It wouldn't be La Scala without cries of dissension, but when Corriere della Sera last week outed Riccardo Chailly
as La Scala's incoming MD (for an outward-bound Barneboim), the orchestra's grumbles out-grumbled everyone.
Chailly had been earmarked for ages as Scala's MD even before the press leak (hello...2006?), but the orchestra's musicians are actively shelving the Gewandhaus director's name (via an internal referendum) for Fabio Luisi. They're not so much divided on the Chailly election (although they fear that Chailly's prominence abroad and his fat Decca contract could interfere with the theater's artistic choices and inflate salaries), but more displeased that they were omitted from the decision (and if you want to know the orchestra's sway, just ask Muti.)
The Chailly announcement followed recent meetings among Scala superpowers (including Milan's mayor/Scala's president Pisapia who hasn't denied the decision and is said to endorse Chailly 100%) as well as one with the orchestra's artistic committee, where it's rumored that incoming Intendant Pereira announced Chailly's directorship bound by a seven-year contract.
History repeats itself...
Let's go back to 2005, right after Stéphane Lissner took over as intendant after Riccardo Muti's
thorny departure. Back then, Daniele Gatti (who OC had always heard was the incoming MD, for more reasons than
just being Pereira's BFF -- reason 1, 2 and 3) and Riccardo Chailly
(and Myung-Whun Chung before his unfortunate flameout) were frontrunners.
Bearded Italian jazzerific pianist Stefano Bollani tag-teamed with fellow-bearded Italian maestro Riccardo Chailly in Germany for a concert of George Gershwin's swingiest hits. Leipzig's Gewandhausorchester spun the American soundtrack live from Leipzig's acoustically popping concert hall: Rhapsody in Blue, Catfish Row Symphony Suite, Concerto in F, and the rarely performed Rialto Ripples. The CD drops in two weeks (in Italy) -- you'd better start growing your beards now if you want to keep up.
... he has never headed a US orchestra, despite early triumphs in Chicago. But his eyes lit up when I pressed the point and he specified that he was in talks with 'one of the great American musical institutions'.
The Milanese Maestro on the Gewandhaus Orchestra sound:
"You can describe it like a sort of old gold color – warm, darker,
but at the same time transparent, even though temperamental," the
affable Chailly, on the phone from Leipzig, replied.
"So you have the great sense of discipline of playing together,
which also adds to the clarity, but at the same time, this unique kind
of dark color, which is always starting from the bottom of the strings,
the low strings. And this prolongs into the woodwinds and brass. It's
something pretty unique, I have to say in that sense."
Chailly on his interpretation of Dvorak's Ninth Symphony:
"Well, to start with, the original tempi of the composer. Him and Beethoven indicate very clearly the metronome (markings) they wanted to have, and you almost never hear what is written. Apart from the third movement, which in Dvorák's Ninth very often is done in more or less the adequate tempo, the first, second and fourth movements are far, sometimes far miles, from what is the dictate of the score. And these would be already one point to refresh ideas."
In two special Israel performances to celebrate the holiday season, Riccardo Chailly led Zurich's Orchestra La Scintilla, the Dresden Chamber Choir, and a handful of soloists in Bach's Christmas Oratorio. Both concerts were held in historic churches, the Xmas eve concert in Bethlehem while today's Xmas day concert was in Jerusalem. Let's hope Chailly & friends could fit in some sightseeing. Merry Xmas, Y'all!
Maestro Riccardo Chailly, chief conductor of the Gewandhaus orchestra and music director of the Leipzig Opera, according to a report by the daily Leipziger Volkszeitung is about to officially resign his office as Leipzig Opera's music director on May 30.
Tomorrow la Scala is about to introduce the 2008-2009 season.
Will they also announce Chailly* as Music Director?
We think that Scala GM Stephane Lissner is enjoying way too much his absolute control over the theater to name a (much, much-needed) Music Director so soon. But we'll see.
* Chailly has certainly paid his dues, and he has a very proper International resume, and his love for music is very real. Again, we'll see.
