Renée Fleming, in the Baltimore Sun, talked to Friend Of OC Tim Smith about her infamous "Lucrezia Borgia" at la Scala, little more than 10 years ago.
"The soprano endured a different kind of fall the last time she sang in Lucrezia. That was at La Scala in Milan 10 years ago, when she heard a chorus of boos."
"Various conspiracy theories have floated in the opera world to account for that volatile night. Whatever the circumstances, the scandal does not appear to have left a permanent scar on the singer."
"'I finally went back to listen to it recently - a pirate recording exists, and you can hear the booing,' Fleming says. 'I have to say that, on the whole, the performance was really good, and from everybody.'"
Now, not only is big sister La Cieca is debating the matter & the audio evidence, but OC -- who over the years has heard all kind of things re: that fateful night by ear-witnesses present at la Scala, and after listening to the recording didn't think La Renée had sung that bad, but then for the loggionisti the actual performance unfolding on stage is often irrelevant -- has decided to dig out of unimpeachable Corriere della Sera's archives the story of that unlucky production.
Let's see. **All translations are Opera Chic's**, for your look-back-in-anger operatic pleasure.
First things first: Fleming, just arrived in Milan, gave an interview to the paper explaining how:
"I'm in favor of crossover, obviously if the quality is high. I'd love to take part in one of Pavarotti's benefit concerts. If he calls, I'll immediately say yes"
The paper's headline: "Pavarotti let me sing with you".
Then Argentinian director Hugo de Ana, who created a disquieting copper platform for Lucrezia to stand on, and a cage (representing Alfonso's castle in Ferrara) explained that he saw Lucrezia not as a monster but as "mater dolorosa".
Finally, performance night.
Here's the paper's report: "Conductor Passes Out During Lucrezia at Scala"
"[...] the show has been interrupted for about 30 minutes. Then Gelmetti, in his Scala debut, obtained permission from the doctor to go back to the pit. At around 9:00pm the lights went up, and the maestro was saluted by thundering applause [...]"
"[...] the reassuring "Lucrezia with a human face", Renee Fleming, a soprano whose face reminds more of the serene portrait by Pinturicchio than the bloodthirsty traditional character. It was immediately clear that, for her, the comparison with the two latest Lucrezias who appeared here in the 1970s, Leyla Gencer and Montserrat Caballe', was going to be difficult."
"Some noise came from the audience immediately during the prologo; at the end of Act I, her performance has been applauded, just like Marcello Giordani's, Michele Pertusi's and Sonia Ganassi's. But at the end of Act II and III, the problems exploded: the loggione booed the soprano, but the platea shot back in an equally forceful manner [in Italian: 'Ha risposto in maniera altrettanto decisa"'] with 'Silence' and 'Moron, shut up'."
"In the end, the applause from the platea drowned out the loggionisti's whistles; the loggionisti called la Fleming 'boring', 'with uneven attacchi', 'useless in the trillati': in the end, 'an American lady'. Gelmetti had it worse. By the end of Act I he had trouble standing. By the end he couldn't walk over to the stage to gather the applause, even if loggionisti had criticized him, also. Exhausted, he was hospitalized in order to have some tests performed."
Finally Corriere della Sera's notoriously harsh chief critic gave the verdict:
"Renée Fleming has been harshly attacked by isolated spectators. The truth is, she made several intonation errors over a night that would have anguished any artist, in a role with anomalous characteristics. The body of her voice is full and vibrant, especially in the centers; timbro is pleasant except for some harshness over the 'passaggio'; her diction is, for a foreigner, better than many of her colleagues."
"She was clearly prepared with care. We didn't like her tendency to slip into 'parlato' during the recitativi and a not fully developed control of her 'messa di voce'. What counts, in the end, is that she is a first class singer, and she demonstrates it -- we'd bet that, over the coming nights, she will conquer the audience as well."
And in fact, after that unfateful night, the booing stopped.