The last time I was at La Scala was back in 2000 when it was dusty, dirty, chipped and faded – the theatre, not its reputation that came much later – so the sight of the renovated auditorium was quite splendid – all deep scarlet, gilt, cream and white. However I did notice that there was a stain on the stage curtain – maybe one of those loggionne I spoke of with a piece of fruit that missed a straining tenor???
There is a very strict rule about taking photos in the auditorium so I snuck this one, says he hanging his head in shame, from my palcho long before the performance began. However it would appear that the photo rule did not apply to everyone as the highly poignant last act was played out in a constant barrage of flashing cameras from several of the higher palchi. I know that the attitude here can often be selfish but who exactly do these people think they are interrupting a performance and distracting the performers and why the hell weren’t they expelled from the auditorium? And that strictly enforced dress code I mentioned earlier – well I shouldn’t have worried – it appears gentlemen are admitted in jeans and open shirts.
But more important than the auditorium, the flash cameras or the dress code was the performance. When I read Opera Chic’s review I feel quite inadequate in adding anything to it, though I was not as enamored of Franco Alfano’s opera as she. But then I have never believed that Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac needed music to add to the poetry in either the original French or the famous Brian Hooker English translation. There were moments when Alfano’s music matched the lyricism of the text and other times when I honestly felt it was second rate. But if you are going to present a neglected piece this is the way to do it – first rate performers, a first rate production and a first rate orchestra.
Conductor Patrick Fournillier filled the theatre with big sound when required but never swamped the voices – the orchestra responded to him with nuanced playing that heightened the drama and underscored the romanticism. The supporting cast was exceptional – German Villar, Simone Alberghini, Pietro Spagnoli, Carmelo Corrado Caruso – and the chorus and corps de ballet involved and glorious in sound and movement. Francesca Zambello’s production – shared with the Met and ROH – follows Henri Cain’s libretto – no tricks, no statements, no attempts at modern relevance just a beautiful staging of a piece of romantic theatre – raucous when required, funny, dramatic and touching, particularly in the beautiful final scene.
Roxane has become something of a calling-card for Sondra Radvanovsky – she has sung it with Domingo now two seasons at the MET and at Covent Garden. Hers is not a beautiful voice but she uses it beautifully to give depth to a character that could have seemed all surface and her rapport with Domingo, particularly in the last scene was extraordinary.
Which brings us to Domingo. It would be foolish to believe that time has not tarnished the voice I loving recall from the first time I heard him in San Francisco in 1978 – 30 years and an exceptional career have passed since then – but he is still simply the best. From the moment he strode into the Hôtel de Bourgogne sword in hand until he lay dying white plume brandished to the heavens you knew you were watching a great artist. There were moments that soared – Oh Paris fuit, nocturne et quasi nébuleux, the apostrophe to Paris that ends ACT 1 – matched by Zambello’s magical staging of the scene, Ce sont les cadets de Gascogne with Alberghini and the chorus – and moments that tore at the heart – the repeated Beau when Roxane describes the man she loves and the entire final scene. This was a performance honed to near perfection – a gift from Domingo to his audience.
On stage the closing scene of Cyrano has always brought a lump to my throat but the twinge of melancholy I felt at the curtain calls was more than that this time. I realized that I would probably never see this great artist on stage again.
13 febbraio – Santa Fosca