La Scala, so often the reign of the overrated and the overhyped and the overpaid, nevertheless manages to mantain a few standards of excellence: one of these areas where, really, you can't touch them, is the Chorus of the Teatro alla Scala. Then let us praise the man who brings the chorus to such superhuman standards of excellence: Maestro Del Coro Bruno Casoni, whose work is always spotless, always world class.
Riccardo Chailly and Casoni’s 100-person strong chorus played last nite at Scala for a short & sweet choralicious concert.
First up was Igor Stravinsky/Stravinskij’s Symphony of Psalms, which was too warm, too creamy, and too graceful -- it needed more edge, more hard edges, more threat. The tempi were pristine, but without that edge, it flowed together too elegantly for the at times terrifying Psalms. The audience reciprocated with a lukewarm applause.
Gioachino Rossini’s Stabat Mater was next, but we were already familiar with Chailly's Stabat Mater from his 2003 recording with the Concertgebouw Orchestra (and la Frittoli) Chailly conducted sumptuous and layered, a perfect Rossinian sound that morphed into something more ethereal at times. Not as otherworldly as the best Rossini Stabat Mater that we will ever hear (Carlo Maria Giulini, the Proms, 1981) because Chailly became a little too muscled at the end, but only via the male chorus, the tenors during Amen, in sempiterna had an ugly, rough edge for the final series of climaxes.
Soprano Svetla Vassileva she was in good form, wearing a cream layered dress and crystal encrusted high sandals. Mezzo-soprano Sonia Ganassi was the bomb, vocally, in a glittery black dress. Dmitry Korchak’s light tenor was sweet and lovely, but he couldn't quite attack those high notes so well. Bass Mirco Palazzi was good, but had a reedy quality to his voice that didn’t translate well enough against the passion of Chailly’s vision.
At the end of the night, the audience (which was a full turnout, but not packed by any means) went crazy with applause for over five minutes. Maestro del Coro Bruno Casoni got the hugest applause of the night, markedly bigger than the one for Chailly.
(above: Barabara Frittoli in Suor Angelica on top of Ronconi's scary dead Madonna from Scala's Il Trittico)
Classica broadcast via satellite a live transmission from the Thursday night performance at La Scala of Puccini's Il Trittico. OC endured it once again so she could bring you legal shots of the performance via her Canon camera and Samsung plasma. Chailly's conducting remained heavenly even through the canning and compression of live sound to media, although Team Ronconi's odd set designs appeared much darker on screen. The key singers, of course, were much more emotive, with Suor Angelica's Barbara Frittoli even admitting in a post-performance interview that the music moved her so much that she was crying just before one of her arias. suffering for art and all.
The performance was hosted by Classica tv host Gianandrea Gavazzeni's son, he of oddly-composed facial hemispheres, who coolly interviewed both Barbara Frittoli and Leo Nucci (Nucci in full costume and makeup and fake nose, relaxed as a lamby only minutes before getting on stage for his Schicchi) in his II ordine palco between intermissions. There was also a small pre-recorded piece on both Maestro Chailly (who masterfully dissected the evolution of Puccini's style, more on this in a later post) and director Luca Ronconi.
Oddly enough, it was also the first out of the previous three performances where Mariana Lipovšek as Zia Principessa in Suor Angelica wasn't booed loudly at the curtain call. Ronconi didn't show up at curtain call. no boos? a weird coincidence, since the loggione had booed after every previous performance (they didn't like the staging). were they absent? diplomatically silent? good faith? bad? hmmmmm.
Puccini's Trittico will be rebroadcast on Classica a few times next month: April 19 (9pm), 21 (8am), 23 (1:30pm), 27 (10:15am), and 29 (11am). Dayuuum.
OC made a niiiice leetel photo album of a few dozen screenshots, which you can enjoy here. Below are a few of the highlights.
(above: Juan Pons strangles Miroslav Dvorsky in the finale of Il Tabarro.)
