* La Traviata, La Scala
* The Sands Family, Down Arts Centre
* The Railway Man, Queen’s Film Theatre
Reviewed by George Fleeton © 2013
Here be three very contrasting events to round out another year of arts-and-culture-in-performance reviews on Down News.
Earlier, best operas of 2013, in my book, were:
Lyric Opera Productions’ The Marriage of Figaro, La Traviata and Rusalka, all three in Dublin.
Macbeth, Lyric Theatre, The Plough and the Stars, Abbey Theatre and Female Gothic, Dyad Productions/Down Arts Centre.
Best classical music:
Messa da Requiem, Ulster Orchestra/Waterfront Hall, Endellion String Quartet, Portaferry Proms and Lismore Music Festival Co. Waterford.
Nutcracker, Bolshoi/Queen’s Film Theatre, The Great Gatsby, Northern Ballet/Grand Opera House and Giselle, Birmingham Royal Ballet/Grand Opera House.
Vertigo, Newcastle Community Cinema, The Passion of Jeanne d’Arc, Ulster Hall/Mulholland Grand Organ and The Searchers, Queen’s Film Theatre – all three of them self-evident classics revisited.
Best live music:
The Mary Ryan Blues Trio and The Brigid O’Neill Trio, both Down Arts Centre, and Spirit of the Wildflowers, the Saint Patrick Centre.
In sum, it was one of the best years in the decade or so during which I have been reviewing such events from my current base in Co. Down.
The opening night of each new season at Milan’s Teatro alla Scala always takes place on 7 December, irrespective of which day of the week that date falls.
La Scala is very widely regarded, especially by Italians, as the most important opera house in the world.
So opening night is one of the biggest social events in all Italy.
Top-price tickets cost about 2,000 Euro, and a city ordinance requires every performance to finish before midnight.
The opera house itself has had two discrete incarnations: firstly from 1778 until 2001, when it was closed for nearly three years for very radical renovations.
It had first opened in Mozart’s time, 235 years ago, with an opera by Salieri; the new La Scala reopened with that same Salieri opera in 2004.
I’ve been there a few times since then, but am convinced that the ghosts of the old La Scala, which I first visited in 1969, have fled for good.
It is just too tangibly squeaky clean, like Covent Garden has been since 1999, and just as I remember the New York Met on a first visit there in 1971, about five years after it opened at the Lincoln Center
At La Scala the new season opened this month with Verdi’s La Traviata, an opera which I have seen over thirty times in different productions and about which I have written extensively before.
This new production was loudly and unambiguously booed, at the curtain on opening night, by les enfants du paradis in the loggione.
No matter how loudly the toffs applauded, from their boxes and on the parterre, the discomfort felt by the Russian director/designer, Tcherniakov, was palpable.
Then the Polish tenor, who sang Alfredo – Piotr Beczala – equally uncomfortable-looking throughout the three acts, while just politely applauded, announced later that evening that he would never sing in Italy again (once his contract for this production expires on January 3rd that is – we’ll see.
In more general terms, this production was so uneven in so many respects that my list of misgivings takes up more space than the positives discernable on the night.
No problems with Daniele Gatti, the conductor – he literally and figuratively knows the score.
No problems, neither with the power-house Verdian chorus, nor with any of the several smaller roles.
And German soprano Diana Damrau is an outstanding artiste; this production finds her in the middle of a schedule of many performances as Violetta in several opera houses, worldwide, this year and next.
She is a distractingly Meryl Streep look-alike, who laboured – in the production under review – dressed in the most unflattering costumes of the entire cast.
At one point, late in the second act, she whipped off her ridiculous Shirley-Temple-wig to reveal how carefully her natural hair had been pinned up.
Her voice and how she addressed, even attacked, Verdi’s profound and affective music – which dominates the opera – sounded impeccable to my ear.
Her confidante Annina, sung by Mara Zampieri, a Verdi specialist, was present in every scene, our on-stage representative, a silent witness to the deterioration and pathos of this lonely courtesan Violetta whom Verdi described as ‘the woman who strayed’.
As Alfredo’s father, Serbian baritone Željko Lučić was very convincing, particularly in his long, would-be ‘father-daughter’ scene with a distraught Violetta in Act 2, where he was refreshingly free of the top-hat, cane and frock-coat in which his character is traditionally dressed.
Last word then – if La Scala insists it is still the world’s most prestigious opera house, it is sad to report that this current production of La Traviata is unworthy of it.
In Verdi’s own city, in his bicentenary year, in the house most associated with his operas between 1839 and 1893, close to the Grand Hotel et de Milan in which he died in 1901 and not far from his Casa di Riposo where he is buried, one would have expected a more respectful and dignified production than this
My thanks to Movies@Swords for enabling me to see this opera, at very short notice, in their live-in-HD relay, direct from La Scala on opening night
In two further articles here I shall be commenting on the Sands Family Concert (December 14th), and on the new Colin Firth/Nicole Kidman film – The Railway Man – which goes on general release in Ireland on January 10th.
Meanwhile some interesting dates for your new diaries:
Down Arts Centre, 3pm, sees my new production of ‘Classical Light’ – Music for Spring, with pianist Nadene Fiorentini and soprano Marcella Walsh, in a programme of Haydn, Brahms, Chopin, Mascagni, Grieg and Puccini.
Tickets are available from 028 4461 0747
The Saint Patrick Centre, 8pm, where I am producing and presenting The Brigid O’Neill Trio in Concert, followed on
at 7.30pm by Saffyre (formerly known as The Wildflowers) in Concert.
Tickets for both Concerts may be purchases only at 028 4461 9000
the date on which both my new Cinema and Opera Courses start, in Bray Institute of Further Education Co. Wicklow for 10 weeks.
To enrol please ring Dublin (01) 286 6111