24 October 2007

Radamès, non è deciso il tuo fato

Latest casting news from the Met: Stephen O’Mara will sing Radamès in Aida on Wednesday, October 24, replacing Marco Berti, who has withdrawn from remaining performances due to illness. The role of the Egyptian captain for the the remaining performances of the season (October 27 - November 8) will be sung by that popular man-about-town TBA.

La Cieca's idle speculation: it should be simple enough to get someone in to sing a single performance of Pinkerton on the evening of October 27, which would free up Roberto di Nazareth. La Cieca's prediction: not bloody likely, but she's been wrong before.

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15 December 2006

A weekend in the country

Per Opera Chic, Roberto Alagna is off for what promises to be an interesting weekend at Franco Zeffirelli's palatial villa near Rome. According to Alagna's "Chief Counsel Avvocato" Marco Rocchini, the tenor will apparently spend much of the weekend in transit, since he plans a quick visit to Paris on Tuesday, and then will return to Milan on Sunday for a television interview. Rumor has it that he will perform a selection from Aida on the chat show.

Meanwhile, not a peep of what happened or did not happen at last night's Aida at La Scala. For better or for worse, this has become All Bobby All the Time. (And we're not talking about Bobby Bubbles.)

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14 December 2006

Is this the face of Opera Chic?

Intrepid girl reporter Opera Chic has lead the blogosphere in her coverage of the recent Alagnadammerung. But who is this mysterious Opera Chic? An important piece of evidence has made its way into the greedy mitts of La Cieca: soon the truth may be told.

Here we see a photograph of the poster for tonight's performance of Aida at La Scala:

This photo was published on Opera Chic's site, and we can assume it was taken with Opera Chic's very own digital camera. Now, cher public, La Cieca asks you to fix your gaze on the lower right-hand corner of the photo, just past the "Y" in "Chailly." The keen eye will discern a reflection in the glass covering the poster:

Aha! Opera Chic has carelessly allowed "her" reflection to appear in the photo! And so we see that Opera Chic is, in fact, no "chick" at all, but rather a dignified-looking middle-aged man with a mustache and full beard. La Cieca could swear she knows this fellow, or at least she has seen his picture before. Oh, this is just so infuriating!

Oh, yes, yes, now, I have it! Now I know where I've seen that face before:

Oh. Well. Perhaps we should wait for further facts before we make a decision on Opera Chic's identity; purely for confirmation, you know.

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Film at 11

First off, La Cieca should tell you that her producer/alter ego JJ will be heard this afternoon on WNYC's talk show "Soundcheck" discussing (what else?) L'affaire Alagna. The program begins at 2:00 PM and JJ is scheduled to be heard in the final segment between 2:30 and 3:00. "Soundcheck" gained notoriety last month when uber-diva Jessye Norman got into something of a snit after a fellow guest questioned the charitable motivations of certain celebrities. La Cieca hopes that this afternoon's show will include comparable fireworks.

Well, now a different version of the "walkout" video has surfaced from Spanish TV:

In the words of dear Alex Ross, "I'm no Zapruder," but La Cieca does note certain subtleties:

  • The staging has been modified since the opening night. Amneris (Ildiko Komlosi) does not enter during "Celeste Aida," but remains offstage until the very end of the aria.
  • Alagna sings the written ending of the aria, i.e., a long high B-flat, without the added "vicino al sol" on the lower B-flat.
  • Alagna is still onstage when the orchestra begins the introduction to "Quale insolita gioia," though he is out the door within seconds of Komlosi's first vocal entrance.

Now, what, if anything, does all this mean? Well, the first two changes would seem to suggest that someone decided to try to avoid "killing" Alagna's applause after his aria. The quiet ending, plus the presence of another character moving onstage) would tend to put a damper on audience reaction. La Cieca's guess is that Alagna was not happy with the polite applause at the prima and so tried to (as one might say) "give the public a chance to express their admiration." The video thus gives impression that Alagna was going a little mild milking of the applause. The well-timed "bravo" might be an attempt by a fan to build the ovation. Now, going further out into the realm of speculation, perhaps the ensuing "boo" was a scornful reaction to the "bravo" rather than a jeer at Alagna's performance per se.

