December 11, 2012
Probably without precedent, La Scala's 2012 opening night on Dec. 7, with Wagner's Lohengrin, is available on in its almost four-hour-long entirety. It is a major event, featuring Jonas Kaufmann in the title role, with Evelyn Herlitzius, René Pape, and Zeljko Lucic; Daniel Barenboim conducts.
Anja Harteros was to sing Elsa, but both she and her cover came down with the flu. Annette Dasch was flown in the last minute, and she rescued the evening. Claus Guth's staging in the Victorian era can be overlooked, just as the San Francisco Opera's Lohengrin-in-the-Soviet-Bloc last month was enjoyable otherwise.
"It was full of surprises even for us," Kaufmann said. "Usually the surprises are for the audience, but this time also for us, for me certainly, another soprano, whom fortunately I already knew [from performances in Germany]. I have to say what she did was truly a miracle. To keep calm, she was fantastic."
At one point, Dasch's long dress is caught in something on the stage. She just circled around once until it freed.
The event — a big social-artistic point in Milan's season — was surrounded by controversy because this is the bicentennial season for both Wagner and Verdi, and to feature the German over the Italian composer for the occasion upset many.
La Scala management countered by pointing at the season's seven Verdi productions, against "only" five Wagners. At any rate, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano did not attend, though he called the Wagner-Verdi debate "futile".
"These two musical giants of the 19th century both belong to the history of European culture and creativity and they cannot both take center stage," Napolitano said. Prime Minister Mario Monti was in attendance, even in the midst of Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom Party trying to oust him from office. (Why is there still no opera about Berlusconi?)
Speaking of Verdi, La traviata will be streamed from Jan. 5-25 in Andrea Breth's new production from La Monnaie, with Violetta in a brothel, the victim of Eastern European sex traffickers. Didn't San Francisco have a bordello-red production of Rigoletto ages ago, well before Europe started to muck about with opera?