After nineteen years, Cecilia Bartoli's return to Milan's La Scala tonight was long overdue. Daniel Barenboim was the instigator of the event, the opening of the La Scala Philharmonic's season.
An obviously tense Bartoli immediately illuminated the theatre with her smile, though her voice needed a little longer to give the audience what they were expecting. The Handel arias went well, Mozart's Exultate, jubilate even better, and after the interval she was on top form with two Rossini arias: the Willow Song and prayer from Otello were extremely touching, and with Non più mesta from Cenerentola the vocal fireworks shot in all directions.
However, already during the interval, dark forces were at work!
At La Scala there are groups of (mostly) men, many now white-haired, who plot and plan to destroy an opera, or an artist's, performance even before entering the theatre. The famous loggionisti (those in the gallery) of La Scala are the opera fans who may come night after night and, in contrast with many in the lower part of the house – corporate seats, tourists – they know the operas, the notes and the libretto, and will praise those who meet their standards of performance and shower whistles (good in a stadium, but not in an Italian opera house where they express an indisputable thumbs-down) on the performer who disappoints. A number of loggionisti however, are far from objective and choose who to promote (many times it's the overlooked second cast singer) or those to destroy, daring the management to invite them to ‘their' theatre again (often those who sell many discs, steal the headlines, and have glamorous CD covers). Bartoli has too much commercial success and does not have a ‘big' voice.
So, distributing themselves carefully around the upper galleries, the bad boys of the gallery waited for Bartoli's last note to die away before booing and whistling. When Barenboim decided to encore the rondo finale from Cenerentola they started shouting “Poor Rossini”, “Go home”, “Shame on you”, “Not in falsetto this time”, and so on.
Bartoli's many fans started yelling back and the slanging match continued for five minutes or so. Barenboim put a stop to it by telling everyone to shut up – “This is a concert; tutti zitti!” – and Bartoli got on with her encore. By now a veteran of the stage, she played with the coloratura and indicated her throat as if to say, “Now this is hardly falsetto!” to the handful of booers and thousands of cheerers. The applause was overwhelming.
Bartoli certainly won, but it sort of ruined the party. Bartoli and Barenboim were having such fun together, and the audience was delighted to be in their company. Except for the old men who, sadly, can't get to grips with the idea that, as Callas is never going to return to this theatre, they ought just to stay at home and play their worn-out LPs.
Italy's most important newspaper, Il Corriere, reported that someone called out “Vergogna in tempi di crisi!” (Shame on you in this time of crisis!) referring to Bartoli's high fees. However, Gramilano heard “Povera Grisi” in response to the loggionsiti‘s cries of “Povero Rossini”, referring to a group of opera ‘fans' who call themselves after the great Milanese opera singer Giulia Grisi (the first Adalgisa in Bellini's Norma, Elvira in Bellini's I puritani and Norina in Donizetti's Don Pasquale). This group apparently organises booing sessions at La Scala by telephone on the morning of a performance, and then it queues for the cheap day tickets. I wonder if I heard correctly…
Reuters news agency posted an interview with Cecilia Bartoli on 27 December:
Your concert recital earlier this month singing Handel, Rossini and Mozart with Daniel Barenboim conducting at La Scala in Milan, with a chorus of boos and whistles in the second half, was perhaps less of a success?
This story is repeating what happened to Carlos Kleiber, one of the greatest conductors of our lives, also to (Maria) Callas, (Luciano) Pavarotti. The concert was magnificent – Handel, Mozart, Rossini – and then I believe at the very end there was a very Fellinian situation. You think these things don't happen anymore, that they only happen in the movies of (Federico) Fellini but actually, no, this is happening. And it seemed like a parody but the next morning I opened the newspaper and (Silvio) Berlusconi is back (in Italian politics). And so I said, ‘Yes, of course.'
I think living in Italy is difficult but living without Italy is impossible.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.
What disgraceful PIGS these Milanese cat-callers are!! You have to wonder about the mental stability of people who will take the trouble and colossal expense of attending such a concert – with the intention of wrecking it for the performer and the rest of the audience? Worthless career-failure wash-outs, who’ve achieved precisely NOTHING in their pointless lives.
Well, dear Mr. McGowan, I’m afraid this is simply your opinion!
