O how O.C. wishes she could serenade you with luxurious, exciting tales from this year's Teatro alla Scala opening night premiere, but then she'd have to fabricate some insane tall tale about how the singing was stellar & the direction was brilliant & the casting was sublime and half-naked co-eds straight from the pages of Bruce Weber's A&F Quarterlies whisked her from her Bentley into her palco and tipped her sips of Hennessy Cognac from her silver & crocodile Prada flask. None of that happened. Instead, OC passed the holiday of Sant'Ambrogio witnessing one of the most depressing and anticlimactic opening night in recent memory.
Palazzo Marino was done up in Christmas lights covering the windows, absent of all the flashy love it was kissed with last year. Not many celebrities bothered begging for tickets to the ultra-VIP event, but instead we saw more skanks and old men in smoking, and loads of politicians that must have been gifted with tickets for their support of March 2008's winning bid for Milan's victory in Expo 2015.
By contrast to the night of suckage, OC spent a relaxing afternoon strolling around the ritzy (and packed) sidewalks of via Monte Napoleone, Via Sant'Andrea, and Via della Spiga, where she coincidentally saw Scala GM Stephan Lissner (unmistakable quaff of gray hair) plus female accomplice enjoying the windows. Then she shopped-up a lovely appetite for lunch at BiCE, where many of Milan's society fakers&shakers were also enjoying a moment of respite before the drama-infused la prima. Spotted at BiCE was that scarily plastic man of the eternally relaxed brow, Renato Balestra, and OC almost tossed her insalata di carciofi to the floor in shock.
Then it was back home to get out of her Stella McCartney sweater dress and into something a bit secksier...so O.C. decked herself out in the Alexander McQueen cap-sleeved princess dress in black crepe and chiffon, black silk knit Prada stockings, Prada RTW Fall 2007 black heels, a '30s vintage Girard-Perregaux watch, black Burberry Prorsum long&lean wool lady coat, and a small Alexander McQueen black ribbon clutch. Slammin.
We should have known the night would be off to a chaotic and start, as paparazzi were just really freaking annoying this year, the crowds were more obnoxious. This all converged when a rogue complaint was hurled at Gatti as he took his place on the podium to inaugurate the 08/09 season.
Gatti's conducting was overall big, ballsy, bold and layered with lots of nuance. In the house, it was the right balance. At least we give credit to Gatti for trying to correct the downer drain of stark, drab, and vacant spaces that director Stéphane Braunschweig envisioned for the environs. It seemed Gatti was trying to balance and paint the orchestra in more richness than it warranted, which at least breathed a bit of viscera into the endless swaths of blank, plaster walls and endless wooden flooring...and since the production was so flat, detached, and superficial, Gatti at least made up for that by infusing the orchestra
with layers&layers of sound. For OC, it worked...we like our opera rugged and raw with dirty beats, and c'mon, this is the freaking season opener. It's supposed to be a take no prisoners, sweep the leg night we demand and paid some serious euros for. On the podium, Gatti's idiosyncrasies were grand and he kept pushing for a bigger sound. The overture was rich, the horns and strings absolutely delicious, and the brass supurbly controlled. We liked the way Gatti shaped every phrase, and at so many points, OC just closed her eyes to block out the depressing effortlessness of the scenery.
The curtain opened to a boring, white, stone alter in the middle of the stage, echoed by a dozen vertical panels that spanned across the back. Blue light flooded the stage to add to the frigidness of the scenery, except for the alter which had been focused in the spotlight. Marion Hewlett's lighting prowess was so insultingly derivative (green light for the garden, red light for "Gloria a Filippo! Gloria al ciel!", blue light for the early morning prison). With the big budgets that are extended to Scala collaborators, OC doesn't understand where Hewlett tucked away her profit, as her conception of lighting lacked of imagination, interpretation, and really was one of the shallowest delves we could have projected onto the psychology of the plot.
The chorus of monks appeared dressed in black capes and white under robes, with their hoods raised. Under the careful and experienced direction of Maestro Bruno Casoni, they were always on point. Casoni is the one key player at Scala that the loggionisti will never, ever criticize or turn on, and lucky for opera fans, Casoni is always the saving grace to any opera (at last night's la prima, after all the insane booing at the final curtain call, Casoni was showered with praise and "Bravo Casoni" as he bent to pick up a stray rose from the stage).
When Stuart Neill, our Don Carlo for the evening, finally came out of hiding, whispers and twitters fell all around. His physical size filled OC's Scala neighbors with uncomfortable squirming. I won't apologize for my fellow spectators, but to see a man of such, um, stature, is not really a common day thing in Milan. Braunschweig's direction was just too ridiculous for him (we know it had worked for Filianoti) but it should have been modified for Neill's girth. As he had to kneel down at the tomb in the first scene, it was immediately apparent that he was not a man used to kneeling down. It made the action look unnatural and broke any sort of spell that had been cast. Even worse was during, "qual voce a me dal ciel scende a parlar d'amor!", Neill had to deliver the lines lying on the floor, which was absolutely comical.
