Who: Diana Damrau, soprano. Piotr Beczala, tenor. Daniele Gatti, conductor. Dmitri Tcherniakov, director + extras, an orchestra, journalists, media crews, security, police and impeccably-groomed spectators.
What: Opening night of Teatro alla Scala's 2013-14 Season, La Traviata
When: December 7, the traditional Sant'ambrogio feast day of Milan's patron saint.
Where: Milan, Italy.
How: Euros & couture, fake tans & kiwi-sized jewels.
Why: Dmitri Tcherniakov, why do you hate Giuseppe Verdi so much?
(Corriere della Sera's breakdown)
The aftermath: After all was booed and politely applauded in ten minutes of thanks for months of labor, another war erupted as the VIPs filed out of the theater to check-out minks from the coat check while companions checked-out legs over peach marble floors. Loggionisti who hadn't hightailed out of the upper decks cried 'buffone', eager to lure Gatti et al. for additional curtain call flogging. On the platea floor, the response from a passionate white tie was 'Vai a casa'. Go home.
A few hours earlier, the usual suspects arrived at Scala's marbled, mirrored foyer -- debonaire Robeto Bolle, sprightly Carla Fracci and dignified Giorgio Napolitano -- navigating deep décolletage, architectural up-dos, angry video crews and anxious security apes. Longtime Scala patron Marta Marzotto, reliably dripping in Pucci and Bulgari was MIA with Amazonian sidekick Valeria Marini and her vintage Braccialini purses. We could have used the humor.
The evening began optimistically. After a moment of silence for Mandela, before the curtain rolled back and the opening notes of Traviata swept forward, 'Viva Verdi' was shouted from the galleries. In the month leading-up to opening night, nary a whisper escaped from Scala's backstage about last minute cast changes or stranger-than-fiction conspiracies. The most scandelous rumor encircled Violetta's death, surmised by overdose or atop a washing machine (freak hausfrau accident?) Don’t exhale just yet.
For all of the Italian media press clippings that exited this week detailing Dmitri Tcherniakov's deep respect and meticulously-scoured pages of La Traviata's manuscript, and for all of Daniele Gatti's intelligent remarks on characterization and his restoration of all things Verdi-sacred, the final product was baffling at best. Neither Italian nor French, Tcherniakov borrowed the whitewashed 19th century continental chic that giftwraps dozens of modern stages and trimmed it with dissonant costumes, like his woman in full Native American headdress. Was the Josephine Baker banana skirt costume on loan? Isn't Traviata supposed to be the height of haute bourgeois elegance?
There was technically-solid music making from everyone, including Damrau, although she was as close to Marilyn Monroe as Christina Aguilera's rose-lensed pipe dreams. Misfires here and there in a score marked with affectation apnea, Damrau/Barone flubbed the Act II 'Ah perché qui venni incauta' with a late cue. With eyes wide open, Beczala took the most serious hits for an unintelligent, charmless Alfredo, preparing pasta and chopping vegetables as Germont served trauma and then bringing Violetta sweets and flowers as she lay dying, everyone preoccupied with a vase. If Tcherniakov had a point, he didn’t quite make it.
The most critical held Gatti responsible -- the Milanese maestro who spent his junior years watching the podium from afar in La Scala's loggione -- for allowing such a misguided production. Or maybe it was his in-joke. Outside of Milan, Tcherniakov's shortcoming has been shifted to the public. Boys will be boys, whores will be whores, but dogs usually bark for good reason.
After so many years of non-Italian opening nights -- Wagner, Bizet and more Wagner -- and especially after Lohengrin greeted Verdi's bicentennial birth year at last year's opening, Scala finally welcomed its native son back to the fold, with arms wide open, regardless of Wagner transgressions. But when they rolled back the rock, it was a Frankenstein monster. Seal it back up!
Native Italian opera risks extinction, domestic talent gone fair-weather for Europe and America, although blameless, we've all gotta pay the bills (or find bankrolled Swiss lovers). The public isn't angry, they're afraid.
