Feb 272015

Alexander Pereira says that for a day the theatre will be La Freni di Milano

Mirella Freni is eighty, and to cel­eb­rate her birth­day La Scala threw open its doors to her fans and opera lov­ers to see the great sop­rano once again on the stage that was hers for so many years.

A feisty Freni strode onstage and seemed sur­prised and vis­ibly moved by the long stand­ing ova­tion. She was not there to sing, though she says she still has the voice, but with crit­ics Elvio Giudici and Alberto Mat­ti­oli she went back through her years at Milan’s legendary opera house.

The theatre’s new Music Dir­ector, Ric­cardo Chailly, recoun­ted his exper­i­ences con­duct­ing her, and the Sov­rin­tend­ente, Alex­an­der Pereira, dropped on his knees before her, before announ­cing that for the day the theatre would not be La Scala di Mil­ano, but La Freni di Mil­ano. If any­one has earned such a trib­ute, it is Freni.

She was first hired to sing at the Pic­cola Scala – a cham­ber opera house along­side the main stage which no longer exists – in 1962 singing in Handel’s Serse, with Luigi Alva, Rolando Pan­erai and Fiorenza Cossotto.

Dur­ing the rehears­als, how­ever, she was asked to sub­sti­tute Ren­ata Scotto as Nanetta in Fal­staff, a role she had sung the pre­vi­ous year with Giulini at Cov­ent Garden, and so on 9 Janu­ary 1962 she made her début in the main house at La Scala, and a week later as Romilda at the Pic­cola Scala.

The next year Her­bert von Kara­jan was search­ing for a Mimì for Franco Zeffirelli’s new La bohème.

I met him on this stage. He wanted to hear me sing and I fol­lowed him into a room with a piano. When he only wanted to hear the last scene I was delighted: he was look­ing for an artist.

She got the gig!
…con­tinue reading.

Feb 232015

Teatro alla Scala on Facebook

Social media is revolu­tion­ising how theatres and their artists com­mu­nic­ate with audi­ences and fans. Teatro alla Scala, which has an august, though often severe, repu­ta­tion is, sur­pris­ingly, emer­ging as one of the top play­ers in social net­work­ing. It had some catch­ing up to do. The Royal Opera House and the Met­ro­pol­itan Opera opened their Twit­ter accounts at the begin­ning of 2009. La Scala didn’t get around to tweet­ing until Decem­ber 2011.

Silvia Farina, head of Social Media at La Scala, explains.

I came in to work in the digital depart­ment at La Scala in April 2010. Before I arrived all that exis­ted was our old inter­net site, which used the tra­di­tional beige and red col­ours and styl­ing of our posters, and a newly opened Face­book page which was primar­ily used as a means to com­mu­nic­ate with those involved in our Under30s project.

The La Scala Under30 scheme offers sea­son tick­ets at greatly reduced prices, as well as the oppor­tun­ity to assist pre­view per­form­ances. The obvi­ous way to com­mu­nic­ate with this age range was with Face­book, but the social plat­form is not only for the under-thirties.

One of my first pri­or­it­ies was to change the way we used Face­book. At the begin­ning it more or less repor­ted the theatre’s cal­en­dar and that was all. We still do this today to inform people about what’s on in the theatre, but it has become far more inter­act­ive, and we make every effort to respond to each com­pli­ment or com­plaint that we receive. When people are angry because there is a strike and a per­form­ance is can­celled, or a singer or dan­cer is ill and has had to be replaced, we try and put ourselves in their pos­i­tion and explain the situ­ation. Usu­ally this has a suit­able calm­ing effect because the per­son doesn’t feel ignored by the theatre and knows that their com­plaint has been noted. We do the same on Twitter.

Open­ing up the Face­book page to every­one cer­tainly worked as the dis­tri­bu­tion of act­ive fol­low­ers is almost the same through­out the eight­een to sixty age range. How­ever, it was also neces­sary to open up to a non-Italian audience.

In the begin­ning, our Face­book page was only in Italian, which, con­sid­er­ing La Scala’s inter­na­tional pro­file, was a great error. Now everything we do on social media is bilin­gual. Of course, this also had the bene­fit of drastic­ally increas­ing the num­ber of likes!

…con­tinue reading.

