, blacke pantaloonies, sung by tenor Francesco Meli who was off to a pretty rough start. His upper notes were fraught with straining. Scene IV, during "Se fida tanto colei mi amò", he pushed it way out, and the results were not pleasant. Thankfully, he did like a 180 degree switch for Act II, and gave much more. Yay for intermissions. Contrasting with the petite frame of Meli was Simone Alberghini, singing Talbot. Did I mention he was outfitted in tight black leather pants? He sang well and rounded-out the entire lineup, and his "Questa imago, questo foglio" with Meli was worth mentioning.
Enter Mariella Devia and Fotheringay Park, where the new scenery appeared from under stage, raised on a mechanical level. This act brought the one memorable effect of the entire performance: a thick, leafy grove of trees slowly materialized…the foliage a nice break from the stagnant steel cages in the prior acts. Devia appeared as frumpy as the other women on stage, in dark grey swaths of cloth. However, her dress and outer dress were so large and convoluted -- with a large white collar obscuring her breasts and neck -- that her head just looked like a little peanut. Pizzi wanted to put these queens out to pasture and rule the stage himself. Neigh, I say. Neigh, neigh, neigh.
But nothing mattered to the loggioni, who were out in huge numbers filling the loggione, and lauded Devia with countless brava at every single aria she caressed. Not that she didn’t deserve any of it…we had fallen in love with la Devia ages ago, and caught her live last year at her La Scala recital (which we reviewed here). Devia had perfect control over her sweet, flawless coloratura, and left the audience breathless. Her first aria, "O nube!" made the loggione go insane. Let's face it...the last two gallerie were there just for Devia, and they made it clear they were there to support her.
BREAK TIME! As Fogliani made his way back to the podium after the first and only intermission, he was booed by the loggioni, which echoed throughout the auditorium over the applause. They shot hate lazers from their glowing, cat-like eyes all over his back! The booing seemed to have shaken the orchestra into suitable shape, and Act II was a bit more put together than Act I, with gentler control over the orchestra. Act II also showed a modicum of OMG IS THAT A WOMAN'S FLESH I SEE?!! Elisabetta came out with a stellar "Alla tua voce", although dressed in a tapestry. I’m not kidding. She had a giant orange tapestry wrapped around her body in the form of a dress, with a toned-down the white face. Also, the tapestry dress showed omg her NECK!! I think I have the vapors. Again we had the scaffolding and cavalieri holding torches. oh noes. Roberto had left his cape backstage, and was dressed in tight black leather. This time, Meli’s "Deh! per pietà sospendi" was gorgeous, and he had gotten his groove back. He was probably scared str8 after the loggioni booing, and didn't want to get tomatoes thrown at him.
Devia then appeared again in her boring giant dark grey frock, and fondled her egregious ruby-encrusted cross that hung around her neck… à la Madonna '80s. It's official. Pizzi is so senile that his popular culture references ended in the '80s. The costumes betrayed him! Even during the Confrontation scene, one of the queens was in a boxy white jacket, rawking a total '80s silhouette. Ewwww. Live in the now! Unfortunately, the orchestra fell out a few times, especially during the Confession scene between Maria and Talbot, and during "Tolta alla Scozia", the orchestra got way too loud again.
Devia’s “Quando di luce rosea" was outstanding, and was met with tons of brava from the audience. After her duet with Talbot, the stage was flooded with light, and out came the family of Maria for one of the most chilling and wrenching "Vedeste? Vedemmo," I’ve ever heard. The women were in black gowns, covered to the gills with black transparent veils over their heads, and the men were dressed like Puritans (finally...men sans leather). The executioner, however, was in the de rigeur tight leather outfit, this time topped with a shaved head. Aside from the executioner, the scene was too beautiful. Devia came out for "Io vi rivedo alfin" in a Heinz ketchup-colored red dress, a nice change from her gray capes. When she comforted her family, I was almost in tears. "Tolta al dolore, tolta agli affanni" made me sob like a little girl who just got trampled in the annual Barney's Madison Avenue summer sale.
Then we had "Roberto! Ascolta!", addio&addio&addio, Devia layed her head down, and it was all ovah.
The audience went wild for the curtain call, and Devia and Antonacci came out alone, with Devia giving her competing queen a huge hug, and then brave poured down. The curtain then rose on the chorus, who took their well-deserved bows, with the sweet Bruno Casoni as their chorus master.
As Pier Luigi Pizzi -- who gave us such craptacular sets, derivative lighting, and a touch-of-misogyny costumes for the ladies -- received loads of booing from not only the loggione, but from lots of $$money (and normally well-behaved) orchestra patrons. Booing all around! More boos than cheers! Then as conductor Fogliani stepped-out in his ill-fitting frac, more boos erupted! Just when it was getting out of hand, the curtain thankfully fell, and OC witnessed one of the shortest opening night curtain calls yet.
I want my $$$ back, tia. You can mail my check to Opera Chic, 420 Fartcrack Ave. Apt #69, Balls Falls, F.U. 50505 Republic of Poopistan. Unless you're a Devia/Antonacci fan, have a thing for scaffolding, or a black leather fetish, I'd wait this one out.
(Scala last night before the show. Click for bigger.)