How times, and timing, have changed. Just ten years ago the season was being presented in late June, with roles “to be announced” and events “to be confirmed”. Italians are resigned to their fate: inefficiency – like corrupt politicians – is the norm, so with a shrug of the shoulders they say “povera Italia” and get on with their lives. Well there’s nothing like a recession, coupled with a French General Director, to shake things up.
La Scala has been acting more like a music festival of late, with lots of niche operas and a dirth of world-class singers. The buzz among season ticket holders is that the big names are afraid of the infamous La Scala loggionisti, the booers up in the gods. Season ticket holders, paying large sums of money months in advance of the performances, give a vital stability to La Scala’s balance sheet. With a drastic dropoff in season ticket requests over the last two seasons, it looks as though the theatre’s directors have decided to invent a more attractive programme. The next season at the world’s most famous opera house wouldn’t be out of place at the Met or Covent Garden.
The 2011-12 program includes 13 operas — seven of those new productions — and seven ballets, two of which will be new.
The much-anticipated gala season opening on December 7 will be of a new production by Robert Carsen of “Don Giovanni”, conducted by Daniel Barenboim. A stellar cast includes Anna Netrebko, Elīna Garanča, Peter Mattei, Bryn Terfel and Giuseppe Filianoti.
Netrebko will also sing in “La Bohème” as Mimi, a role she will share on alternating dates with Angela Gheorghiu and Anita Hartig. There will also be a return of Franco Zeffirelli’s historic staging of “Aida” — the 1963 version, not the 2006 one. Lissner called it a “homage” to La Scala’s history.
Unfortunately, the ballet line up is much less interesting, with four of the seven titles — Excelsior, Giselle, Marguerite and Armand and Onegin — starring Roberto Bolle, which is a bit of a bore. Svetlana Zakharova is back, along with regular Leonid Sarafanov, but apart from Olesia Novikova and Maria Eichwald there are to be no other guest artists. Now if this were London, New York, Paris, Moscow or St Petersburg no one would mind, but this is La Scala, and the resident artists are simply not outstanding.
But one step at a time. Hats off to Barenboim and sovrintendente Stéphane Lissner for the opera season, and maybe the next step will be to up the level of the ballet season too.
Photo: Anna Netrebko and Elīna Garanča who will open La Scala’s season in Don Giovanni