Although too many empty seats stretched across the Teatro alla Scala platea on the opening night of Leoš Janácek’s Czech masterpiece, From the House of the Dead, eight minutes of applause thanked the excellent production team which stirred the dust from sets that had earlier transformed the stage into a Siberian Gulag. For the second time in La Scala's history, From the House of the Dead was presented to the Milanese, Sunday night in the legendary Patrice Chéreau production that has been trailblazing through International opera houses for the past three years, bulletproof by mesmerized opera critics, paralyzing audiences with its theatrical vernacular, blue-white brilliant clarity told in unflinching parameters. First it was Pierre Boulez enjoying the conducting victory, but Esa-Pekka Salonen's been chaperoning the production since it last showed, which was at NYC's Metropolitan Opera a few months ago (that Opera Chic had the pleasure of attending, full review here).
Patrice Chéreau's production -- called by Corriere della Sera's chief music critic as, "un allestimento mirabolante" and "la regia di Patrice Chéreau, mi ripeto, la perfezione" -- was again lovingly bolstered by his excellent co-conspirators: Thierry Thieu Niang's choreography, Richard Peduzzi's sets, Caroline De Vivaise's costumes, and Bertrand Couderc's lights. As opposed to the gaping maw of auditorium space offered by NYC's Met Opera (we say that with lots of endearment), the smaller dimensions of La Scala's stage drastically altered the emotional impact. The opera read as a more personal, intimate experience, less cinematic, and the sets were more oppressive and claustrophobic.
Esa-Pekka, who was additionally called by the same Corriere della Sera critic as, "il piu' grande maestro della sua generazione", led the orchestra in an evening of evocative music with a decisive, masterful, and unrelenting drive that never sounded muscled or thunderous. John Mark Ainsley sung a gorgeous Skuratove, and Peter Mattei's Šiškov was flawless. Patrice Chéreau's chef d'œuvre continues to stun audiences for its sheer beauty, the Milanese equally receptive to its charm.