(above: The nuns of Suor Angelica walk all over the giant plastic Madonna)
(above: Barbara Frittoli takes her curtain call with her immortalized son)
(above: Leo Nucci in Dante garb as Gianni Schicchi with a prosthetic nose)
(above: Vittorio Grigolo takes a curtain call for Gianni Schicchi: well-deserved applause)
Milanese Maestro Riccardo Chailly has been hospitalized in Milan to undergo a series of exams for heart trouble (on top of kidney stone problems he had already experienced over the Xmas holidays). The situation does not appear to be threatening but he has canceled a tour abroad with his Leipzig Gewandhaus orchestra.
To the wonderful maestro, OC's best wishes of a speedy recovery.
Chailly explained that his next opera in Milan should have been Manon Lescaut with, um, Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu.
"The Manon project was linked to Alagna and Gheorghiu's casting, so (General Manager Stéphane) Lissner and I chose another work, Il Trittico. An opera that hasn't been staged here at la Scala in the last 25 years", Chailly said.
Among Milanese opera fans, the most popular game that does not involve drinking à la Quarters is "Who Would You Choose As Musical Director When In A Couple Years It Will Be Impossible To Keep Pretending That Barenboim's Part Time Job As Maestro Scaligero Is Enough For Such A Big Opera House" (long name, I know, funny Italians -- in the original language it's even longer).
Opera Chic has been subjected to it several unhappy times -- unhappy because it usually ends with bitter arguments, sneering comments, fist-fights, the occasional stabbing in the neck with a broken CD jewel case. And even now that she's temporarily back in the USA, OC hears the question a lot from friends: Who will replace Muti? The orchestra, after all, cannot remain without a Music Director forever.
Well, actually, part of the problem (of General Manager Stephane Lissner's problem) is that the orchestra (many professori, at least, if not all of them...it's far from a unanimous crowd, except when they fire a Music Director, as Claudio Abbado and Riccardo Muti know too well) like the present situation *a lot*: Daniel Barenboim flies-in every once in a while (3-4 times a year, not exactly the same as Muti's notorious military drills), dazzles everybody with his charm, as well as his almost scary genius and his super-stimulating ideas, leads them in super-charged performances that bring the house down, then races back to Malpensa Airport, never to be seen again for months. OC also hears that the famously snappy (during rehearsals, at least) Barenboim very cannily keeps his powders dry whenever he conducts here, never scolding, always suggesting, and heaping lots of praise; no wonder he's crazy-popular with the orchestra: he behaves like their dandy uncle who lives abroad & pops-in for Christmas with an armful of gifts -- or cigars, in Barenboim's case).
It is also true that sooner or later, reality will interfere with the orchestra's wishes, and Lissner will have to appoint a Music Director -- guest conductors and music directors and experiments playing for young young young baby-faced sweet exciting newcomer conductors like Harding and Dudamel only help up to a point. To keep the "La Scala sound" -- a beautiful, precise opera sound, with the Italian repertorio as king, but with the indispensable ability to shift to Wagner, Strauss, and the great symphonic masters -- you'll eventually need another Abbado, another Muti, is the general consesus here (well, Milan, actually...whatevs).
The sad fact is that Maestro Scaligero Barenboim, the natural, perfect candidate (unique background, huge charisma, interest in new music, unimpeachable taste, fantastic experience and ability in the German repertorio) just won't take a full time job as Music Director of La Scala, this is clear. At least for the foreseeable future.
Consider that to replace Muti after his always stormy but often awesome reign you need a rare mix of great talent, a huge international high profile, big brassy brass ballz and at least a tiny bit of those peeple $kill$ that Muti so proudly lacked. You don't really want to hire sonmeone who'll soon lock horns with the orchestra and the press, since the orchestra yields awesome veto power (as I said above, in early 2005 they effectively fired Muti the way they kicked poor Abbado out in 1986) and the press can really make a Music Director's life miserable (it didn't happen with Muti, ok ok, he enjoyed fawning reviews and lots of ink-stained love from the papers, but it doesn't mean the press will accept just anybody -- especially anybody with a lower profile and lower standing that Muti had in the mid-80s.)
