Opera News ran an article in 1999 entitled La Scala: Temple of Music or Temple of Doom? One should not be surprised that Italy’s leading opera house is fraught with turmoil – consider the country and the art form. Last Saturday (December 7) The house opened its season with Verdi’s La Traviata. What could go wrong?
Well, many of the regulars were still upset that that the previous season had opened with Wagner’s Lohengrin. 2013 is the bicentenary of both Wagner and Verdi. The Italians thought that the season should have started with a Verdi opera. So the management started this season with La Traviata. But there wasn’t an Italian in any of the principal roles. And the director was a Russian. And he moved the setting to the present. Nothing unusual about the time change, directors these days do it all the time. But some in audience hated the production and booed the director.
Diana Damrau in the title role missed her entrance in the second act party scene, but was cheered by the audience. Piotr Beczala, who by most accounts was quite good, was booed as was the director, Dmitri Tcherniakov. Beczala was so upset by his reception that he vowed never to appear in Italy again after this run; but he didn’t walk out in mid performance as did Roberto Alagna a few years ago. An interesting rumor I heard was that the Polish tenor was booed because he refused to pay off the local claque – who knows? The Italian conductor, Daniele Gatti, was deemed unsatisfactory for Italian opera. Franco Zeffirelli, no fan of time shifting, said “Watching how this poor Violetta ended up the other night, I died a little bit too.”
The evening sounds like it was worth the $2700 it cost for the best seat. I’ve attended only one La Scala opening and all that happened was that a cell phone went off during one of Fidelio’s quieter moments. Riccardo Muti who was conducting had to be placed in a straight jacket to prevent justifiable homicide. The experience was tame compared to what seems to have happened Saturday night. The shindig was supposed be telecast throughout the civilized world, but apparently was only broadcast at scattered locations. I wish I had been there.