Scaling La Scala

Milan’s La Scala – the jewel in the crown of European opera houses. But does it live up to the legend? The answer is a resounding yes, if for no other reason than the absolutely stunning acoustics.

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Heaven help you if you don’t wear black to La Scala, with maybe a splash of red. The Arts are serious business here, a proud possession of the Milanese and a cherished opportunity for travelers. Couples, families, young friends all gather to worship at the shrine of cultural splendour.

The horse shoe design is quite common in these houses, but La Scala’s intimate six levels of boxes and galleries means that here more than ever you can see hundreds of your fellow theatregoers’ faces and there is a palpable sense that you are all watching the opera or ballet together.

If traveling to Milan, find out when tickets go on sale and log on at that split second as the few tickets offered online go like lightning. But be prepared to pay a premium for the privilege. Unlike most other houses which don’t add any booking fees (as they are just selling their own seats), La Scala adds a whopping 20% to each ticket for purchasing it ‘In Advance’. Are people buying ‘In Advance’ as compared to buying after the show has already played? This seems like a stiff penalty for not being able to buy in person in Milan in advance, but definitely than wasting hours on the day queuing for 12 euro gallery places from which there is basically no view.

No big stars, unfortunately, in the opera that was playing this week, but a special favourite of Man in Chair in the ballet.

Pollini Recital
Teatro Alla Scala
8pm Monday 20 February 2012

Maestro Maurizio Pollini performed a spellbinding piano recital which had the La Scala crowd crying for more.

The full length concert featured selections by Chopin in the first half before going to Liszt after interval.

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The characteristic trait of Pollini’s brilliant playing is the way he is at one with the music. In extended sections, he appeared to lose himself in the music, playing on as if there was only him and the piano and nothing else. Sounding at times like there were at least four hands on the keys, a feature of Pollini’s playing was his exquisite mastery of dynamics. Almost leaping up from the piano stool at times for extra power, his pianissimo phrasing was also most tender.

No concert patter here, Pollini spoke not a word, the keyboard his sole form of communication. In the presence of such enduring talent, it was particularly amazing to see how entirely gracious and humble Pollini was as he calmly took in the rapturous applause.

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On a stage far more frequently associated with spectacle and glamour, this was an opportunity to appreciate virtuosic musicianship at its very best.

Teatro Alla Scala
7.30pm Tuesday 21 February 2012

If you only see one opera at La Scala it may as well be one of the most grand productions in the repertoire.

The horses! The statues! The three intervals! Four and a quarter hours later, the audience, not to mention the cast, were exhausted but completely gratified.

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At a time when New York’s Metropolitan Opera are gradually replacing their Zeffirelli productions, it is a treat to see this almost fifty year old classic staging by the great master. Each of the seven scenes has a different set, capturing the grandeur and beauty of ancient Egypt. Built pieces tie in seamlessly with painted backdrops, all linked by a theme of dusky gold and great use of shadows to suggest epic proportions.

Costumes in muted jewel tones are also splendid. The combined effect of act two’s Triumphal March, dancers, horses and all, must be one of the most spectacular ever seen on a proscenium arch stage.

Jorge de Leon easily had the tenor power to make a mighty Radames. Liudmyla Monastyrska captured hearts as she balanced the fragility and steely resolve of Aida. Her “O patria mia” was a carefully considered highlight. Marianne Cornetti gave a particularly well rounded interpretation of the spoilt princess Amneris, bringing out the dilemma of her role in the unfolding tragedy.

Sitting high up in the auditorium, it is impossible not to marvel at the pristine acoustics, which allow every note to be heard and felt with stunning clarity and power.

Magnificent work by the orchestra, the chorus and the corps de ballet supported the superb quality of the performance.

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An unforgettable night overall, but did we really need that third 30 minute interval?

Teatro Alla Scala
8pm Wednesday 22 February 2012

La Scala sweethearts Svetlana Zakharova and Roberto Bolle had the crowd in a frenzy of delight.

At almost exactly half the length of Aida, Giselle practically sped by in a nonstop cavalcade of exquisite dance. The corps de ballet in particular acquitted themselves beautifully in the second act, presenting the wild Wilis in tight uniform synchronicity yet still with a feeling of individual expression and grace. 20120222-115925 PM.jpg

Design in this very traditional staging was lavish, with act one’s forest cottage setting a blaze of autumnal shades before the chilly midnight blues of the graveyard glade.

But it was Zakharova and Bolle we had all come to see and they were in absolute peak form. Zakharova captured the range of styles as Giselle perfectly, progressing from young and lovestruck to tragic and ultimately selfless. On a stage full of superb dancers, she was the clear prima ballerina, with a talent matched only by her gracious modesty.

Bolle, a bit of a favourite of Opera Chic, La Scala’s blogger extraordinaire, has also been a long term favourite of Man in Chair so the chance to see him live was quite a thrill. A dreamy leading man, Bolle’s speciality is the balance he achieves between all the graceful and romantic moves of a ballet dancer and the masculine, heroic body language of a real man. Each aspect is seen clearly as he dances but neither side outweighs the other. And the joy of performance on his gorgeous face is just another element to enjoy while watching him perform.

Together, the pair worked in seamless partnership, moving as one and yet retaining their own unique performance. Act one’s playful merriment gave way to the more serious pas de deux of act two, the pinnacle of their achievement being the slow moves and lifts done with unwavering strength and focus. 20120222-115812 PM.jpg

The stage showered with bouquets, the pair gave the adoring and satisfied crowd a generous number of curtain calls.

Photos: Simon Parris

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