Let us now try to handicap the race for the future leader of our beloved opera house, then:
OC's opinion: he's really really good, he'd make an excellent MD, he'd bring some seriously needed fresh air. But, who knows, he's from Milan, and studied in Milan and now seems ready and, to boot, he's probably the frontrunner... And we all know what often happens to frontrunners and to those who look so perfect for a job...
The buzz: he did all the homework, he's got the credentials, the audience really likes him. But some see him as not being either old enough or exciting enough to get the job -- we often hear that he'd be perfect if only he were even more experienced (read: older) or more exciting. Mark my words: if you cannot have someone as awesome as Muti (that'd be Barenboim), exciting is what you need.
~o~ ROBERTO ABBADO (aka THE UNDERRATED ONE) ~o~
Not all Milanese music fans root for Gatti: many are happy to endorse & support Roberto Abbado, Claudio's nephew, an elegant, sophisticated international maestro who knows La Scala well and who, last year, conducted a crystal-clear Lucia di Lammermoor -- seldom being on the verge of a nervous breakdown has sounded -- or looked -- more fabulous, largely thanks to Abbado.
OC's opinion:he's waaay underrated by most but, frankly, better than the otherwise excellent Gatti. He's just subtler, more elegant -- sometimes reminds OC of Thomas Schippers, another underrated conductor.
The buzz: "But his uncle Claudio did this", "But his uncle did that", "He's not his uncle". If he doesn't get the job for this reason, some people seriously need to grow the hell up, OC thinks.
~o~ RICCARDO CHAILLY (aka THE PERENNIAL CANDIDATE) ~o~
Riccardo Chailly still has many fans (even if they're not as vocal), despite a too-muscular Rigoletto last year and a correct, but uninspiring, Aida last December. Alagna ruined his standing -- when he pulled out of Aida and then tried to get back in when he got scared of the consequences, we heard from Lissner, from Zeffirelli, even from the half-naked (bless his shiny butt) Roberto Bollé. Chailly waited for two months before speaking up. It looked like Lissner was running the show 100% and Chailly's low profile was seen as either a sign of weakness, or of being kept out of the loop. Even the biggest Muti haters acknowledge that Muti would not have taken the hit of the Alagna tantrum silently, leaving to Lissner the role of the only enforcer in the house. Say what you want about Muti (that's what they do here, anyway) but when the orchestra went suddendly on strike right before a performance in the mid-90s, he barged ahead and turned Traviata into a piano recital (himself at the piano), and went ahead with the singers and the show went on (as the proverb says).
OC's opinion: Chailly's got a massive international experience and the right profile. Excellent conductor, he'd be an excellent choice. Aida damaged him, though.
The buzz:he has a good relationship with Lissner, the orchestra doesn't mind him. But the question remains: why didn't they offer him the job last year, then, and went looking for Barenboim's weird special-guest-with-privileges role?
~o~ MYUNG-WHUN CHUNG (aka THINK DIFFERENT) ~o~
Giulini nostalgics madly endorse Giulini's former student and Zen maestro Myung-Whun Chung
OC's opinion:he's cool, really cool, a thinker and a sweet man who'd never alienate the orchestra. OC loves his ethereal sound. The pros: he's a Giulini clone, and you couldn't clone a greater maestro. The cons: his greatest asset is also an albatross around his neck. He's no Giulini; nobody is, nor will ever be.
The buzz:he's BEYOND a dark horse, BUT he'd be the first non-European Musical Director in an opera house where visitors from Asia have an ever-growing presence in the audience, and an increasing financial weight, and has a very good American profile. He'd be a very exciting choice, and -- as we said above -- if you cannot have someone as awesome as Muti (that'd be Barenboim), exciting is what you need.
In today's Corriere della Sera, Nobel Laureate Dario Fo and conductors Riccardo Chailly and Francesco Maria Colombo remember their friend (and in Colombo's case, mentor) Gian Carlo Menotti.
Dario Fo (who often performed in Spoleto):
"They called him the Duke of Spoleto and he was a duke indeed: he had intellectual elegance, honesty, style: a gentleman of infinte culture and refinement, truly a Renaissance man. And a brave man: he protected me from censorship. His all-ecompassing intellect, his friendship with the best artists in the world turned Spoleto into a world-class Festival. He deserved a monument; instead, administrators unfit to run a drugstore tried to diminish his role and tried to disturb his work".