Paolo Isotta, in a teaser column signed "persona non grata" in today's Corriere, called the whole thing ridiculous and totally unrealistic. He titled his piece "Quelle Camelie sbagliate" (not online), those befuddled camellias, citing the red camellia placed in Damrau's hair during the first and second acts. As everyone knows, says Isotta, the courtesan protagonist of Alexandre Dumas, fils' La Dame aux camélias wore a white camellia at her chest when she was accessible to her lovers and a red one when she wasn't.
He's critical of Gatti, whose Verdi is almost always correct, respectful, informed and enlightened. But Isotta accuses Gatti of playing to the director’s/singers' whims by allowing ridiculous giggles and pauses that sacrificed tempi and for affecting a big band sound, comparing it, at times, to Gilbert and Sullivan's Mikado (like the Lucic/Damrau 'Ah non udrai rimproveri').
Beczala, aside from an incredible cadenza before "O mio rimorso, infamia" was given over to sobbing, bleating and braying throughout the remainder of the opera. Damrau, undeniably an amazing coloratura, made an uneven first act full of vocal and acting ticks that simply weren't in the manuscript, seeming not to know when she should cry or laugh. Her 'addio del passato' was solid, but 'Prendi quet'e' immagine' was impeded by bad direction. Isotta also cites her 'amnesia' on flubbed entrances.
Still, for anyone who's been to opening night at La Scala, there's no such thing as a bad night. After all, who could complain? We hope not the singers who garner small fortunes nor the audience whose (admitedly expensive) tickets guarantee equally savagery and delight in a setting that's a tone poem of elegance. What's to hate?
La prima della Scala fever spikes and the only medicine is Verdi (and more cowbell). Last night, La Scala opened its doors to an under-30 neophyte litmus in the final La Traviata dress rehearsal before Saturday's official season opener. Applause pounded for Daniele Gatti's Verdi, Diana Damrau's Violetta and Piotr Beczala's Alfredo, with less enthusiasm for Željko Lučić's Germont.
The new production, signed by Dmitri Tcherniakov, places less emphasis on the scenery (scrubbed-up, modernized, mid-19th century throwback) and more 'fantasy' into modern day costumes -- notably Damrau who's been capped with a platinum blond wig of Marilyn Monroe curls (like that Aix-en-Provence Mireille Delunsch Violetta) and wrapped in a costume that oozes glamor (a low-cut blue dress, decolletage dripping with Swarovskyish ice), sexy but naive. In Act II, when Germont comes to tell Violetta that he's got 99 problems but she ain't 1, she's preparing homemade pasta in a well appointed kitchen.
The big shocker, from today's Corriere della Sera by journalist Pierluigi Panza, is that Violetta dies in a wooden chair, in a bare room with one window -- at her side an empty bottle, a telephone (lol landline) and a winter comforter. Austere, Ikea death. The death chair echoes (intentionally or not) the iconic, now-exemplar 1955/56 Scala-Visconti Traviata with Giulini, Di Stefano and Callas, when the world's most stylish diva died in a chair, at the time, very controversial.
Tchernaikov spoke to Corriere della Sera's Giuseppina Manin and explained that his conception of Traviata was inspired by Ingmar Bergman and the psychological games of the protagonists, represented by an intimate, claustrophobic world of closed spaces where nothing is seen beyond the windows. He said:
The social context stays in the shadows. Since Traivata was first staged, 160 years have passed. Everything's changed from then to now. First and foremost, morals. Words like 'reputation', 'honor' and 'sacrifice' sound very different than they did in the mid-19th century. Today no one's without sin and therefore who can judge a prostitute? Violetta of today could totally resemble a movie star. A seductive Marilyn Monroe, a bit irrational, beyond any kind of moral judgement.
Tchernaikov analyzed every page of the score with Gatti and said of the collaboration, "His observations were very useful. What was the trend in the 19th century is no longer the trend today [...] It's better to seek the deep motivations of everyone. You will find that even the terrible Germont has his reasons and justificatons."
