Sunday, December 22, 2013

La Scala Premiere

'La Traviata' opens at La Scala
The most sought-after ticket in opera is to the opening night of La Scala's season in Milano, in early December. It's "invitation only", meaning seats reserved for political and local heavy-weights of all kinds - the President and Prime Minister attend - and the all-important sponsors. Any remaining tickets are sold to ordinary punters - for up to €4,600 per seat. So, although I was in Milan on the all-important date, my chances of scoring a ticket were slim to zero.

So near and yet so far...
Not that attempts weren't made. By an hour before curtain-up, the box office people were shaking their heads, but mentioning €2,000...Still, I didn't have a thing to wear. This is the fashion event of the calendar in the fashion capital of Europe, location of the Prada mothership and just about every other major Italian haute couture brand. After taking a photo beside the La Scala poster (the traditional design, printed fresh for every performance), noting the squads of police, dozens of TV trucks, barriers and security surrounding the venerable Opera House, dodging a mini-demonstration (all those politicos attract the demonstrators), and considering the broadcast on the big screen in the Galleria, it was back to the hotel to watch the performance on live TV feed. Not the greatest sound quality, but much more comfortable in the end. And cheaper. And I was only three blocks away!

High security and lots of TV.
It was Verdi's 'Traviata', and Violetta was sung by the wonderful Diana Damrau - reputed to be the best Violetta singing today, and on this showing, I can understand why. She completely inhabited the role. Divine. The conductor was Daniele Gatti; and the staging and sets were by the Russian Dmitri Tcherniakov. Here we entered the murky waters of controversy. Tcherniakov had updated our 'Traviata' and not everyone was happy about it. Apart from the modern setting (which worked for me, except perhaps Violetta's leggings in Act II) he'd also given some psychological massaging to the usual characterisations. Alfredo in particular was shown to be a rather weak soul - he seemed keen to leave Violetta's deathbed in the last act, and actually looked at his watch. There was much less of the usual flinging into each other's arms. However, it was an exceedingly believable death from Violetta, one of the best I've ever seen.

Here's Miss Damrau on Rai5, the television station that kindly did a live broadcast for the rest of us..
A very realistic death.
The loggionisti (those in the upstairs balconies) at La Scala didn't like the production. They booed. Yes, the famous boo-ing took place. Sadly, because they didn't like Alfredo's updated reactions, they booed the excellent tenor singing him, Piotr Beczala, which was totally undeserved. Germont was well-sung by Željko Lučić. But the biggest boos were saved for Tcherniakov and his artistic colleagues. I didn't agree with the boo-ers. The production worked for me.

Here's the link to La Scala's site if you'd like to check it out for yourself - I expect the ticket prices are a great deal more reasonable now.

Here's the NYT review which is balanced and sensible:
When Alfredo, bearing flowers and a gift, arrives at the dying Violetta’s bedroom for a reunion with his lover, he doesn’t immediately rush into her arms. Rather, he pauses timidly — he is slightly fearful of how he will be received. That is one of the many details that lift Dmitri Tcherniakov’s captivating staging of “La Traviata,” which on Saturday initiated a new season at Teatro alla Scala before an audience that included Italy’s president, Giorgio Napolitano, and other representatives of the country’s elite....As cutting-edge theater goes, Mr. Tcherniakov’s staging is relatively mild. His work has often been more controversial. But this did not stop La Scala’s notorious “loggionisti,” inhabitants of the upper galleries, from voicing their displeasure at the final curtain.
Read this entertaining blog post for a review of the night, and lots of good stills of the performance.
Then listen to this excerpt and judge for yourself!

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