Francesco Maria Colombo, young conductor (the first-ever US performance of Mercadante's Orazi e Curiazi in Minneapolis last year, a recent, acclaimed Trovatore in Cremona) and sometimes blogger and former music critic for Corriere della Sera who was convinced by Menotti to devote himself full-time to conducting:
"He changed my life. He gave me Thomas Schippers's baton as a sign of his trust in my abilities. He was a fascinating man, he had rubbed shoulders with History for his entire life: a friend of Chaplin and Cocteau, he went sailing with Garbo and was Jacqueline Kennedy's dinner companion... He had the gift of simultaneous lightness and depth. A great composer, with a knack for tenderness that is unique in the 20th century. Too often Italy has forgotten his greatness".
"There was nobody like Menotti: his unique ability to live between cultures, Italy and the USA, and create a common musical language. Il Telefono, a genius score that is still fresh, is an example of Menotti's greatness. A giant of the 20th century".
La Repubblica reports a great story: on Easter Day, 2001, Gian Carlo Menotti had dinner with Martin Scorsese, discussing a project that, sadly, never materialised but is boggling Opera Chic's Verdi-loving mind: a Scorsese-directed Trovatore in Spoleto.
In today's Italian newspapers, Corriere della Sera and Repubblica (how sweet to be able to buy them in New York, too, OC is now addicted!) Riccardo Chailly, conductor of last December's unlucky Aida at La Scala, slams tenor Roberto Alagna. Here are the most damaging quotes:
"Yesterday I watched the Aida DVD that RAI will broadcast and Decca will soon sell in music stores...and it was a luminous, beautiful show, with excellent singers. Alagna also performed convincingly, and he gave life to a convincing Radames. But now he will say that he was right; He will say that he was a perfect Radames. Instead he should thank the sound engineers: because they performed a miracle, working on such little material they had in their hands and fixing all the defects in an astounding manner. Watching the DVD, one sees that it was a good idea. We worked well, and what happened seems even more painful now. He should have gone ahead with the show. It was a matter of respect".
So, no matter what Alagna said last month in one of his more unhinged moments ("Decca said they only make the Aida DVD if I am the protagonist in this production"), the DVD is indeed coming out! w00t!
The day after La Prima at Teatro alla Scala, and I'm still trying to digest the entire night. It came and went in such a whirlwind of activity, I almost wish it were here again...
I spent the last week fretting over what to wear, naturally, as I had been told that at La Prima at Teatro alla Scala, I would be among the company of the world's most prestigious opera critics, authors, Eurotrash, celebrities, dignitaries, politicians, presidents, designers, and banking moguls. Okay, whatevs. I mean, this girl has done NYC, has gone to loads of exclusive parties, and surely can do Milan. Right? *cringes*
Well, I had previously survived the grueling trial of Teatro alla Scala's annual Concerto di Natale last December 2005 (where Barenboim conducted Beethoven’s Ninth which RAEWKED! btw tia), which happens to be the second-most prestigious event of the annual Teatro alla Scala opera season. And I am proud to report that I had been victorious, surviving the night relatively unscathed, so I knew already the art of floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee.
Therefore, I went as classic and black as possible, not wanting to draw too much attention, and bought a pair of Emma Hope brass button shoes in black suede, a Nancy Gonzalez crocodile clutch, a classic Ann Demeulemeester short-sleeved black silk dress with the matching silk scarf, black sheer stockings, and a Nanette Lepore black velvet and white embroidered ribbon coat.
You'd think that I had it going on, but stacked-up to the gratuitous opulence of miserable model/escorts, fashion designers, and Belgian ambassadors’ wives, I looked rather plain. But I looked good. We had a very eclectic mix last night at the theater of World Cup soccer players, washed-up actresses, diplomats, oil tycoons, finance ministers, tanned media executives, ancient Italian bankers, and a load of skanks with horrible plastic surgery, swathed in more fur than PETA could ever douse in bloody buckets of pig blood throughout their lifespan.