Feb 222015

luca ronconi

Italian dir­ector Luca Ron­coni died yes­ter­day even­ing in the Policlinico in Milan after a short ill­ness. His health had been poor over the last years as he was on dia­lysis and was com­plic­ated by pneu­mo­nia. He was 81. His col­lab­or­a­tion with La Scala las­ted for over thirty years and today the flag out­side the theatre is fly­ing at half-mast.

Ron­coni was born on 8 March 1933 in Tunisia and gradu­ated from the Acca­demia d’Arte Dram­mat­ica (Academy of Dra­matic Art) in Rome in 1953. He worked as an actor before start­ing his career as a dir­ector in 1963. The show that raised him to inter­na­tional star­dom was Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso in 1969, an enorm­ous pro­ject that was later filmed by Italian television.

He star­ted dir­ect­ing operas at the begin­ning of his career and his long col­lab­or­a­tion with La Scala in Milan began in 1974 with Die Walküre, and the year after in Bologna he dir­ec­ted a Faust with Rug­gero Rai­mondi and Mirella Freni with a sump­tu­ous design by Pier­luigi Pizzi. In 1977 he dir­ec­ted an ambi­tious Don Carlo at La Scala with designs by Luciano Dami­ani. The extraordin­ary cast included Nic­olai Ghi­aurov, Yev­geny Nester­enko, Piero Cap­puccilli, Josè Car­reras, Mirella Freni and Elena Obrazt­sova with Clau­dio Abbado con­duct­ing. The scene of the auto-da-fé was so com­plex that the street out­side the theatre was closed to allow the large pro­ces­sion to form. …con­tinue reading.

Feb 182015

Sylvie Guillem after Steptext, MaggioDanza 2013

After a series of ‘si’, ‘no’, ‘si’, ‘no’, the decision has been made to axe the corps de bal­let in Florence.

Mag­gi­oDanza, under the umbrella of Il Mag­gio Musicale Fiorentino, which even Sylvie Guillem had tried to save when she returned en pointe for the last time eight­een months ago, will close, announced dir­ector Francesco Bian­chi. Of the last remain­ing 17 dan­cers, 5 are near pen­sion­able age and, says Bian­chi, “Twelve dan­cers don’t con­sti­tute a corps de bal­let”.  He added,

It is a pain­ful decision. I have a king-size bed but only a quilt for a single. If we hadn’t made this decision, we would have found ourselves once again in the same state as 2013.

…con­tinue reading.

Feb 172015

Julian Mackay photographed by Quinn Wharton at the Bolshoi Theatre

Seventeen-year-old Julian Mackay is one of the six win­ners of this year’s Prix de Lausanne. He is part of the extraordin­ary Khan-MacKay fam­ily which boasts four bal­let dan­cers; some­thing this blog has covered before.

Julian how­ever is fly­ing high dur­ing his last year at the Bolshoi Academy before his gradu­ation in June, hav­ing already won medals last sum­mer at the Sochi and Istan­bul, he was awar­ded the Kelvin Coe Schol­ar­ship from the En Avant Found­a­tion, and around Christ­mas was dan­cing Albrecht for the Rus­sian State Bal­let on tour. How­ever win­ning at Lausanne is special.

He took the Gis­elle vari­ation as his clas­sical piece and Richard Wherlock’s Solo for Diego to show off his con­tem­por­ary flair.

Lead­ing up to the Prix de Lausanne I pre­pared my Gis­elle vari­ation with Nic­olai Tik­homirov. Along with the tech­nical aspects, he helped me to under­stand why Albrecht is in anguish and to send all of my ges­tures, either to Gis­elle or Myrtha. I chose this vari­ation because I love the role, and would like to dance the full-length ballet.

I pre­pared my con­tem­por­ary solo with Alisher Hazanov. He showed me the right way to put humour in Solo for Diego. I had to work very late at night as was rehears­ing many pieces for the Bolshoi Academy as I had spent my Christ­mas vaca­tion dan­cing Siegfried on tour in Ger­many and Switzer­land. I am very grate­ful to Vyacheslav Gordeev, former Bolshoi Prin­cipal and dir­ector of the Rus­sian State Bal­let, for the opportunity.

Grishko helped to make all my cos­tumes in a very short time, and they were great. When a few days before leav­ing I rehearsed with my cos­tumes on, I finally felt ready to go to Switzerland!

…con­tinue reading.