Here's where it gets particularly interesting, at least to La Cieca's fevered imagination. A feature of these La Scala shouting matches is that the exclamations used are both wildly inflammatory and dangerously ambiguous. We are told that shouts were heard of "Vergogna, vergogna!" and "Questa e la Scala!" But to whom were these cries addressed, and in reaction to what? Were they saying, "shame, shame" to Alagna because his singing (in their opinion) was below La Scala standard? Or was the "shameful" part his perceived disrespect (or cowardice?) in walking offstage just because of a mixed reaction from the public. ("This is La Scala, get used to it!")

Or maybe the yelling was mostly, as we might say, intramural; i.e., various members of the audience yelling at each other, in which case Alagna's walk was really a gross overreaction.

But, speaking of the "walk" issue, I think this video takes some of the heat off Riccardo Chailly. When he starts the Amneris music, Alagna is still onstage. All Chailly can see at that moment is that the tenor is not doing the staging he was taught, which is not exactly unprecedented in Italian opera. For all Chailly could see, it may have appeared that Alagna was just stepping into the wings for a moment to clear his throat or grab a gulp of water -- again, these things do happen.

Had Antonello Palombi not bounded on from the wings, presumably Chailly would have stopped the orchestra, the curtain would have been lowered, and the performance would have continued with Walter Fraccaro, perhaps following a brief announcement. Where La Cieca is going with this is that it doesn't look like Chailly was necessarily conspiring against Alagna along with the three mysterious karate men, the anonymous phone caller and all the other members of the anti-Alagna faction.

Meanwhile, the latest installment of Opera Chic whispers that Stéphane Lissner has given orders to the Scala staff: if Alagna attempts to enter the theater, call the police! In contrast to such hysteria, Riccardo Muti spoke to La Stampa Daily, turning aside questions about Alagna's behavior but sniping at the "moronic" stage production by Franco Zeffirelli.

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13 December 2006

What it sounded like

Roberto Alagna sings "Celeste Aida" December 7, 2006 at La Scala. And for those of you who are interested, here's how the Antonello "Fleet of Foot" Palombi sang the aria in 1998.

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Well, it had to happen sooner or later, and so it did happen, sometime between last night and tonight. La Cieca has decided she's taking Roberto Alagna's side in The Scandale.

Yes, yes, La Cieca hears your gasps and snorts of disbelief and contempt, but you know, cher public, La Cieca is, deep in her bleeding heart, always on the side of the underdog. And, yes, by this point Alagna is the underdog.

Of course La Cieca knows that Alagna brought this upon himself. But in life (as in opera) there are very few pure heroes and villains. Do we not, for example, weep for Manon as she so movingly expires, whether at Le Havre or in the desert near New Orleans? And yes, she brought most of her misery upon herself. If the poor dear thing had even a shred of morality, she could have saved everyone (particularly Des Grieux) whole cartloads of heartache. But morality wasn't what Manon was about; that's not how she was made.

Is it supposed to be news that Roberto Alagna is a hothead? Does he have a track record of behaving coolly and rationally in a crisis? Has he ever been known to say, "no comment" when asked a question, any question? So why is everyone so shocked, shocked to witness what should be -- by now -- familiar behavior?

La Cieca is of the "fool me once" school, frankly, when it comes to opera singers. And, to tell the truth, it's Stéphane Lissner who ought to be saying "shame on me" these days -- at least to himself. In other words, Lissner is not helping the situation by acting so inflexibly, refusing to negotiate with Alagna over his return to the theater.

Now, please understand, La Cieca is not saying that Lissner should simply cave; rather, she's suggesting that there is a win-win possible here, and Lissner is dropping the ball. It's not a particularly impressive act to fire a recalcitrant artist; basically the lawyers and the press office will have to do all the heavy lifting anyway. A great impresario is one who can bring an unruly tenor to heel, and, what's more, trick the tenor into thinking it was his own idea.

Take Rudolf Bing with Franco Corelli, for example. No artist was more "difficult" than Corelli, and yet Bing got him onstage for over 300 performances -- far more than he sang anywhere else in the world. Bing once joked that handling Corelli was what he was "underpaid" for, but in fact, that's what a general manager is supposed to do, to get important artists on the stage and before the public. Firing a singer is, in a sense, an admission of failure. In fact, Bing even admitted in later years that his inability to come to terms with Maria Callas was one of the worst blots on his record as General Manager of the Met.