For me, Neill wasn't it. But at least he seemed to have more understanding of his role than his colleagues. Neill, with good reason, was completely washed in nervousness. His unfocused energy was sparkling across the stage, which led to a lot of jerky movements and clenched fists. His "Io la vidi" was not terrible, and OC doesn't particularly mind his stark, un-giftwrapped voice, but that introduced the small vignettes that we saw all night of miniature, baby versions of the main characters, a motif of the past and simultaneously the present. OC hated it, and didn't find it endearing or clever at all. Rather, it reduced the whole story to a pretty simplistic account.
Then popped out the Marquis, Rodrigo, sung by Slovakian baritone Dalibor Jenis and we weren't totally impressed. The chemistry between him and Neill wasn't convincing. They were like frat kids who bumped into each other at the local bar. Which brings us to our main complaint: no one was convincing in the cast (except Dolora Zajick and to a lesser extent Ferruccio Furlanetto, but we'll get to him in a bit). What we saw last night were not figures of Spanish royalty. It's like the servants had come out to play, and had stolen the costumes of their employers. We didn't get that sense of sixteenth century inbred royalty that we were longing for, and it was vaguely disappointing.
After the page sang his little lullaby, we were introduced to American mezzo Dolora Zajick as Princess Eboli wearing a gorgeous red day coat over her dress, her bewbs like a 10+++ on the shelf scale. Good lord. "Nei girdin del bello" was O.K., but for that she got only a lukewarm applause. But Zajick was daring and feisty, and at times drowned out Neill's voice with her chesty projection. She was greatly lauded for her "Ah! Piu non vedro..." and rightfully so.
The chemistry between Stuart Neill and Elisabetta of Valois's Fiorenza Cedolins wasn't terrible, but again, we wanted so much more. With Cedolins, we've come to expect a practiced and carefully studied delivery, devoid of particular depth or stylizing. When we saw her in the season opener last January for La Fenice's Puccini Rondine, we succinctly summarized: "Unless you have an undying Cedolins fetish -- OC doesn't, as she finds Cedolins correct, attractive, and with a good dose of charisma but essentially uninspiring." And we stick by the same observation. She wasn't bad, but she was cold, distant, and flat. Her "Tu che le vanita' conoscesti del mondo" was really very good, sung in a gorgeous dark green dress, her full queen regalia.
But Cedolins's interpretation basically encapsulates the major issue we had with the evening: The pathos and viceral energy...passion and longing of Don Carlo was stripped and discarded. There was no interpretation...well, at least, only by Gatti, which fell flat on its face because he had no cooperation from the cast or crew involved in the staging. It's like the singers and Gatti existed on a seperate plane. There was no dialogue, no sublime answering and responding between cast and orchestra. They were both locked away in very myopic, muffled places, and that was very, very frustrating.
Scene V brought Philip II, King of Spain as Ferruccio Furlanetto, the only singer who we think actually worked in the cast at face value. Furlanetto's singing was decent enough, but we noticed by the end of Act II before the first intermission, he had run out of steam. But his acting and interpretation as Philip was stellar. Authoritative and menacing, he at least was a realistic King of Spain.
Now comes that infamous moment after the first intermission where Gatti took to the podium and was booed mercilessly. OC already explained what happened, and you can read here. Again, the booing wasn't concentrated to a few people...rather it stemmed from all over the house.
Thibault van Craenenbroeck's costumes were neither here nor there. We saw period dress for the royalty, but oddly at one point, 1940s working class gear for the chorus. What's going on here? The schism between the proletariats and the ruling class? Oh, please. But at least we had the impression that the costumes were expensive and well made, which was uplifting.
The last act was a perfect example of sceneographer Alexandre de Dardel's major malfunction. King Philip in his library was simply an empty room with a chair. The characters just weren't big enough to fill the minimalist space. We couldn't imagine it, and it needed so much more. Il grande inquisitore's Anatolij Kotscherga was even worse, but he was torn to shreds during the curtain call, so we're guessing he understood...his "tranquili lascio andar...un gran ribelle" was almost shouted in a cracked voice.
