(**Please go here if you're looking for Marcelo Alvarez's surprise La Scala cancellations...)
OC gets down on her knees and sends giant, soft kisses to Classica Italia for last night's re-broadcast of the December 7, 2007 Tristan und Isolde live from Teatro alla Scala. How sweet it was to stay in last night and nurse my lingering Tristan und Isolde hangover with the hair of the dog that bit me: moar vagnair. Although this time, Triscuits Underpantsies went much better with OC draped across the couch, wrapped in 00s Eres & 90s Paul Costelloe under a 80s Bardelli cream cashmere blanket & sipping on some gin & juice Cremes Gaja red. Yah, it was teh bomb and yah u wish u were here.
We have to say that live, Barenboim's warmth and delicate mastery of the orchestra didn't translate as we had wished to the plasma, nor did the impact of Meier's acting. The suckiness of Act II lulled me again to sleep, but I was roused promptly by some of Meier's howling. So it's all good.
Here below are screenshots of the spectacle. And damn...on 42" plasma, Meier's forehead barely cracked an inch under her most forced of laments. And now the legal stuff: The following shots are pictures taken from a television broadcast, and are not promotional materials of Teatro alla Scala.
Above: Act I, The chorus & Kurwenal, sung by Gerd Grochowski
Above: Act I, scenery.
Above: Act I, Waltraud Meier singing Isolde.
Above: Act I, Waltraud Meier singing Isolde.
Above: Act I, Ian Storey singing Tristan.
Above: Act II, Waltraud Meier singing Isolde and Brangäne's Michelle De Young
Above: Act II, Ian Storey singing Tristan & Waltraud Meier's Isolde
Above: Act II, Ian Storey singing Tristan & Waltraud Meier's Isolde
Above: Act II, König Marke's Matti Salminen
Above: Act III, Barenboim arrives for Act III's awesomeness
Above: Act III, Dying Tristan & Kurwenal's Gerd Grochowski
Above: Act III, You're all gonna die!
Above: Waltraud Meier's Isolde takes a final bow @ curtain call
Above: König Marke as Matti Salminen @ curtain call
OC is v a r y s l o o o o w l y recovering from a Wagner-induced hangover today, which not even the strongest caffè macchiato & brioche have yet chased away. Since the last time La Scala performed Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, OC was just planetary fumes, she thought she’d go out in style: I arrived last night @ the Piermarini in Alexander McQueen round, bubble toe platform stilettos with white stitching, sans stockings (c’mon…those are for old Milanese grannies), and a matching McQueen black silk suit: cigarette skirt covering my legs, and a fitted matching jacket with a ribbon tie. Underneath instead of ridiculous jewels (OC wanted to go as minimal as Patrice Chéreau’s streamlined production), I wore a Dior white silk ruffle collar blouse. Then to hold lipstick & cash, a vintage Lanvin patent leather clutch, and over everything, a vintage black Chanel wool jacket found this summer at Resurrection Vintage in Los Angeles (although we passed on the Chanel fanny pack).
Sadly last night, OC was in the minority for her choice of outerwear, as there were more old women in fur than you could shake Toscanin's baton at: fur wraps, fur collars, and miles of fur jackets. It honestly made OC a little queasy, all that old, natty, syrupy fur wrapped around black dresses. And yes, as always, black was the color to be seen in, a safe and predictable wardrobe standby @ the Piermarini. And all VIPs -- doctors, lawyers, former heads of media houses, architects -- all the old European money marking that glistens as bright as the ancestral jewels and that scary plastic surgery on the blondest of former brunettes.
OC arrived easily at the theater, having learned from last year the most crowded and anxiety-ridden routes to avoid. Awesomely, this year was markedly less skankeriffic, and displayed more Milan elegance as opposed to last year’s load of horribly appointed escorts and their balding lawyer pimps. @ this year's Teatro alla Scala la prima, the Italian newspapers have a few lovely photo galleries, which you can find online: 24 photos here, 20 photos here, and 5 photos here [ed: found 7 photos here @ Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung].
To describe the scene outside, the police close-off the entire Piazza della Scala, with the statue of Leonardo pleasantly looking on, and many surrounding streets as most arrivals stream from via Manzoni. Cops in riot gear lollls heh and police on horseback roamed the cleared areas in the streets, and tons of tourists and locals stood behind the metal barriers to get a good look at the arriving VIPs. A mountain of paparazzi hovered by the front doors. Across the piazza, there is almost always a large demonstration in front of Palazzo Marino (City Hall) where this year, almost 1K VIP guests would be dining after the performance, making a fuss for the heads of state (this year it was a protest from Alfa Romeo – we want moar hoarspowah!!). Again, this year arriving at the theater under overcast skies (better for OC so she didn’t have to figure out where to put her Tom Ford sunglasses during the performance), but leaving the theater in the cold Milan rain was such a huge pain in the a$$ when hauling around all this gorgeous vintage.
The smell of fresh paint greeted us @ the theater, all the burnt-out bulbs had been replaced, and garlands of red roses were hanging over the central Palco reale (the prestigious President’s Box), where sat Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, with the premiers from Austria, Germany, Qatar, and Greece...among others). There were cameras throughout the auditorium, as the show was being broadcast live via Italian Classica channel, and on the French ARTE channel.