While we wait for Saturday night, there's an excellent interview in Corriere della Sera's ViviMilano between Milanese conductor Daniele Gatti and journalist Gian Mario Benzing. This will be Daniele Gatti's second Traviata at La Scala and his second Scala season opener. Gatti's professional Verdi roots were planted when he was 20 with Giovanna d'Arco, then a Rigoletto in Bologna with Nucci and June Anderson. As a former La Scala loggionisti, the Milanese maestro grew up with Verdi in his blood and studied Falstaff often with his composition teacher.
Gatti says that Verdi's Traviata isn't necessarily an Italianate opera as it speaks of the influence of European cultures, notably Parisian, like the opening brindisi with a touch of 'folies bergères' and the waltzes and dances have overtones of French gaiety. The waltzer steps are intertwined with Greek meter -- two short and one long with the accent on the third syllable -- and the Greek tragedy manifests itself in the passage of time, especially towards the finale of anguish/death.
On his particular interpretation, Gatti said:
Everyone has their own ideal Traviata and it's difficult to be convincing. I however will not be a conductor who pulls the chariot of tradition: if you come to hear me, don't expect tradition. I feel pure in front of such a work of art -- when I re-study a score, I push myself to interpret it just like as if I had picked it up fresh from delivery.
La traviata is an opera that's been most performed and most abused. It's difficult to scrape off all the cliches that have famously accompanied it. Instead, cliches need to be avoided. I'm looking for a style that's dry. Expressive, but dry, and less redundant. I wrote out some mini-variations in the 'ripresa' of some of the cabalettas. For example, the one for the baritone, "No, non udrai rimproveri," you sing it two times and I'll make it much quicker, like a song that's anxious and throbbing -- Germont wants to be an affectionate father, but in reality he believes as an instrument in the hands of gawd and knows only how to put on a sense of guilt.
Gatti doesn't believe that Traviata is verismo and considers it more as realism and he wants none of his singers to use an excessive vocality. "It's a tragedy, but intimate and dignified." He continues: "Violetta is Rigoletto in a skirt who also has this 'hump' -- but her hump is a social deformity that sings about love."
This is Tchernaikov's first Verdi production for La Scala -- he's only exhibited Russian titles for Piermarini in the past -- Prokofiev's The Gambler, Tchaikovsky's Onegin and in March 2014 he's signed to a Rimsky-Korsakov The Tsar's Bride.
Fashion photographer Andrew Yee has shot some gorgeouswork for the FT's 'How to Spend It' supplement in the past, and his latest spread, 'Called to the Barre', is equally aspirational. Models in ballet-inspired gear (like an Oscar de la Renta gown paired with Repetto ballet shoes) has reignited our latent ballerina. Lots more photos at the source, all photos Andrew Yee.
It's the title of a 1996 Abbado documentary by Paul Smaczny that captured the deep artistry of the Milanese maestro with the Berliner Philharmoniker among interviews with colleagues and lifelong friends such as Barenboim, Boulez and Mehta.
And you can see it for yourselves in this YouTube clip above of the forty seconds of magic that followed a summer 2012 Mozart Requiem Mass in Lucerne after the final Lux Aeterna. Wait for it (or the impatient can skip to minute 5:25). You can find the whole work here.
Although Haitink's Beethoven was 'austerely conducted with purity' and 'without bucolic rhetoric', the concert was dampened by Abbado's absence following cancellations of key fall dates. 'La salute del maestro preoccupa,' said La Repubblica, 'the maestro's health is troubling', the evening a stark departure from Abbado's last appearance in Bologna over the summer in a jubilant concert for the Italian president Giorgio Napolitano.
Opera singer as music muse? Nothing new. Opera singer as art muse? Much cooler.
On the 100th birth year anniversary of the late Milanese artist, Piero Fornasetti, Milan's coordinated a centenary retrospective with more than 1,000 objects at the Triennale. A prolific artist, Fornasetti's most iconic work reappropriated Italian soprano Lina Cavalieri's portrait onto objet d'art like plates, above.