At curtain call, we were honestly expecting worse, and were surprised at how civil the audience acted. At first. For the collective call, not many booing or whistles were heard. But during the individual calls, grande inquisitore's Anatolij Kotscherga was slammed almost as hard as the trio of Stefan's Alexandre de Dardel, Thibault van Craenenbroeck, and Marion Hewlett (we linked the youtube here). Dolora Zajick's Eboli, Fiorenza Cedolins's Elisabetta, and Ferruccio Furlanetto's Filippo II were highly praised with some isolated boos for Cedolins interspresed, Dalibor Jenis's Rodrigo and Diogenes Randes's frate were given tepid applause...but Stuart Neill for his title role was both booed loudly and simultaneously praised, which he deflected by bending over and whispering to his mini-mi. Gatti was given the same treatment...roundly booed by some and praised by many others. The curtain call lasted a cursorily polite time, about 7 minutes in all, one of the shortest OC has seen in the theater and certainly the shortest for a prima in recebnt times, and we're guessing not for the reason that everyone was rushing for the after-theater parties and dinners.
Giuseppe Filianoti, who had been officially "reassigned" to different dates of the "Don Carlo" run at la Scala, not fired, la Scala had said at first, will be officially dismissed later this week, Opera Chic has learned.
Neill will apparently appear in all six of the remaining shows planned for December. Then after the holiday break, another tenor -- name to be announced, he hasn't been cast yet even if the process of searching for another Don Carlo has already begun days ago -- will appear in the four January shows.
Following a yearly tradition, a handful of Milan's various downtown shops loaded their front displays with Verdi's Don Carlo paraphernalia for Scala's 2008/09 season opener. We saw it in 2006 for Verdi's Aida, and again in 2007 for Wagner's Tristan. The first three are from Sant Ambroeus's window, boasting an edible Verdi puppet and decorated Don Carlo panettone.
Above & below: Larusmiani on via Montenapoleone and via Verri
It's always curious to see the mixed crowds who turn out for Scala's St. Ambrogio season opener...the awesome mix of larger-than-life Italian celebrities, cleavage pouring out of the bustiers of even the homliest women, ancient grey farts stuffed into tuxes, and the various skanks who get it all wrong. This year was rather disappointing...the crowds were painfully boring. Tho we did spot a few celebs who are known outside of Italy: Stefano Gabbana & Domenico Dolce, Valentino Garavani, Valeria Marini, Roberto Bolle, and Renato Balestra.
Above we see poor Stefano Gabbana ambushed by Valeria Marini at last night's la prima. Stefano also spoke to the papers as an ersatz critic, and said that the the gloomy staging was "cemetary-like". ~zing~!! Here's oooo so much more:
~*~ ~*~ ~*~ Ew. Just ew. Now we srsly need to cleanse our eyes...Here's Roberto Bolle: ~*~ ~*~ ~*~
**click the magic link below to see tons more photos from the evening. You won't regret it!**
A few interesting facts re: this Don Carlo drama before bedtime (it's almost dawn here, seriously: too late for champagne, too early for cappuccino, might as well go to bed).
The freshly-demoted Giuseppe Filianoti was present at Scala tonight, not on stage obviously but in a third-level box (together with other friends/relatives of cast members, among them his replacement Stuart Neill's girlfriend). He left after Act I.
The boos -- over here, a whistle is never just that, there must be like a whole conspiracy behind it or the Italians just don't have as much fun -- ruined what had been hyped as the first Dec 7th Opening Night conducted by the frequent guest conductor whom most observers consider the front runner to get, eventually, one day in a not so distant future, the coveted job of Music Director of la Scala (as we mentioned earlier, a post previously held, these last 75 years, by Serafin, de Sabata, Toscanini, Giulini, Cantelli, Abbado, Muti).
Scala GM Lissner came out clearly, right after the show, with unusually undiplomatic words: "The boos? Clearly the payback for the Filianoti situation, in the opera house it is well known". Meaning that it was an organized protest to undermine Gatti "guilty" of having de facto fired Filianoti, even if technically the tenor's still under contract, but his schedule has been reshuffled with Stuart Neill's -- now Filianoti is demoted to second cast (the smart money says he won't appear in any shows with the second cast, leaving open the question, and the additional drama, of who will be hired on such short notice to complete the run as Don Carlo with the second cast).
The conspiracy theory that supposes Filianoti somehow orchestrated an anti-Gatti riot by egging dozens of spectators on, convincing them to boo, etc, is made less easy to believe by the fact that booing and whistling were quite widespread -- not massive but certainly not the work of a few hit men.
It also remains to be seen how would someone like Filianoti, a singer only occasionally present here and not exactly the most powerful man in the Italian opera business, would manage to infiltrate so many accomplices in the theater on a night when tickets are incredibly scarce, monstrously expensive, by and large given out to sponsors and VIPs, and even cast members get just a few tickets -- in some cases just one ticket! -- for friends and family to the Sant'Ambrogio opening night. Again, it's not impossible to fill the stalls with a personal claque, obviously -- not impossible but very complicated on Dec 7th of all nights.