In contrast, consider Lissner's inflexible behavior in the past few days. Yes, he's showing everyone who's boss, but meanwhile, he's presenting a sold-out "gala" Aida with Walter Fraccaro and Antonello Palombi alternating in the star tenor role. Yeah, I'm sure the audiences who have to sit through that are saying to themselves, "Well, it's excruciating, sure, but at least somebody put his foot down! Thank God La Scala has returned to its artistic mission of upholding the Rule of Law!"

Since last night, a couple more tidbits of information have surfaced suggesting that Alagna's sense of persecution is not 100% paranoia. To begin with, the video of the walkout.

Doesn't it strike you as odd that a television station should have such access to video footage that was recorded for DVD release? Does anyone think that someone in the Decca crew might have leaked it? Hardly. The only way the clip of Alagna's "exit" could have emerged was for the management of La Scala (i.e., Lissner) to make it available. And why ever would an opera house want to publicize so sordid an event? (Can you imagine, for example, that the Met's press department would supply the media with a sound bite of Domingo's being booed last week?) The answer is simple: La Scala is actively working to make Alagna appear the bad guy.

Furthermore, doesn't Palombi's "save" strike you as just a bit too miraculous? How often does it happen that the second cover is standing in the wings, warmed up and ready to bound onto the stage, when there is no prior warning that the artist he's covering might be in vocal distress? In other words, did Palombi know in advance that Alagna might be booed?

If you must know, La Cieca's tipping point on this issue was reading Norman Lebrecht's predictably anti-artist and pro-bandwagon comments this morning. The Alagnas are difficult, the Alagnas are self-absorbed, lot of opera houses are pissed off at the Alagnas, but of course this slap in the face of the honorable public of Milan is the last, the very last straw.

Well, Norma, your middlebrow maunderings are wrong yet again. This might be the end of the line for the Alagnas -- if they were the sort of dull, uninspired singers that mostly populate the world of opera today. But they're not. Despite their vocal flaws and outrageous behavior, they are something special and rare. The main reason that opera is in such dire straits today is that nobody wants to shell out hundreds of dollars for a ticket to hear some well-behaved mediocrity. (That is, unless that mediocrity's name is Fleming, but she's not working much at La Scala lately either.)

La Cieca will have more to say about this later; cher public, do chime in.

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11 December 2006

The other Bobby

Walkout tenor Roberto Alagna is just generally pissed at the whole La Scala Aida experience, frankly. Even before the "buu" incident at last night's performance, Bobby was spewing in an interview with La Repubblica that he (and the other singers in Aida) were being treated like second-class citizens: "La verità è che, in Italia, ormai i cantanti non se li fila più nessuno," Alagna fumed. "Esistono solo il direttore e il regista, quando mai vedi sui giornali una foto dei cantanti? Lo sa che alla cena a Palazzo Reale non eravamo nemmeno stati invitati e che anche lì ho fatto un mezzo scandalo? E poi tutti quegli applausi a Roberto Bolle... Vadano a vedersi un balletto, invece di un' opera."

Yes, it's true. Apparently at a gala dinner-reception following the prima, the singers were shuttled off to a secondary ballroom while Franco Zeffirelli, Riccardo Chailly, Scala intendant Stéphane Lissner and hobnobbed with the glitterari in the "A" room. And the photographers did indeed focus on Roberto Bolle, which is understandable at least on the grounds that "the other Bobby" is more than a little photogenic.

Opera Chic has more (constantly updated) details, including the point that the Scala performances are being taped by Decca for eventual DVD release, a project that will be pointless without Alagna's cooperation. Oh, on the same blogsite, a delightful photo of little Bobby's Scotto Heels.

UPDATE: Now Decca and La Scala are making noises about legal action against Alagna. He says he will show up for the performances scheduled for taping, but not the others (in January). And the Italian news site SKY Life has an online video report about this scandale, including bits and pieces of the gaudy Zeffirelli production, an interview with Antonello "Sul Palco in Jeans" Palombo, plus a tantalizing glimpse of The Other Bobby rocking his triumphal thong.

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10 December 2006

La Cieca returns, Alagna departs

Your correspondent is back in town just in time to report that Roberto Alagna walked out of tonight's performance of Aida at La Scala when his rendition of "Celeste Aida" was greeted by "qualche fischio" among the polite applause. The Corriere della Sera reports that Antonello Palombi was rushed onto the stage in "black jeans and t-shirt" to complete the act, but not before the audience cried, "vergogna, vergogna!" and "questa è la Scala!"