“There’s just something magical in the expression in Cavalieri’s eyes,” he [Barnaba] suggests. Growing up surrounded by her face, he wasn’t terribly interested in who she was. “I never asked my father about her,” he explains, “For a long time, I didn’t know her name.” It wasn’t until later in life, when he started to read about Cavalieri, that he developed his own interest. “One day I’d like to make a movie or an opera about her. She was like a rock star.”
OC checked out the Milan exhibition this weekend, and in addition to Cavalieri, opera showed up frequently in Fornasetti's pieces.
(Trays painted with Teatro alla Scala interior and exterior)
Better late than never. In the runup to Teatro alla Scala's Traviata 235th season opener on December 7th, Milan's in full rally to celebrate the bicentennial birth year of its opera superhero, Giuseppe Verdi. The new Dmitri Tcherniakov production stars Gatti on the podium, Damrau as La dame aux camélias and Beczala as the dude.
Giuseppe Verdi's Milan haunts have been tracked, thanks to an app, 'Verdi e Milano', like the Via San Marco church where his Requiem Mass premiered, the Hotel et de Milan where he died and the Casa di Risposo G. Verdi retirement home that he founded.
Violetta in città: Around the city, strains of Traviata are being pumped in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, some of the city's subway stations and at the Linate airport.
If you're not one of the lucky 3k in-house spectators on opening night, you can catch a live stream on Rai5 or in seven movie theaters and a handful of museum auditoriums (including the la Casa di riposo per musicisti Giuseppe Verdi).
Next door, the Trussardi alla Scala restaurant offers a special post-Scala menu at €180.00 per person, offering goose broth, cuttlefish, steamed lobster, duck and dessert, with an option for white truffles at an additional cost.
We spotted a Verdi/Star Wars double-bill in the Milan metro where an exhibition of Star Wars collectibles at the Still Image Museum was juxtaposed with an exhibition in Palazzo Moriggia on the working relationship between Verdi, Boito and Ricordi. "Il mito" in Italian is "the legend", which calls for a Verdi-as-Darth-Vader mash-up or at least a lightsaber duel between the two myths.
Not Gatti. Violetta. Although up against La Scala's grizzly loggionisti, only the foolhardy (or arrogant) would shun redemption. Think buoyant. Calm & confident, 007 in Brioni, a martini in one hand and a baton in the other.
As the Milanese maestro dusts off his Traviata white tie for his second Sant'Ambrogio Teatro alla Scala season opener, let's take a moment to remember that spectacular 2008 Don Carlos meltdown when Filianoti was replaced overnight and Gatti was turned into a piñata. Want to kill/time/travel? Linkage here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.
Gatti knows what he's up against and he's seen firsthand an opera house soured and bitter as Campari. Yesterday he spoke to Il Giornale and said that he was up to the challenge of Traviata, notoriously sacred to the loggionisti: "Lots of people have asked me, why the hell would you do something like this? My morality makes me do it. It seems like it's impossible to pull off, but instead I consider it a gift from the heavens [...] I'm going to conduct it like 'Mr.Gatti' would, end-of-story. It'll be an intimate Traviata, both in setting and in the numbers of onstage characters."
On Violetta (to be sung by Damrau), he sees her as someone who's suffered an injustice and is looking for salvation. Although she chooses to frequent a certain type of environment, she still wants to save herself and has aspirations to have a husband and kids. He thinks that Alfredo (to be sung by Beczala) is honest, sincere, a bit naive, provincial and doesn't know how to keep his promises.
When R&B singer R. Kelly [NSFW] released the cover art for his [NSFW] upcoming CD late last week, we lol'd. Between the Moonwalker fedora, the Phantom of the Opera mask and the Yeezus leather pants, he's all over the place.
OC slapped some strings over the image above, but the real version's not safe for work.
In the great crossover tradition of showboating Italian tenors who've come before him -- Pavarotti, Caruso, Gigli -- Vittorio Grigolo continues to break from the opera stage and enchant high society with a twinkle in his eye and microphone in his hand, replete with the de Grigueur Xmas album.