An alternative hypothesis if you're conspiracy-minded is that a spontaneous movement of spectators moved by Filianoti's plight chose to boo Gatti in unison without having been somehow influenced by the singer or his entourage. Impossible? No. Very Likely? Bah.
If this conspiracy theory were true it would obviously leave the management and Gatti off the hook, erasing the painful fact that la Scala, in the post-Muti era, has had four Dec 7th opening nights -- Idomeneo/Bondy/Harding in '05, Aida/Zeffirelli/Chailly in '06, Tristan Und Isolde/Chereau/Barenboim in '07 and Don Carlo/Braunschweig/Gatti -- and this Don Carlo is by far the one that got booed the most -- even the Zeffirelli Aida, the one with Alagna (before he fled on the second night he regularly performed on Dec 7), didn't get as many catcalls, except for Alagna. Only Gatti, very likely the future Music Director -- if and when GM Lissner decides to give up some of his considerable power by sharing command of the place -- got such a bad reaction. Again, Opera Chic herself liked his work. But she can see why people would honestly find his conducting too uneven -- those speed changes -- and his vision of the score too unorthodox (the last two conductors who led Don Carlo here were Abbado in the 1970s and Muti in the 1990s, and both gave a much more even and conservative reading of the score).
Gatti -- whom Opera Chic personally liked and applauded heartily, as you can read in the post below -- is not the only one who got booed tonight, but on curtain call a nice chunk of the cast got hit by whistles and boos, too (not Zajick, OK); director Braunschweig and his team got a pretty good share of whipping, too.
Now the question is, did tne director -- whom Filianoti praised in his post-demotion interviews with two newspapers -- get booed also as "payback" by Filianoti loyalists? By Gatti enemies? Really? The costume design lady, too? Sets? What about the seriously underperforming Grande Inquisitore, were the boos he had to endure at curtain call an act of payback to hit Gatti and sink the prima?
It's Opera Chic's right as an American to find all this drama here both entertaining and appalling.
Maybe the Scala management is right, maybe this all happened because Gatti was a marked man, and people wanted to damage his profile and reputation to undermine him.
Maybe, his reading of the score was just too unpalatable for many (on this point OC disagrees) and the singing was substandard for such a big night (here OC agrees) and the staging really was just too drab and didn't really make any dramatic sense.
This analysis -- for full disclosure, as you can read in these last two days posts on this blog -- comes from someone who's really not a partisan here, from someone who would not have hired Filianoti in the first place, who thinks Filianoti has been treated very shabbily and in a manner unbecoming a world class opera house, from someone who generally likes Gatti and liked his work with the orchestra (not with the singers) tonight, and who thinks Braunschweig's work as director of Don Carlo was just dry, unfocused, and essentially forgettable.
Lots more on this Don Carlo with lots of pictures, reviews, conspiracy theories, and the usual in depth Opera Chic coverage tomorrow.
(above: Stuart Neill or Giuseppe Filianoti.......hmmmmm?)
A few choice slices of opera sashimi for OC's readers to munch on as OC -- who just got back from opening night at la Scala, the paparazzi frenzy, the following festivities and the final paparazzi chase scene before getting home -- takes a well-deserved shower.
As you already know thanks to our off-the-cuff Blackjack post from la Scala, conductor Daniele Gatti got seriously booed by part of the audience -- not hundreds of people, because the applause was there, too, but certainly the nay-sayers were not just a few lone crazies -- after the first intermission. The booing somehow got less nasty after the second intermission; and at curtain call, Gatti got ovations but also some pretty sharp boos and whistles; thankfully, for Gatti and the Scala management, the director Stephane Braunschweig and his design/costume team got massive boos, much much worse than Gatti; and the Grande Inquisitore who replaced "indisposed" (yeah, right) Matti Salminen, the Russian Anatoly Kotscherga, was probably as badly treated as the director. Most of the cast got a pretty warm reception, except Kotscherga, even Giuseppe Filianoti's last-minute replacement Stuart Neill (who got some boos, too). But the only singer to really get a big, big ovation was Dolora Zajick (probably the wildest cheering, and with good reason, was enjoyed by the Maestro del Coro, Bruno Casoni, for the reasons we'll explain in a sec).
OC's ideas of this wildly uneven night, of this awful mess of Piazza della Scala?
