For some reason, as Opera Chic hungrily waited for that killer glissando that opens up the world of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue -- probably the most famous incipit in classical music, together with Beethoven's Fifth -- in the audience of Milan's Auditorium yesterday morning, Opera Chic was expecting a reading that, in pure Francesco Maria Colombo fashion, would be elegant, dry-as-a-martini, not shaken, not stirred, but beautifully laid out in the silvery textures that are already a trademark of the Milanese maestro (Opera Chic has basked, in the past, in FMC's argentine Debussy, in his impossibly refined and sparkling Reynaldo Hahn, in his surprisingly warm and human Sibelius so far away from the frozen cliché we have all grown to hate -- FMC's Sibelius is not music for polar bears but for living, breathing, warm-bodied and warm-hearted humans, finally).
Instead, Maestro Colombo, the pianist Maestro Giuseppe Gullotta, and the wonderful kids of Orchestra Verdi -- the same orchestra that only a few nights ago had given a not-so-stunning, slightly unfocused performance of Verdi's Requiem under Maestro Wayne Marshall's baton, truth to be told -- they all created something beautiful, and surprising.
Ignited by a solo clarinet -- Opera Chic unfortunately is not aware of the young professore's name, but he did give a fantastic, incandescent performance seriously worthy of a world-class soloist -- that was proudly pointing out that this would not be a polite, bemusedly detached rendering of Gershwin's work as it so often happens, Colombo's Rhapsody burned brightly with the fire of Gershwin's sassy, brave gusto -- keeping the chaos inherent in the writing under admirable control. This was a Rhapsody in Blue that proudly displayed the multilayered, multicultural greatness of Gershwin's inspiration -- these are the Roaring Twenties, hear them roar. That was the bluesy, jazzy, folksy genius of the Russian Jew who created with apparent effortlessness the greatest mosaic of American's character -- where diversity is strength, and the culture is even greater than the sum of his thousands of parts.
And Giuseppe Gullotta -- looking very, very young in his untucked tight black shirt, tuxedo pants and shoes that were an impressive contrast with Colombo's morning suit -- simply surprised us: Opera Chic confesses she had been unaware of this maestro's work, but the rich sound, the precision, the sheer controlled fury he displayed in the trickiest passages make her think that this black-shirted, jet-black-haired maestro 's name might not remain unknown to the greater public for much longer.
The newspaper Repubblica had published a short blurb for the concert -- "Colombo Explains the Secrets of Rhapsody In Blue" the headline said -- and indeed the morning concert was part of the lecture series given by Colombo -- who's a former critic for Corriere della Sera -- about great works of the 20th Century.
But then, as interesting as his lecture that preceded the concert was -- complete with videos of Gershwin playing, an audio of the Rhapsody's 1924 opening night, crazy tempi choices and all, slide show of the Whistler paintings that inspired Ira Gershwin to name the work Rhapsody in Blue -- as interesting as it was, Colombo/Gullotta and the Verdi orchestra managed to illustrate it all in music -- the racket of the train where Gershwin had the idea for the piece, the chaos of the Metropolis, the rush to complete the work and introduce it to the public in a crazily competitive commercial environment. It was all there, in the music, up on the Auditorium's stage. You could also hear Porgy And Bess -- that masterpiece of Straussian proportions duly savaged right after its debut by the self-appointed, porcine guardians of High Culture -- trying to burst out of the Rhapsody the way Minerva exited Zeus's head, ready to take over the Twentieth Century.
Colombo the critic once wrote that Gershwin's Twentieth Century is the century of Garbo, Coco Chanel, and Manhattan's skyscrapers lit up in the night; and his Milanese Rhapsody was such unabashed, sassy, moving fun that, after the ovations of the nearly-sold-out Auditorium, Opera Chic found herself surprised to hear people in the audience speak Italian, because she just felt like going out for bagels, the Sunday Times, and maybe some Starbucks in the blinding sunlight and crisp ocean air of a Sunday winter morning in Manhattan.