According to Opera Chic, Alagna has retreated to his Milan hotel suite pursued by paparazzi. The tenor has been complaining of poor health for over a week; the first performance of this new production of Verdi's opera was on December 7.

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02 December 2006

Read my lips

The Judgment Scene from Aida, as performed by Lois Maxwell, lipsynching to Ebe Stignani. La Stignani needs no further introduction, but Miss Maxwell is perhaps better known even to operagoers for a non-operatic role.

This is of course the 1953 Italian film of Aida that also starred the 19-year-old Sophia Loren with the voice of the 30-year-old Renata Tebaldi. (Talk about your best of all possible worlds!)

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28 September 2006

Cream of the crop

Announced today: highlights of the archival Met broadcasts to be featured on Sirius during the month of October:

Carmen (1/9/37) Papi; Ponselle, Bodanya, Rayner, Huehn

Lucia di Lammermoor (2/27/37) Papi; Pons, Jagel, Brownlee, Pinza

Die Walküre (12/2/44) Szell; Traubel, Bampton, Thorborg, Melchior, Janssen, Kipnis

Roméo et Juliette (2/1/47) Cooper; Sayão, Benzell, Turner, Björling, Brownlee, Moscona

Aida (2/20/54) Cleva; Milanov, Barbieri, Baum, Warren, Hines

I Vespri Siciliani (3/9/74) Levine; Caballé, Gedda, Milnes, Díaz

Aida (3/6/76) Levine; Price, Horne, Domingo, MacNeil, Giaiotti

Parsifal (4/7/01) Levine; Urmana, Domingo, Ketelsen, Wlaschiha, Tomlinson

Die Meistersinger (12/8/01) Levine; Mattila, Grove, Heppner, Polenzani, Morris, Allen, Pape

La Traviata (3/6/04) Gergiev; Fleming, Vargas, Hvorostovsky

And La Cieca reminds you that the complete schedule of live broadcasts may be found here.

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21 September 2006

Illuminata a festa splende Venezia nel lontano

Having recovered from today's five hour dress rehearsal at the Met, La Cieca's spy Barnaba offers this report:

There isn't much point to doing La Gioconda in this day and age if you haven't got a cast who can put it over. Wonder of wonders, the Met has dug its ancient (1967) staging out of the basement and put it back on the stage for which it was designed with a worthy cast of singers and no attempt to update the staging for contemporary tastes that might not approve of this most old-fashioned of grand operas. At the dress rehearsal, though lighting cues were all over the place (is Act IV in day or night? Where does that spotlight aim? And shouldn't there be smoke machines full blast at the end of Act II?), what we got was a real live old-time Gioconda, minimal stand-and-deliver acting, fuzzy cues and all.

All honor first and foremost to Violeta Urmana, whose opulent unstrained soprano gave point to the enterprise and makes one hope the Verdi repertory (Aida, Stiffelio, Forza, Ballo) need not be consigned to the scrap heap just yet. A little unsteady on the floated pianissimi of "Enzo adorato" (I'm sure she'll have that down by later performances), she was passionate in well-supported flood everywhere else in this intense, verismo-foreshadowing role. Olga Borodina had no problems at all singing Laura, her mezzo foil -- if anything, she might hold back a bit to suit her character's more retiring nature -- but she seemed a bit confused at times about how to conceal/revealher identity and how much time she needed to swallow a potion and head for the catafalque. Irina Mishura sang a splendid La Cieca, a bit overdoing the arms-stuck-out-before-her blind lady bit.

The men were not quite of this quality, but nothing to sneeze at. Debutant Zeljko Lucic, another strapping baritone (let me get that in before Tommasini does), sang a thrilling Barnaba, almost too suave to snarl. Aquiles Machado, built like a fireplug and every bit as sexually alluring, attended the same school of acting as Francisco Casanova, but he manages the romantic phrasing of an Italian tenor part with a grainy but attractive sound. (I can't understand why the Met did not give Giordani this role -- I gather he will take it over later in the season.) Paata Buchuladze sang Alvise with a cavernous sound not, methinks, ideal for Italian opera but not inappropriate for this unpleasant figure. Among the many small roles, I especially liked Ricardo Lugo's Monk -- he'd make a good cover for Alvise. And let me not forget Angel Corella, borrowed from ABT, who makes a galactic star turn out of the Dance of the Hours.