Very quickly, before OC writes her actual review post later (or tomorrow if she's too sleepybonZ): Gatti got booed in part because some people clearly didn't like the way Giuseppe Filianoti was replaced 24 hours before opening night -- a night televised worldwide -- by Gatti and GM Stéphane Lissner. Some, clearly didn't appreciate the somewhat untraditional way Gatti shaped the score, with some very deliberate, thoughtful tempi and some impressive accelerations -- this was not your grandmother's Don Carlo, nor was it Abbado's or Giulini's. It's a DC for the present time, with ideas, with the patience to shape slow tempi and the audacity to crank that big orchestra when needed. OC really liked Gatti's ideas -- she liked his pacing, the sheer beauty of the orchestral sound, the creamy, heartbreaking strings, the precisely calibrated brass. It's Verdi Grand Opera brilliantly analyzed through the lens of Meyerbeer and Wagner -- Gatti is a Bayreuth conductor and you're not, by0tch. Detractors think he got "too German", whatever that means, "too brash". Look, whatever. Rent Karajan's. Gatti created a lot of moments of great beauty. Probably not a general theory of Don Carlo as a whole, the way very few others did in the past, but a very worthy effort nonetheless. OC defends his work, musically.
Because it was a musically brilliant night, wrapped in the unique sound of maestro Bruno Casoni's chorus, clearly the best in the world when it comes to Verdi, certainly a top 3 (in the world) chorus for most of the rest of the repertoire. Seriously, it doesn't even translate to recordings, that magic; you hear the Scala chorus live, singing Verdi, and you get the feeling that's the sound Verdi heard in his own head as he was writing the score.
What really didn't work, and the blame is shared by Gatti and director Stephane Braunschweig for this, was the disconnect between that fantastic sound, those daring choices made by the conductor, and the singers interpretation.
It pains Opera Chic's heart that even Ferruccio Furlanetto, that maestro of unlimited powah and great charisma, only sporadically focused enough to go beyond his singing -- that was obviously very good, mostly, even it wasn't Furlanetto's best night either -- to actually create a character on that stage, to give life to Filippo II. The night's best singer, Dolora as Eboli, fighting off sharp pain in an arm she injured earlier during rehearsals, who really blessed us in the audience, created gorgeous sounds -- with truly uninspiring diction -- but again she lacked focus. Same for the flat delivery of Fiorenza Cedolins, Elisabetta, who didn't really make mistakes, good solid -- if limited -- singer that she is. The Grande Inquisitore was just bad, essentially speaking loudly, in an unclean manner also, through his part, totally killing the sense of dread that permeates this most awesome of Verdi stories -- that way, OC considers Don Carlo, far from being her favorite Verdi musically, to be the opposite of Trovatore. DC is a wonderful, touching, elaborately crafted scary story that shows like few others atheist Verdi's desperate search for meaning, while Trovatore presents a ridiculous, shallow, almost comically trashy piece of pulp that's nevertheless chock-full of fantastic, memorable tunes (try writing something as simply, genuinely touching and beautiful as "Il Balen del Suo Sorriso," Dick Wagner, you old douchebag you, OC double dares you with sugar on top).
Filianoti's replacement Stuart Neill? He actually looked like he hadn't simply replaced Filianoti -- he looked like he had eaten him. Neill, unfortunately, is a Mack truck of a man that the clueless director unmercifully forced to lie on that tomb with frankly comical results. If what you want for Scala's opening night of a major Verdi work is a tenor who actually hits the notes, probably all of them -- we didn't have a score in our Alexander McQueen purse sorry -- without charisma or sense of character, without showing that he cares about getting the girl, without really making you care for the way Destiny continually puts him in check until the final checkmate, well, if you don't care about any of that -- if you don't care about a warm, clean sound either -- then Neill did a good job as Don Carlo. This was la Scala's opening night, and he was the lead. Not enough, really. He's not bad at all, he's probably a solid singer, but not "Dec 7th at la Scala good" either.
live from la scala via blackjack conductor gatti loudly booed at the end of first intermission; possibly punished by loggione for filianoti dismissal not for conducting style -- it worked for opera chic; gm lissner said to press and tv he takes responsibility fir filianoti decision; filianoti replacement lame; spotted dolce + gabbana and roberto bolle in audince; more later
In a badly fact-checked Associated Press dispatch (Pavarotti sang Don Carlo here in 1992, not 1982; Alagna sang Aida two years ago, not last year) la Scala, through their communications director Carlo Maria Cella finally addresses the enormous news of their decision to replace 24 hours before opening night tenor Giuseppe Filianoti with second-cast Stuart Neill (read below for all the breaking news since last night):
La Scala spokesman Carlo Maria Cella said the musical director had full
discretion to substitute casts members at any time. "Neill seemed to be
in better shape than Filianoti," Cella said Sunday.
Which is a very low key way to address this huge can of worms -- no one can rememeber a lead being replaced with another singer 24 hours before opening night of the season, the traditional Dec. 7th gala.
