Mariella Devia just canceled her Traviata debut at Scala -- announced for this coming Tuesday -- because of a throat infection. She had already missed the final rehearsal. Irina Lungu will appear as Violetta replacing Devia.
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.)
Much more to come later, OC is just back home from a long day of Milano Moda Uomo fashion shows + Maria Stuarda at la Scala. In short, except for Devia, it pretty much suXed.
A few impressions:
Mariella Devia, always in top form, always flawless, saved the night; a lukewarm minimalist production by Pier Luigi Pizzi got booed, rookie 30-year-old Antonino Fogliani mostly drowned the singers and couldn't really seem to tame the unruly orchestra (the orchestra, we hear, generally can't stand him, so maybe they didn't help him out much anyway). Anna Caterina Antonacci, usually stunning but very badly dressed and painted in inexplicable whiteface, unfortunately didn't impress much, esp. having to try and fight back the orchestra that constantly overpowered her.
The chorus, as always, ruled. Maestro Bruno Casoni's crew is like that, you just can't mess with them.
This coming Tuesday @ la Scala -- if the orchestra decides to grace the audience with their presence and not strike, for once -- we'll be given a very special tasty treat: Mariella Devia and Anna Caterina Antonacci going face to face in Donizetti's Maria Stuarda (Devia as Maria and Antonacci as Elisabetta).
Tonight Opera Chic (wearing black & blue & masculine in deference to the new Campioni d'Italia: black Tod's ballerina shoes, black Costume National slacks, blue Gentry Comini blouse, black Miyake silky cotton jacket, red/white/emerald vintage Balenciaga silk scarf, Zenitissimo vintage watch, and swag in my vintage midollino Gucci black bag) has witnessed an event of extraordinary importance...a magic trick: Rome's unlucky Violetta, Angela Gheorghiu, has been srsly long-distance pwz0rd by Mariella Devia.
Devia's recital tonight at Teato alla Scala, until the last aria, had been a textbook case of jarring contrast: the frumpiest, lamest style (circa 1988 long red silk junior prom dress with sheer red sleeves like a figure-sk8ing outfit, bad reddish dye-job ...and no costume change during intermission omg), and very limited acting, almost constant stiff delivery, back-brace posture but with the cleanest, most flawless singing one is likely to hear in any opera house in this decade.
The decidedly uncharismatic Devia sang as if her sound had already been equalized, corrected, and digitally cleaned-up & amped in a studio: her delivery was so inhumanly flawless that, closing your eyes, you'd think that somebody had turned on the sound system and the lady (accompanied by a pretty plodding, uninspired pianist, Ms. Rosetta Cucchi) was just lip-synching.
It was a master class for the public, an overt "hay guys *this* is how you're supposed to sing opera" moment that would put most singers to shame -- a singing lesson for contemporaries and, if anybody had the good sense to record this evening, for posterity.
Somewhat cold? Yeah, the way a Kubrick film can be cold -- the coldness of the "I'm so good at this I can do it blindfolded" master, or, in Devia's case, "I can do it with a bad case of laryngitis like what3vs".
After she tore through Rossini's Pensées Musicales as if they were a stick of half-melted buttah, she then proceeded to kill the second part of the recital as if simply singing the notes was the easiest thing in the world, without breaking a sweat or flashing a nervous smile. She enjoyed the monster ovation from the crowd, and it was the time for encores (keep in mind, she's been singing for almost one hour and 45 minutes at this point).
The piano lady (which btw, OC thinks is pretty kicka$$ to have female accompaniment...especially dressed in "screw-u-&-ur-dresscode" slack,s nonetheless) started playing a bare-bones Casta Diva, and you're like, no frkking way, kip, back it up. But it's on!! and Devia blows-up that soprano-killing-aria like it's a videogame and she's playing the L4MER level just for practice.
More cheering, clapping, people going insane, bis bis bis, elderly gentlemen yelling until they dropped their programs, society ladies clapping so hard the many pounds of gold and (blood) diamonds they're wearing around their wrists and their malnourished bones clash like bells.
And then -- around 10:15 pm Milan time -- Devia, who must have read lately how Opera di Roma has been selling Gheorghiu's Traviata as if the twin fighting ghosts of Callas and Tebaldi have been finally put to rest -- decided to send Angela a little txt message, something like, "cara angela listen 2 h0w violetta is s'posed 2 sound kthxbi xoxoxo to roburto".
So she starts "Addio del passato", and she (after almost two hours of singing) starts acting, and even if the pianist is plodding like mad, she attaches little pieces of lead to every note so that Verdi becomes Black Sabbath slowed down 10x and played backwards to try to evoke Satan or Rene Pape or something, and now she's acting, and she's getting all emo on us, and she's dying alone on that stage, it's almost unbearable -- Non croce col nome che copra quest'ossa -- and it becomes clear once again (like it does only when the very best ones are on the stage) Verdi is Shakespeare, inventor of the human, and you're all like, holy f4ck, Gheorghiu has been pwnd. Once again.
Angela -- the most hyped soprano in the last 20 years with the exception of younger, prettier (not necessarily more talented) Netrebko got served, twice in three days; first, live on-stage by a 71-year-old gramps who's as spent as William Holden in the last five minutes of The Wild Bunch. Then, 400 miles away, by a frumpster whose sublime technique and gilded voice managed to make a Steinway concert grand sound in comparison like the most garish, discordant instrument evar, and leaves the La Scala audience clamoring for encore after encore, which Devia gladly delivered.
The rest of the cast: Michele Pertusi (Enrico VIII), Francesco Meli (Riccardo Percy), Marco Spotti (Rocheford), Marina Domashenko (Giovanna Seymur). The opera hasn't been staged in Verona in the last 160 years (only three editions til today at Teatro Filarmonico: in 1833, 1835 e 1843). This Anna will be conducted by Lu Jia, replicas on the 27th, 29th, and on April 1 and 4.
Rave reviews in the Italian press for divinelycious Mariella Devia: her Il Pirata in Ancona -- stage direction by the always interesting Pier'Alli -- seems to be really, really cool and overflowing with tasty Bellini goodness. She will always be our Lucia, we love love love her Fille, and she also has Imogene down. Hopefully, she'll get a blog soon so Opera Chic can retire in sunny Provence, dozing in the shade of a beautiful pear tree, dreaming in the colors of Pierre-Auguste Renoir while blasting at eardrum-perforating volume some bada$$ DMX rapping on her McIntosh vintage sound system. Sound system that she has and that, as always, you don't.