Bertrand de Billy conducts with genuine old-fashioned excitement and no condescension to Ponchielli, one of the few composers of his day willing to admit the influence of Verdi and much admired by him in return. True opera lovers can be distinguished by the fact that they love every silly note of this opera, and they will be in pig heaven at this revival.

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24 August 2006

Unnatural Acts of Introduction

A Very Special Guest Diva introduces La Cieca's latest podcast, Verdi's Aida as performed at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden on 12 April 1973. And the performance is pretty special, too: Gilda Cruz-Romo as Aida, Carlo Bergonzi as Radames, Mignon Dunn as Amneris, Gian Piero Mastromei as Amonasro . . . and Kiri te Kanawa as the Sacerdotessa! Sir Charles Mackerras conducts. Unnatural Acts of Opera.

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11 August 2006

Enzo sees the future

Our old, old, old friend Enzo Bordello has been laying low for the last year or so, but he seems to be sniffing about the web again in search of the latest operatic news. He's uncovered quite a trove over at Brad Wilber's Met Futures page. Enzo's sum-up:

  • Maria Guleghina's star appears to be on the ascent again. In addition to Aida and Norma (!) next season, she is slated for Lisa in Pique Dame and her role debut as Turandot in 2008-2009.

  • Marcello Giordani, Marcelo Alvarez and Giuseppe Filianoti will all share the role of Edgardo in the next season's Lucia di Lammermoor revival.

  • Philip Langridge continues a Met tradition with appearances as the Witch in next season's Hansel and Gretel production.

  • Vienna darling Elina Garanca debuts as the Barbiere Rosina next season.

  • Prokofiev's The Gambler returns next season with Vladimir Galouzine reprising his critically acclaimed Aleksei.

  • Roberto Alagna sings his first Met Andrea Chenier next season.

  • A new production of Thais is scheduled for 2008-2009. No casting details but one can only assume this is a vehicle for Renee Fleming and Thomas Hampson.

  • Karita Mattila has apparently come to terms with whatever her alleged issues were with the Met's Salome production and reprises her triumph in the title role for 2008-2009.

  • Lulu and Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk return to the repertoire in 2009-2010.

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16 June 2006

Bosom buddies

Elegantly scarved divas Grace Bumbry and Shirley Verrett (in alphabetical order) "rehearse" scenes from Aida and Norma in preparation for their historic 1983 duo concert.

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20 April 2006

"We're your Verdi Girls"

Yes, the opera is Aida, of course, but is La Cieca the only one who thinks these three should be singing "It's Raining Men?"

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21 October 2005

Morir, si pura e bella?

UPDATE: Not only are Gli Alagni scheduled for Aida at La Scala in 2006 (as noted yesterday), La Cieca has just heard that Peter Gelb has promised them a new production of Carmen at the Met in 2009-10. And, yes, Gheorghiu is the Carmen, not the Micaela. This is all at least four years in the future, so don't book your tickets yet. Actually, this tidbit could have waited a few days (or years) but La Cieca wanted an excuse to post the scrummy photo of Bobby as Radames. Doesn't he look like he's about to say, "My father rules many lands and peoples, and that is why they call me Prince?"

La Cieca has just heard that the honor of opening the 2006 La Scala season will go to Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna, who will grace a new production of Aida. Please let La Cieca be the first to congratulate maestro Riccardo Chailly for persuading these two megastars to take on the roles of the Priestess and the Messenger -- now, who do you think he will get for the leads?

The most reliable source of all (i.e., himself) states that a long-term career goal for Rolando Villazon is ... Wagner. Don't panic yet; he's talking Lohengrin sometime around 2015, as reported at Mouvement Nouveau.

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22 August 2005

Mario, Mario, Mario!

It appears that La Cieca has finally acknowledged that there is more to opera than high-voiced divas: tenors can be pretty amazing as well. As such, we've declared Mario del Monaco week at Unnatural Acts of Opera. The celebration begins this evening with the first act of Puccini's La fanciulla del West, the 1954 Florence May Festival performance, also starring Eleanor Steber, Giangiacomo Guelfi and Giorgio Tozzi, with Dimitri Mitropoulos conducting. More of Fanciulla follows later in the week, along with scenes from a pair of operas "bookending" the peak decade of del Monaco's career. From 1950 in Mexico City, the tenor is heard in the Nile Scene from Act 3 of Aida opposite Maria Callas; then, from 1959 at La Scala, he is Paolo to the Francesca da Rimini of Magda Olivero in a passionate love scene from the Zandonai opera.

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