Mercoledi Musicale

One of the great nights – and in the past 50 years there haven’t really been all that many – I’ve spent at the opera was May 14, 1980. I shared this memory in a posting back in February of 2007:

Standing in line for five hours at the Opera Comique waiting for a cancellation for the Berganza-Domingo Carmen. Enduring the abuse of the lumpy spun-sugar blond vendeuse at the box office. “Vous-etes fou d’attender” she heckled repeatedly, then magically produced a front row 1st loge seat 2 minutes to curtain time. The abuse was worth it – one of my great evenings at the opera.

The performance was being broadcast that night by Radio France and when I finally got my hands on a copy of the DVD memory had not deceived me or romanticized the event.


Teresa Berganza simply was Carmen – sly, seductive, playful and ultimately tragic. Not for her the hip wagging slattern that so often passes for Bizet’s gypsy. And she did it all while singing like an angel.


And though Domingo may have sung “La fleur que tu m´avais jetee” with more subtlety on other occasions that night it was the dramatic core of the opera. The tragedy that followed found its impetus in that aria.

It’s the standard by which I’ve – fairly or not – judged every other performance of Carmen since.

25 giugno – San Guiglielmo

29 Hours in Milano – Domingo is Cyrano

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???

Towards the stage - La ScalaThere 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.Playbill - Cyrano de Bergerac - La Scala 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.
Curtain Call - Domingo as Cyrano 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

Io Sono Ammalato

Now just imagine that said with a throb in the voice and a clutching of the throat – sounds better than “I’m sick” doesn’t it? I was all set to post about the glorious day in the spring-like weather on Tuesday with pictures of happy patrons at outside cafés etc when this flu hit Wednesday morning.

And of course it couldn’t have come at a worse time – we’ve got a lot going on in the next few days.

    • Tonight is our first subscription ballet night – a rather strange evening built around works designed by the Greek-Italian Surrealist Giorgio de Chirico.
      Set design for Bacchus e Ariane by Giorgio de Chirico (Source: Rome Opera)

      Its a varied programme involving the disparate talents of Igor Stravinsky, Albert Rousell, Vittorio Reiti, Serge Lifar, George Balanchine and Luigi Pirandello. Aside from the Stravinsky-Lifar Appollon I can honestly say I only recall reading about the other ballets as Ballets Russefootnotes. Next week we’ll be getting three ballets designed by Picasso.

    • Tommorrow night is our regular night at the Academia de Santa Ciecila and the promise of the Brahms Symphonies 1 and 2 conducted by Antonio Papano. The season thus far has been plagued with cancellations and not all that memorable.
      However last month’s concert with Maurizio Pollini doing the Brahms Number 1 Piano Concerto was a truly moving experience. He’s such an unassuming man – slightly stooped and almost apologetic as he approaches the piano. Then he sits down, his fingers touch the keys and he becomes a Titan. Jack tried to get a few shots with his Cell camera during the curtain calls but none of them turned out except this one of Pollini with his back to us.
  • As this horrid flu was starting to take affect I turned to some of my favorite bloggers (many of whom seemed to have the same thing – could it be a real computer virus????) for solace and comfort. OC, that divine diva of Opera Bloggers, had just come back from opening night at La Scala of Alfano’s Cyrano de Bergerac with Placido Domingo. Even before she had her Prada heels off she was writing a quick review that sent me running to the La Scala website. There were a few tickets left for this Tuesday’s performance. Snapped one up real quick like; navigated the shoals of the treacherous TrenItalia website to book a train (its only 4 hours 30 minutes) and used travel points to get a hotel near the opera house. When I read her complete review I knew I had made the right choice.
    Placido Domingo as Cyrano
    (Photo from Royal Opera House Covent Garden – Catherine Ashmore)

    As OC observes Domingo is approaching his 70s and we can’t expect him to go on forever, so this may be the last chance I’ll have to see him on stage. I know it won’t be the voice I heard in 1976 in SFO or Paris in 1986 but I do know that he is still the greatest tenor around and it will a spectacular event. I am getting antsy with anticipation.

So I really have to pull myself together and get right over it. None of this wallowing in self-pity that man-flu would normally demand; though when I’m sick I just like to be left alone. So just let me go and die in my own manner just promise me the body will be given a decent burial.

01 febbraio – San Orso

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