The women boasted shoulder-less gowns with full-arm satin gloves, white fur stoles, gigantic pearls between layers of velvet and satin, etc. The men in mostly white tie, and a few diplomats and generals sported those braided, gold aiguillettes like the French Garde Républicaine (which make me laugh because I always think of The Nutcracker).
As European celebrity is still quite new to me, I luckily could not identify most of the famous (really, ignorance is bliss). But I was able to recognize basically only the Inter Milan soccer players (thanks to the 2006 FIFA World Cup and the whole Zidane/Materazzi head-butting hilarity) who had flocked to the celebrity event. Last night saw the appearance of Marco Materazzi (now with less head-butting), Julio Cruz, and Luis Figo. I also recognized Italian “actress” Valeria Marini for her freakishly and painfully immense silicone lips, and also a Donatella Versace sighting. Ewwww.
We arrived in darkness (with a 6:00 pm curtain time) but thankfully dry (it’s been raining and overcast here in Milan for basically the last month), as I had my hair blown-out to a stick-straight style earlier that afternoon. Getting into the actual theater was quite a challenge, as there were more police in attendance with equally ubiquitous road blocks that had been erected throughout Piazza della Scala, Via Verdi, and Via Manzoni. It was chaos. Finally entering the theater on such a drab, rainy night was a pleasure, and the energy and warmth in the lobby was overwhelming, red carpet and all, flowers everywhere.
As we entered the auditorium (a.k.a. “Little Cairo”) Frengo had greeted the audience by channeling his inner interior-designer, and had mounted floral arrangements of dried green palm-fronds and Egyptian flowers. On both sides of the central Presidential Box, there were placed two gigantic, six-foot fronds with white Egyptian water lilies, and salmon-pink roses. Also sitting in the Presidential Box was a cast of characters that would have made me crap myself if I had known who they all were at the time. We had Letizia Moratti, Karolos Papoulias, Ivo Sanader, and Romano Prodi. Also stationed throughout the rings of palchi were bouquets of smaller palms and flowers. It was a nice touch, but I started thinking that maybe Frengo at some point was talked-out of pulling a “P-Diddy East Hampton White Party”, and maybe wanted to required that all guests show up in Egyptian-inspired costume.
Chailly appeared in a full tuxedo, but with his charlatanistic scruffy face. I believe now that there is really nothing in this world that will ever make Chailly go with clean-shaven cheeks, because not even Frengo's fastidiousness and overbearing dictatorship could touch his whiskers. Regardless, the opening overture was delicious. Chailly choose a full, strong sound for the night, and although it was large, it wasn't overpowering. It was just lovely.
The curtain rose on Act I and bathed the entire auditorium in a gold light, with the gilded sheen rising from the scenery to the costumes. The entire stage was filled with an immense frieze covered in hieroglyphics and figures of ancient kings and pharos. Frengo had channeled Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman, and Alagna appeared in a completely golden tunic, golden robe, golden tiara, golden breastplate, golden shin-guards, golden Wonder Woman wrist-guards, etc...Boy was ghetto-fabulous, but I was worried he was going to OG (death by an overdose of gold).
Alagna’s (btw, when I spell-check “Alagna’s”, MS Word suggests to me “Lasagna’s”) loalz. heh. Sorry. Aaaaanywaay, Alagna’s inaugural outfit heralded the appearance of platform sandals. Alagna was seriously standing on at least four inches of wood there. As he changed outfits throughout the night, the platforms remained, but in coordinating colors to match his robes. No wonder Alagna was so cranky with this production. Everyone else wore these light, little elf-like sandals with upturned toes. The costumes and design were so meticulous, and even the chorus was given as much attention as the leads. It was really magnificent.
Urmana was given some sort of dreadlocked black wig, which really made her look like the Predator monster unmasked from the Alien vs. Predator movie. She was draped in amazingly-slimming magenta and purple robe, which actually worked well for her robust physicality. She had opted for a rather dark slathering of theatrical greasepaint all over her body, much darker than Alagna. There were half-dozen guards stationed in blue tights and gold accented-blue robes, who had been given a washing of blue grease paint, which made me think of that episode of Arrested Development with Tobias and The Blue Man Group. heh.