Last night -- in a tuxedo, white t-shirt and Lacoste kicks -- he was back in Milan to celebrate Italian rubber/tire king Pirelli's iconic calendar at HangarBicocca, a former hanger converted into an exhibition space.
In wayfareresque shades (an affectation picked up from raffish Lapo Elkann), Grigolo sang for 800 guests anchored by a handful of celebs (Kevin Spacy), models, Italian dynasty offspring and fashion industry gatekeepers.
Pirelli celebrated the 50th edition of its calendar by launching heretofore unpublished b&w shots taken in 1985 by Helmut Newton in Monte Carlo and Tuscany. Newton had abandoned the original commission for personal reasons and the images lay dormant in the Pirelli archives, sharing shelf space with former Pirelli calendar photographers such as Avdeon, Ritts, Lindbergh, Leibovitz, Testino and Demarchelier.
The Scene: Reddit interwebz The Cast: Renée Fleming and millions of curious Redditors
It's a dichotomy: Young opera singers look to the most successful industry icons to give stellar career advice, but most of those trailblazers have been so high up in Ivory Towers that their advice is out-dated.
Not Renée! At yesterday's IAmA session, she handed out tips to young singers with some personal details: she cherishes her Gianfranco Ferré gowns and anonymously donates her older frocks to young singers. Also, her childhood nickname was 'Nay-Nay' :3 This weekend, she's on MC duties at the inaugural American Voices Festival at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to host a three-day event on American song.
Callas shoots a wicked side-eye at impostors. December's Tatler, covered by Princess Grace of Monaco on her thirtieth death anniversary year, delves into the Grace of Monaco movie slated for a March 2014 roll-out.
Grace Kelly -- that icily-cool, Hollywood-icon-turned-princess in the great American Cinderella story -- had a prince in her pocket and legendary friends, including la Divina, who will be played by Paz Vega.
Grace of Monaco, with Nicole Kidman in the title role, Tim Roth as Rainier, Robert Lindsay as Aristotle Onassis, Paz Vega as his mistress Maria Callas and Parker Posey as Madge Tivey-Faucon, Grace’s lady-in-waiting.
Callas has been previously resurected by Faye Dunaway in (the mysteriously shelved) Master Class and by Fanny Ardant in Callas Forever. Upcoming films include Callas (last rumored to be played by either Anne Hathaway or Penélope Cruz) and Greek Fire (last rumored to be played by Eva Mendes). Now it's Vega's turn. Judging by the first (and only) photos of Vega-as-Callas that leaked online a year ago (below), we hope she can do impressions. Like Onassis' "mistress". She had an opera-minded experience with Carmen, at least.
Bring the dazzle, bring the bling. For November's Opera Now magazine, OC wrote a piece on opera's longstanding tradition with haute joaillerie and watchmaking dynasties: Swarovski and Maria Callas; Van Cleef & Arpels and Danielle de Niese; Chopard and Anna Netrebko/Erwin Schrott/José Carreras; and Ann Ziff for Tamsen Z and Renée Fleming, among many others. You can download the piece in three parts: Opera Now Jewels 01Opera Now Jewels 02Opera Now Jewels 03
In December's issue for Opera Now magazine, we rounded-up our favorite opera and symphony themed gifts, such as the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust timepieces awarded to winners of this year's Operalia 2013 Audience Award, downloadable here.
We also commented on the recent La Scala/Barenboim music director shakeup, available here.
How thrilled were we to interview young cellist Nicolas Altstaedt for October's austere Black & White issue of Auditorium Magazine? Pretty dang thrilled. Onstage, the soft-spoken, Berlin-based soloist delights with his two cellos, young and old -- a 1789 Giulio Cesare Gigli and a 2012 Robert König -- turned out in scruffy-lux Issey Miyake gear. Offstage, he's a dream boss as the artistic director of the Lockenhaus Chamber Music Festival. Download some black & white swoon right here.