There is also another problem: la Scala has had no music director since Riccardo Muti was ousted in early 2005; new General Manager Stéphane Lissner has used a roster of guest conductors these last three years -- with Daniel Barenboim flauntin' the vastly ceremonial title of maestro scaligero his idol Wilhelm Furtwaengler once held even if it's the GM Stephane Lissner who's calling all the shots, just try asking Barenboim if he really really really wants to take credit, or blame, for the Scala's general musical achievements, or lack thereof, these last three years -- but no conductor is in charge of affairs as Music Director, period.
Daniele Gatti has a good chance of becoming, in the next three years, the next Music Director (a title held in the past by -- in chronological order, going backwards -- Riccardo Muti, Claudio Abbado, Guido Cantelli, Carlo Maria Giulini, Victor de Sabata, Arturo Toscanini, Tullio Serafin).
Gatti's best advised to lay low in this mess, despite Filianoti's accusations of having been stabbed in the back by Gatti whom Filianoti in the newspaper La Stampa called "childish".Lay low and pray Neill doesn't suck, and the loggione has mercy on him.
Especially if, as the gossip in Milan rages today, the decision to pull the trigger on this last-minute replacement hasn't exactly been unanimous in this productions' quarters, Gatti is best advised on sticking to musical matters in the press declining to comment about casting decisions. No sane conductor would want to jeopardize a very good shot at the Musical Directorship here by straying away from the message. Which is "Neill was in better shape", period. Without commenting on how could they possibly have realized only 24 hours from la prima that Filianoti's voice wasn't up to speed.
Coming soon: the hilarious stories of their frantic search for a third tenor in case of a -- almost certain -- eventual pullout by Filianoti who despite having not, repeat, not been fired but simply had his schedule reshuffled, feels rightly dissed -- only hours before la prima.
But now, entertaining as the backstage drama is, Opera Chic has got to go la Scala for the actual show -- you try navigating the sidewalks here in Prada five-inches stilettos.
Updates only in case of bad emergency via Blackjack.
In today's Corriere della sera, Giuseppe Filianoti goes nuclear, slamming Scala management who announced to him that he wouldn't sing the first two performances of Don Carlo, both tonight and on the 10th. And he accuses conductor Daniele Gatti of having betrayed him. He also insists that since he hasn't been fired, he'll show up tonight at the opera house to sing as scheduled (creepy echoes of the Alagna fiasco from 2006): "It will be my farewell to la Scala". All translations copyright Opera Chic Blog. Don't be sneaking...we see you...
"I have been betrayed by la Scala, stabbed in the back at the last minute. Last night they told me I wouldn't sing the premiere. They want to tell the world I'm sick, but I'm not. I'm perfectly fine, ready to tackle a role I feel confident about."
"What happened? I'd like to know, too. We have been rehearsing for two months. I've always sung in full voice and everybody has been very encouraging: Gatti, general manager Lissner, my colleagues. Everything seemed to be OK. Then, after the general rehearsal of the other night, open to students, Gatti began to have doubts. Why was I underpowered, why did I lack focus, why did I screw up a couple passaggi... Gatti decided only days ago to reintroduce the Lacrymosa at the end of Act III (ed: Verdi wrote 58 measures that he later pulled out of the final score to use in a later work-- they're now world famous as the Lacrymosa of the Requiem, almost no conductor reinstates it in Don Carlo) and that's where I admit I made a mistake. It's not enough to consider me unfit. It was also a general rehearsal, I wasn't committed 100% vocally. I wanted to save my energy for la prima".
"I sung this role in Zurich this past September, Gatti and Targetti (ed: the scala voice coach) heard me there and were very encouraging, 'You are the best, we'll do a wonderful work together,' they said. I was happy. I canceled commitments for Thais in Turin and a Lucrezia Borgia with Domingo in Washington, Pelleas in Rome... But you never refuse la Scala. I sung the Prima in 2003, Moise et Pharaon with Muti... different times... I miss Muti, la Scala back then would never have treated an artist like this, Muti protects his singers, always."
"I didn't expect such treatment from Gatti. Yesterdays they called me for a meeting, they said they didn't want to embarrass me in front of the whole world. They said they'll declare me to be 'sick' and to have more credibility, they'll pull me from la prima and the second night. I'll be able to sing the rest of the run, they said. For my own good, they said. They're not firing me, they just reshuffling my dates around."
"I can defend myself. I'm not a rookie. My nerves are fine. My voice, too. Gatti projected his fears on to me. I'm not afraid. I'm from Calabria, I'm tough, I'm 34, I have contracts all over the world... the Met... Barenboim for Verdi... The audience booing is part of the game in opera, the greatest singers ever have been booed, Callas, Pavarotti. It's not just me: tonight even Matti Salminen (ed: as announced yesterday by Opera Chic) will not be there... He's a great bass, 'sick' as well! An outbreak. The reality is this administration at Scala only cares about business."