A few minutes after 5’o clock, applause for the five heads of state in the central Palco reale, as Italian president Giorgio Napolitano entered. The lights went down, and then an announcement (in Italian, natch) that requested a moment of silence for a Fiat workers who had died the day before in Torino at the German steelmaker plant ThyssenKrupp. [«La direzione, gli artisti, gli ospiti e i lavoratori del teatro invitano a un minuto di silenzio in commemorazione del grave incidente sul lavoro avvenuto a Torino».]
Everyone stood and kept silent, as we shifted around our clutches. Then a final Grazie to mark the end of the silence, and Barenboim took to the podium in all black: a black button down shirt, black jacket, and black pants. Can’t this man wear a freaking frak for once? White tie it's where it's at. This is la Scala. Then Big B raised his magic wand and led the orchestra in the national anthem.
Applause and show time:
The overture began, showcasing Barenboim’s thorough understanding and embrace of Wagner, washing the audience in the most gorgeous strains of orchestral brilliance. Act I's curtain rose on a very dark and misty stage, Tristan’s ship. Slowly a weak light strengthened, and revealed a stone wall background with a cutaway arch. The arch framed a high platform about the size of a tennis court, where all the action took place, which was nice because it pushed everything to the center of the stage for those @ the theater with not-so-central seats. Luggage, wooden boxes, and steamer trunks were stationed all over the floor, and our Isolde, Waltraud Meier, was crouched in a large, sunken section in the middle. Costumière Moidele Bickel had dressed Meier in a long black jacket of fine wool, with a black silk slip beneath. A long, dirty blond wig covered her normally short reddish, brownish wavyish ‘do. Out came her maid, Brangäne, sung by Michelle De Young, who was equally drab in a long grayish, blue jacket with a matching dress underneath, and a white blond bun pulled behind her head.
The excellent Scala chorus appeared, a mixture of men in port-appropriate clothes, suspenders and lots of pirate caps, and some shirtless, but not like in a hot way. They were also clothed in all grays and blues, gritty, a very smoky palette. Then we hear Kurwenal, Gerd Grochowski, and were pleased. But not with his Dragonballz blond wig. Ew. He was also in a rubbery-looking motorcycle suit, with a gray trench coat too, of course. Tristan's Ian Storey was equally given a long gray trench coat. Brangäne and Isolde had a nice convincing dynamic. Meier was off to a great start in Act I, and I was expecting worse. The dirty-blond extensions worked for her, and she had a great stage presence. After Meier drank, she was wrapped in a red coat, which brought a nice burst of color to the drab stage and scenery. Patrice Chéreau’s overall direction didn’t really work for OC. It came across as totally generic for that minimalist thing. It was just too shallow held against Barenboim’s creamy and full conducting, and was a bad match. With Act I over, the crowds loved it, and answered to the curtain call with feet-stomping and screams of bravi all around.
The first intermission came at 6:30 pm, and OC was gifted with a headache, which was expected. The break was a very long 45 minutes, and Act II began at 7:15 pm. The curtain rose again to gloominess and darkness, another stone wall, blue light coming into the scene from the right, and a few cutouts. König Marke’s castle. I had thought that Act I was barely visible, but this was ridiculous yay. After 45 minutes of intermission, I was expecting um, something more. This act was really terribly boring and lame. Everyone around me seemed to be snoozing, and I can’t honestly deny that I didn’t drift off a few times. Brangäne was in the same costume as Act I, and Meier again in a red robe, very boxy and large. I wasn’t crazy about Ian Storey, which didn’t bring the impression I was searching for. The dynamic between Storey and Meier went well enough, but Meier’s singing took a nosedive, and was barely sustainable.
After their big duet, the back of the castle splits apart, and yay, it’s finally daylight. Two giant pine trees and some better lighting make the action turn a bit more exciting, and my eyes can at last make-out something colorful on the stage. The fight between Melot and Tristan was vary cool, with a very shaolin warrior feel to it with everyone holding long sticks. The second pause came at 8:30 pm, and again lasted for 45 minutes.
At 9:15 pm, we sat for the final installation of Triscuits & Iced Tea. There was insane applause this time when The Big B stepped up to the podium. It was thrilling. Everyone was excited for the prelude, especially OC after suffering through Act II. Which was off the hook. Oh noes, the curtain rose again on that same brick wall. Ugh. This time we had some stairs on the left and a big bed on the right (well, a concrete slab) where Tristan was laying, to represent the castle @ Kareol.
Then Tristan dies, crawling around the stairs, blood all over...Melot dies, and Kurwenal says bi. Meier is singing her butt off, and OC’s mild headache has turned into a throbbing hummingbird. Then Isolde dies, blood on her temple, and it’s over, and it’s 10:30 pm. Dang. Followed ten minutes of applause for the curtain call, and tons of flowers raining down on the stage, singers included.