We also reviewed the Jan Vogler & Hélène Grimaud Schumann Fantasiestücke & Dichterliebe CD, a super-friend dialogue between two artists, Vogler's cello ripping through Heine's poems. Novel and unexpected, this one's not for the Lieder purists.
The latest issue (which is sadly OC-free) switches back to color.
Famous among Lennie fetishists but too obscure to be go-to content for Esquire USA, we're not sure what magic googling led magazine editors to it, but here it is in December's USA Esquire.
In a fingerfood 101 guide, Tom Wolfe's famous 1970 New York Magazine essay "Radical Chic: Live from Lenny's" about Bernstein's Park Avenue penthouse party for the Black Panthers, is randomly referenced for a stuffed mushrooms recipe. Stuffing, indeed.
Also found -- an ad for Chopin potato vodka -- ad nor slogan references Chopin's legacy.
The vegan fitness ace whittled herself down to a US size 2 over a long-term wellness plan, cardio as its star, which is probably why she looked so slaming in the Austin Scarlett gown that she wore to last year's Met Opera opening night (photo above). For the fitness glossy, she discusses body image in the opera industry, her NYC fitness regiment and the synchronicity she finds between running and singing.
Somewhere between pissing-off La Scala's loggionisti (Un Ballo) and sending billets-doux to Milan's Casa di riposo per musicisti Giuseppe Verdi (Falstaff) comes Damiano Michieletto's production of Mozart's Idomeneo for Theater an der Wien. When it premieres on November 13 in Vienna, Michieletto hints at a return to basic archetypes (stripped of mythology) and the classical elements (namely, dirt) for his new production of Mozart's father vs. son strife opera.
The central theme of my studies was the father-son rapport and the passage towards maturity, which brings fatigue and pain. Idamante has to free himself of the paternal oppression, from the sense of guilt, he has to discover and live out his independence and his love for Ilia. It deals with a passage that every son has to carry out: "to kill" his own father. And in this case, there's also a monster to kill, which represents the weight of the father figure. The sacrifice in which Idamante is put under coincides with his redemption, the end of childhood and the beginning of a new life. And in the final ten minutes, we see him become a father himself, while Idomeneo definitively exits the scene.
The circularity of life is recreated also in the stage parameters: the stage is covered in soil, the soil that embraces the cadavers and from that which new life can be born. The whole show takes advantage of a very simple aesthetic, with only a few objects, really to remain in that crevasse of an epic approach to this incident, that however is stripped of mythological references and correlated to a humanity which everyone, in today's world, can identify with.
Under René Jacobs with the Freiburger Barockorchester and the Arnold Schoenberg Choir, Richard Croft sings the title role, Gaëlle Arquez is his son Idamante, Sophie Karthäuser is Ilia, Marlis Petersen is Elettra and Julien Behr sings Arbace.
Fragrance maestra Ann Gottleib must have a passport the size of a Die Meistersinger manuscript, because when she's not consulting/signing her name to famous perfumes (such as Calvin Klein’s Obsession and Eternity, Marc Jacobs’ Lola and Dior's J’adore), she's following the fragrance chain from plants to labs to flacons. After the search for vetiver in Haiti, patchouli in Borneo, sandalwood in India and roses in Morocco, her latest adventure brought her to Madagascar and Uganda for vanilla.
A good friend of Renée Fleming, the NYC-based scent diva was one of the talented noses behind Fleming's Coty Inc. fragrance, La Voce, a "floriental" juice that launched in 2008.
Dustin Hoffman boosted the profile of retired, classical musicians last year with Quartet, and he'll do the same for boy choirs next year, starring in the indie drama 'Boychoir'.
'The story centers on a troubled and angry 11-year-old from the wrong side of the tracks who finds himself at an East Coast school, where he engages in a battle of wills with a demanding choir master, played by Hoffman, who recognizes a unique talent in the boy. [Alfred] Molina will play a teacher at the school, and [Kathy] Bates will portray the school’s headmistress.'