"People at la Scala know me since I was a kid. I sang here many times, Falstaff, Armide, Nina pazza per amore... I know everybody. Everybody is stunned. It's impossible, they said. The director hugged me, he said he couldn't understand, he was desperate. He's a very sensitive man. He's in trouble. Stuart Neill, who will replace me, doesn't have Don Carlo's physique. Lots of singers have fought with la Scala... Marcelo Alvarez, Alagna, now me. The world's best tenors stay away from here, there must be a reson. I'll never be back here as long as they'll keep acting this way. But tonight I'll come to the theater, I have not been fired. They won't allow me to go on stage, obviously. It will be my farewell".
Opera Chic's take? She understands Filianoti's terrible dilemma -- regardless of his vocal health, he couldn't take this demotion quietly. Just couldn't. He's right to try to spin things this way. His future is at stake.
As OC wrote last night, they shouldn't have hired him. Fighting with Marcelo Alvarez has been a very dumb move. They needed someone like Marcellone. But once you hire Filianoti, warts and all, with his known history of past vocal trouble and his known history of trying to tackle heavier roles -- he's a tenore lirico -- with mixed results, well, you can't hire Filianoti because he has name recognition and then dump him 24 hours before the premiere. It just isn't done. It's not respectful. And singers everywhere now know this could happen to them, too, under this management.
If they really figured out 24 hours before the premiere that Filianoti was in trouble, after everybody's doubts in the past year, and after weeks of reports of Filianoti's trouble during reherasals, well, what does that tell you about the organization there?
**To read the breaking news of tenor Giuseppe Filianoti's withdrawal from the lead in tomorrow (Sunday) night's premiere of Don Carlos at la Scala scroll down or click here.**
These last few months Opera Chic has been trying to keep an open mind re: how good a choice Giuseppe Filianoti was as Don Carlo for la Scala's premiere, despite her many serious doubts.
Why? OC is on the record as a Filianoti fan -- a beautiful voice, a sensitive interpretazione, intelligent phrasing, talent and heart (OC also couldn't find one colleague who spoke badly of Filianoti as a person, a rare occurence in this most backstabbing of businesses -- the man seems indeed to be a good man).
"Filianoti's appearance was perfect for the greasy and slick Tito. His
voice, however, was definitely worrisome, and frankly has been for a
bit now. Technically, he hit all his notes, and his understanding of
the role was spot-on. But when he did reach those higher registers and
punched forward the precise tone, his remaining voice was audibly
exhausted. Every time he reached up, he fell back down to recovery. His
voice is now like a sweetly-loved teddy bear, all the fur rubbed off
from too many bedtime kisses and scary dreams. It's worn through in
"Filianoti is 33."
"He pushed hard his notes, all
throat, and the sound became the kind of strained voice you'd think
would make him bright red in the face. Act II, Scene XI, Tito's aria,
"Se all'impero, amici Dei" was pretty scary on the arpeggio, and Abbado
slowed down the orchestra. But Filianoti, hit each and every note, and
made it strikingly obvious."
So, is it all just an accident -- like, Filianoti caught the flu this morning?
Is it all Filianoti's fault, that he was maybe barely prepared? That's what those who need to leave the Scala management off the hook will tell you. For all his post-mid-2007 vocal problems, Filianoti comes prepared. He always has. And trying to blame all this on a simple "abbassamento di voce" when this kid has been in trouble throughout the rehearsals? Just bad form.
Was the Scala management prepared?
After barely escaping a strike that would have hit the 12/7 traditional prima for the first time since it's inception almost a half century ago, they now find themselves with an enormously embarrassing cancellation 24 hours before a premiere televised worldwide.
They can only pray that either Filianoti's understudy Neill is good -- a star is born? Maybe -- or that tomorrow night those snarky loggionisti up there decide to have mercy on the understudy who got shot out of obscurity like a human cannonball. A sold-out la Scala, viewers on two different European satellite channels -- Arte and Classica -- and people following the live feed in HD in cinemas all over the world will be watching, and listening.
Opera Chic, obviously, will be there in the opera house, and you won't.
Opera Chic has learned that earlier today (Saturday) attempts have been made by la Scala to find a third tenor who could appear in at least some shows to give some relief to Stuart Neill who has become as of now the lead tenor in the production.
Filianoti, contrary to some Milanese rumors, has not, repeat, NOT, been fired by Daniele Gatti. He obviously needs rest and may appear at a later date; but certainly not tomorrow night and not on the night of the tenth. Whether Filianoti will be eventually replaced completely and will step down, is not clear at this point. But he has not been fired.