Frengo introduced a clever method of using shiny gold rods, weaved into valances, that were stationed throughout almost every act as a kinetic element of the scenery. To me it seemed like the visualization of electricity. I thought it was brilliant, and really liked the effect, although I've been known in some circles to have a Calder fetish. Sometimes the silver rods were lowered past the entire stage to create distance and blocking, and other times they were raised to the very top of the scenery to create a sort of polishing finish.
Alagna sang adequately, but started-off a bit strained. Celeste Aida was a little thin; his platforms were maybe on too tight. Seriously, one day after and I still can't believe he agreed to wear platform sandals. But the audience loved his inaugural aria anyway, and there were loads of bravo and compliments. But in the end, Alagna got his arse served and his voice completely sung-over by the sheer awesomeness of the two lead ladies, Violeta Urmana's flawless Aida and Ildiko Komlosi'sAmneris.
Act II opened with another golden wash of the stage. This grand opera was really give the appropriate treatment, thanks to Frengo. There must have been like five-hundred chorus members on the stage. I swear, it was a sea of gold. A giant gilded sphinx head loomed behind, while four more gigantic, towering statues of various pharos flanked the aisles. The audience began to note the presence of skinny topless male slaves, clothed only in short tunics. When it came time for Act II's Marcia Trionfale, Frengo and choreographer Vladimir Vassiliev gave the flawless ballet-dancer Roberto Bolle a tiny man-thong, with a giant golden cod-piece on the front. Of course, he danced superbly, but omg that cod piece omg! It was almost painful to watch Bolle take his curtain call and strategically, calculatedly prance between the curtains by walking backwards with an embarrassed smile. Bolle was also accompanied by nubile female and male secondary dancers, clad in tiny golden and white bikinis, and of course, more thongs than a Victoria's Secret catalogue. Gah. But the scene was awesome. But I also kind of felt like I was at Les Folies Bergère.
Act III recreated a giant desert oasis, and this scene marked the end of opulent gold and twinkling light. The scenes were now bathed in a very dark, blue lighting that washed over the singers. Frengo had kept the giant pharos sphinx head from the previous act in the background, but moved to the center of the stage a gorgeous island replete with like a dozen full-sized palm trees. It was insanity. Really, like a full forest in the middle of the stage. The singers never even set foot into the enclave. It was just scenery. Alagna and Urmana were now wearing darkly colored robes. Alagna's was black and grey with silver detail, and Urmana's was a dark sky blue with bronze details. Their duets were lovely and rich, and Alagna tried so hard to match Urmana’s power. Act III also marked the end of Orlin Anastassov’s Ramfis, who was replaced by Giorgio Giuseppini
Act IV was equally dark, and the palm-tree island was replaced by a stark concrete temple, with a bare altar in the middle. Again a giant Egyptian deity loomed in the background. Everyone donned heavier robes, and it was like a fabric bazaar exploded onto the actors. I think Frengo layered on the fabric too much, as during the curtain call, Ramfis almost lost his tunic under his sandals, as the audience gasped in anticipation of seeing his golden codpiece. But the finale was gorgeous, and Frengo slowly lowered a cage of the trademark metal pipes, and behind it he released two winged men appearing as phoenixes, which could have been really ghey, but was instead pretty cool.
Curtain call brought everyone on the stage, from a visibly-moved Frengo, replete in his nominal cashmere scarf (last night he wore a creamy white one), under a cascade of roses and flower petals. We also had the always-fezzed costume director Maurizio Millenotti, as well as choreographer Vladimir Vassiliev. Amneris's curtain call was amazing, and the audience lavished her with applause. Violeta Urmana almost lost it during her applause, and was holding-in her tears the entire time. She kept squeezing her eyes, covering her face with her entire hand, and pinching with her thumb and index finger and covering the rest of her face to hold back the tears.