At the end of the night, we just weren’t impressed with Storey’s Tristan. He saved his a$$ in Act III, but was overall a downer. Meier was much better than expected, and excluding her Act II blow-out, we were happy to have her singing Isolde. Barenboim led the orchestra on a gorgeous Wagner quest that made us not hate his composition a little bit less, although we always truly hate the playa.
Corriere della Sera annually does a special 20-ish-page supplement in their December 7th newspaper (screen shots -- not production stills -- below), which includes interviews, production shots, special advertisements, and the T&I libretto. You can find the link for the December 7, 2007 pdf download here. Enjoy~
Very few notes very late at night after la prima of Barenboim's Tristan Und Isolde -- full review tomorrow because, really, our McQueens are soaked (it went on so long that the mildly cold afternoon -- the performance started at 5PM -- turned into a wet rainy messy Milanese horror winter night by the time we exited la Scala). The paparazzi frenzy + endless Wagner + 40-minutes-long intermissions + the usual horrible hangers on that plague every Prima here + rain on the way to dinner then home = not good.
Daniel Barenboim gave -- as expected -- a textbook performance on how you conduct a classic Wagner (with an orchestra that doesn't really play Wagner more than once every 20 years or so), a delicately precise, loving, warm and muscular piece of conducting. If Barenboim were a watch he'd be one of those beautifully sturdy submarine Rolexes from the 70s.
Waltraud Meier, as expected, showed everybody that no matter how old she gets, time isn't taking her Isolde away -- a crystal clear first act, much trouble in the second, an earth-shattering third, and a death scene that almost paralyzed the entire house with its intensity.
Ian Storey, all ears on him, started out pretty weak and gained confidence in the course of the performance -- a crescendo that saved Barenboim, and the Scala management, the embarrassment of having to explain to pitchfork-wielding Milanese opera lovers why they had chosen someone who hadn't really sung Tristan before and had to learn the part in six months. Nice acting, but how do you avoid being owned by Meier? You don't.
Patrice Chéreau's staging -- his Wagner comeback after his historic Ring 31 years ago -- was surprisingly static and drab, all slate gray sets and gray walls and those horrendous heavy gray overcoats for everybody -- Tristan in the DDR, only even more glum. Like a black and white movie from the old Eastern bloc shot on expired Russian film or something.
The chorus? Maestro Bruno Casoni does not make mistakes. He doesn't. No, he doesn't. That's the Coro del Teatro alla Scala, period -- and he runs it beautifully. He may be the best out there, seriously. It's what he does.
Now OC needs to go to baed; it was a long long night for us who don't worship Wagner.
In a news-conference today at la Scala, the Patrice Chereau production of Tristan Und Isolde that will open the season at la Scala on Dec. 7, a nicely graying Ian Storey and a spectacularly facially-tight-as-drum fifty something Waltraud Meier (a great idea for a director would be, Isolde dies after a botched Botox injection -- obviously poisoned by the Jews, to, you know, follow the composer's intent) talked shop with a bunch of journalists who, we're told, were basically only interested in one thing, ie, "are the unions going to let you sing or will the opera house be shut down by a strike as they have threatened for weeks now?" (the smart money is on, the show will go on) but had to settle for a lot of Wagner talk instead (and some additional amazement @ la signora Meier's impressively fresh visage).
OC was instead impressed by Storey's dedication: we're told that the big hulking tenor -- possibly the hardest working man in showbusiness, and certainly the one who can benchpress the hugest weight -- admitted that he sometimes studies his role even 7 hours a day because singing Tristan is more difficult than singing three Otellos at the same time, and then he hits the gym for 2 hours a day.
Since she's back to the US for a visit, Opera Chic won't be able to check out personally La Scala's Lohengrin -- not to mention, she does have some issues, musical and nonmusical, with Herr Wagner, but we'll leave that to some other post in the future. The coverage in the Italian press and the comments of Opera Chic's Milanese friends anyway do seem to converge: big kudos to young Milanese conductor Daniele Gatti (Principal Conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Music Director of Teatro Comunale di Bologna's orchestra), mad props to signora Waltraud Meier's devilish Ortrud (the diminishing power of the voice she so generously put on the line for all her career notwithstanding). The production's problems? Well, Robert Dean Smith's Lohengrin (in an opera called Lohengrin, after all, this is probably not the smallest issue) does seem to have too small a voice -- not to mention his voice cracked at least once during la prima -- and the costumes designed by Bettina Walter (Lohengrin sports a shiny metallic suit for no apparent reason) are indeed problematic.
The director's decision to place the action in the 1940's, again for no apparent reason, has raised eyebrows (not to mention HELLO TEHRE IS NO SWAN WTF WHARES TEH SWAN)?
And the sets? Well, our loggionisti friends would have loved to see everything better, but apparently a lot of the action happens to be placed waaay too deep inside the stage; so if you have seats in the galleria, you are SOL. LOL GET SOME MOAR XPENSIVE SEATS THEIR ONLY 240 BUX OR SOMETHING GET A MORTGAGE OR SOMETHING IF YOU WANNA SEE OUR LOHENGRIN OR WAIT 4 TEH OVRPRICED DVD K THX BI lol Go ask your parents for more allowance money. I'll be standing over here with my 40-digit salary, buying-out all the seats in La Scala for a private performance.