Matti Salminen's not feeling that great either; he was too under the weather to appear as the Inquisitor in the "General Rehearsal 4 teh kids" thing they had on Thursday, and Anatoly Kotscherga replaced him (not that memorably, it is said). Well, Salminen might have to give up tomorrow night, too. The good news is, as of now, Furlanetto and Cedolins are feeling good (not really Dolora Zajick who injured her arm but is going on stage as scheduled).
Second-stringer American tenor Stuart Neill will sing in tomorrow night's Don Carlo, for the hyped opening night of the 2008/09 la Scala season, replacing tenor Giuseppe Filianoti.
Reports from Scala's general rehearsal of Thursday night's Don Carlo (it's usually open to the friends & relatives of Scala workers, but this year 1700 tickets were sold for 10 euros to kids under 26-years-old, friends & relatives of Scala workers enjoyed a few days earlier the final rehearsal for the second cast) were not promising for Filianoti, who left much to be desired of Verdi's heroic lead. Starting out well, but progressively losing steam in Act III, and finishing in Act IV with a very evident vocal strain.
Opera Chic is a big fan of scary movies, especially the oeuvre of Italian Master Of Schlock Dario Argento, the creepy genius behind so many hemoglobin-dripping crappy bloody bleedy scawy films. Imagine her glee in reading, earlier today, in Corriere della Sera, an interview with Fiorenza Cedolins and Giuseppe Filianoti, Elisabetta and Carlo in the upcoming Don Carlo that will open la Scala's new season this Sunday, Dec 7th., and la Cedolins states that
"...the plot is twisted, more similar to a Dario Argento thriller than to your usual melodramma. It's the third time I sing in a Don Carlo production, I try not to be influenced by the crescendo of stress, I do my best only when I am relaxed. Elisabetta is a difficult part because she's very difficult to define, she survives her inner death that took place when her dream of love came crashing down. Sorrow can kill you, or leave you permanently numb. If I were really in her shoes, there'd be no doubt in my mind, I'd choose Filippo. There's not even a contest in my mind, Filippo is a fascinating character. Unfortunately, that's what Eboli thinks, too".
Giuseppe Filianoti described his take on Carlo this way:
"Carlo is no hero, he's a weak, insecure, desperate kid. His father neither loves him nor respects him, and steals the object of his affection. I think that his extreme need of affection makes him a sort of Werther, on the verge of an emotional breakdown, with a very feminine sensibility. He faints easily -- the real Carlo was an epileptic -- and his relationship with Marchese di Posa, his best friend, the man Filippo would have wanted as his son, has evident homosexual characteristics. Elisabetta is more of a man than Carlo. She is in charge more than he is, she eggs him on: if you love me, kill your father".
The beginning of December heralded the highly anticipated NYC MET Opera premiere of Verdi's Don Carlo. The MET certainly has reason to be enamored with this current performance (which they lovingly endowed as, lol "The Reign in Spain" lol in the top promotion spot on their website), as it was rumored to be one of the most powerful and dramatic productions in over thirty years, and as Anthony Tommasini’s review from December 2, 2006 states, “The Metropolitan Opera has not been able to present a truly great Don Carlo since Plácido Domingo in the early 1980s.”
Since living here in “Verdi Country”, I can tell you that many opera-lovers in Italy have a general hard-on for Don Carlo. The critics and fans in the United States have panned it so many times in the past, and it remains one of the most unpopular and unappreciated Verdi operas. The critical laments are that melodies are too few and far in-between, the opera lacks juicy tenor arias, and there is boring dialogue between the male characters.
But that has been rectified by the MET with the stellar cast for the December run of Don Carlo. With Jimmy at the helm for a full four hours and thirty-five minutes, Don Carlo boasts:
Elisabeth de Valois: Patricia Racette Eboli: Olga Borodina Don Carlo: Johan Botha Rodrigo: Dmitri Hvorostovsky Philip II: René Pape Don Basilio: Samuel Ramey
The only defect that could mar the cast is Botha’s acting skills for Don Carlo. I just can't imagine that he will be able to stack-up to the overwhelmingly impressive cast, including Racette’s lovely acting, Hvorostovsky’s icy scowl, and Pape’s demonic swagger (sorry, but I saw him in the MET Gounod's Faust last year as Méphistopélès and will forever now associate him with teh 666 devil 666). So for the duration of performances, here are the key questions:
Will Ramey have his wobble? Will Botha lumber his way woodenly across the stage? Will Jimmy lose the tempi? Will Bordina be able to hit the high notes?
Recently reviewed from the boys at wellsung and also by maury, it seems that some of my suspicions were affirmed. However, I still really wish I had coordinated a Christmas visit to NYC, but will instead wait for my vicarious adventures via more reviews. So I therefore beg of you who are in the vicinity of New York City: VAI VAI VAI! Pleeeeeeeze! Go! Now! ;)
(For hi-res images of the pictures above, go here to the Opera Chic flickr page)