The opera, despite its numerous intermissions, seemed like a breeze. The house was full of energy and tastily perfumed celebrity sweat. Since there was no way I was going to bring an umbrella to the theater (nor would it have fit between my Chanel compacts in my Nancy Gonzalez clutch) when we left the theater a bit after 10:15pm, it was pouring! Normally it would have been hilarious to watch us all holding our long couture skirts off the wet sidewalks, and hold our vintage clutches over our lacquered hair to shield the pouring rain...well, hilarious if I was watching it all happen from a café across the street in a warm Burberry overcoat and a pair of dry Wellingtons. But it kind of sucked.
I'm sad to state that my Emma Hope suede shoes are destroyed, and my Nanette Lepore velvet jacket looks like it melted, but to see Urmana crying and Frengo humble and shaken (it was stated that Frengo said of La Prima, "La più bella serata di tutta la mia carriera"...Translation: "The most beautiful of all of the nights of my career"), to see Bolle in a golden thong and Alagna in three different pairs of platform sandals was worth the price of the shoes and the jacket combined.
Maestro RiccardoChailly may be having a full-out panic attack during this last frantic week before the monumental La Prima of the refurbished Verdi's Aidaat Teatro alla Scala …or, he may be onto something quite innovative. An article from Monday’s Corriere della Sera has published an interview with il Maestro, regarding what he believes is the esoteric and secretive nature that Aida actually shrouds.
The article explains that a new reading inside Verdi’s score for Aida reveals something disquieting and sublime. Nor is it something that exists in any other of Verdi’s twenty-seven other operas. There is a musical formula that exists in three parts, a "code" based on the number three, which is repeated in the score twenty-seven times (with twenty-seven being the end equation of 3x9). It’s an obsessive sequence that is just like the destiny that leads the lovers of Aida to death, buried alive inside a tomb.
Three is also a sacred number in Masonic rites, which had been previously highlighted and used by Mozart in Die Zauberflöte. Mozart turned the number three into a pillar of his annoyingly esoteric Die Zauberflöte, which is overtly suffused with Egyptian symbolism: the overture itself is opened by a three-note chord, and we see the three ladies, the three spirits, and three slaves of Sarastro.
Chailly says directly on Aida, "And here are the three lead characters of the story: Aida, Radames, and Amneris, and this is not a coincidence. This didn't happen by chance. It’s a true Verdi enigma. It's an enigma, just like the world of the Pharoes still presents an enigma to us."
Chailly continues: “So we can assume that Verdi was a freemason. I don't know that as an absolute truth, but it would be very interesting to study more this obscure side of Verdi’s life."
Chailly is onto a popular theory, as many scholars think that Verdi was a member of “The Great Orient Lodge”, which had a prominent presence in Milan during the active years of Verdi's life. In fact, in a handful of Masonic texts during Verdi’s livelihood, Verdi’s name is part of the list of Freemason composers together with other notables such as Gluck, Boito, Liszt, and Puccini.
Chailly goes on to say, "In the last ten years, I often had clashes with directors because they wanted to dominate a show. With Zeffirelli, it's the opposite: we have the ideal relationship. Zeffirelli can sing the entire opera from memory. (!!!) He keeps a very overt presence at the rehearsals. And at eighty-three, it’s a surprise! He works in a very professional and aggressive manner, but sometimes he’s almost mean with the singers." The thrust of Zeffirelli’s direction will underscore the dreamy dimensions of this masterpiece.
Chailly has some very cool advice for those who have been lucky enough to have scored tickets to La Prima of Aida on December 7, 2006. He says to pay close attention to the start of the Third Act. It’s the revelation of a glimpse of genius that shows Verdi was already looking towards the twentieth century.
Chailly concludes: “The first time that I heard Aida, I was a boy. Maestro Abbado was conducting and it had such an impression on me that it felt like I had been struck by lightning. I asked myself, ‘Is this Verdi?’ Maybe Mahler had the same thought. Mahler conducted Aida three times. And certainly his “Das Lied von der Erde” was influenced by Aida.
By the way, Decca has announced that they will be at La Prima to record Chailly’s Aida for a later DVD release.