Quite honestly, I don’t think opera houses need singers like Ms. Bartoli.
But if you like the way she sings, then too bad for you!
And please moderate your language, because, I can assure you, it makes you qualify for the position you certainly deserve.
Well it’s my opinion too. If you don’t like La Bartoli, the answer is simple: Stay home. As I would for any singer that I didn’t respect or want to hear. I would not attend with the express purpose of spoiling the pleasure of people who enjoy that singer’s performance. It’s inconsiderate to an extreme, and fundamentally childish and bad-mannered. Shame on them.
I completely agree with Neil McGowan … poor cretins of the scala !!!
@David Contini: May be that Mr. MacGowans opinion sounds a little harsh, but it reflects the opinion of the rest of the world. Anywhere but in Italy, Cecilia is respected for what she does. Not everyone has to love her, of course not, but respect is the least she deserves.
Tell me, why do you dislike her so much? What is her mistake? What makes her different to other singers that you do not boo? Do you do the same to Netrebko? Or DiDonato? Garanca?
Charlotte, your reply is full of understanding, the provincialism of Milan is outrageous, nothing else to add
I heared DiDonato in Handel on the radio a few days ago and thought it would fit right in a Marx-brothers film, I’d think they stopped singing that way a long time ago. I tend to stay away from opera, esp. 19 th century, but la Bartoli in Baroque definitely sounds too tense, too pumped up, unnerving vibrato and baroque ornaments are sung very crudely. I respect her professionality but would not go to a concert if I got paid for it. martin
Yeah, better give the spare ticket so someone, who can appreciate Cecilia’s art -:).
While the language might be a bit harsh, he certainly is right.
Those people obviously only came, to destroy the evening. This is absolutely cruel and rude. No singer, however much you despise her or him, deserves to be screamed at in such manner.
If you don’t like the artist, stay home, if you came for the symphonies and don’t like the singer, keep quiet and respectful.
I DO think, that opera houses need singers like Cecilia Bartoli, cause she brings joy to you in unequaled proportions -:).
….to the screamers: Cecilia reportedly left the stage with a smile on her face and her head up. BRAVA Cecilia !!!!!!
thank you for your excellent review, I was at the loggione and never never felt before in my life so embarassed. and such a lesson of elegancy and allure from Bartoli, as usual.
I’m glad to discover that I’m not the only one who can’t stand La Bartoli’s gargling, breathy singing. However my way of dealing with it is to stay away, wild horses wouldn’t get me to one of her concerts. However the Milanese have always believed in voicing there opinions, and some of those white haired gentlemen probably booed Callas.
Lovely voice, but better heard than seen! Her facial expressions and mannerisms make you want to regurgitate your pasta!
I can name several highly praised artists, who certainly would be in that category , but not her.
Cecilia’s facial expressions are simply an extension of the arias meanings and texts, listen to what she sings…..!!!!
Ma!!! if only pasta could like this. LOL!
Ma!!! if only pasta could sing like this. LOL!
Excuse me but cecilia Bartoli è insuperabile nel repertorio barocco ma dicutibile in Rossini, mozart e soprattutto bellini
Though art like beauty is always in the eye of the beholder boorish behavior is apparent to all and worthy only of condemnation. Only the weak minded and immature resort to boorish behavior because they cannot respond intelligently. Now to the indisputable facts, Cecilia Bartoli has millions of fans, sold millions of CDs, sold out thousands of concerts and won multiple awards for excellence for her artistry from many countries. Cecilia Bartoli has a stunningly beautiful voice and brings out every ounce of emotion in the music she performs not to mention her amazing technical skill. More importantly Cecilia Bartoli has a beautiful spirit, charm, humility and an infectious joy for music. May God continue to bless her abundantly and us through her gifts.
I totally agree -:). As do millions of fans.
@Cathy: A perfect comment to this subject. Thank you for this.
Wasn’t it Paganini who on his violin imitated the braying of a jackass as a commentary on his
Milanese audience and their musical taste .Even Rossini thought his Italian audience rather
primitive .I disagree with Mr.McGowan in his harsh view of the gallery they are after all peasants
reacting the best they know how .
A concert isn’t the same as a new production of an opera that savages the composer’s intent. Some booing is in order for certain productions. But prearranged booing is ridiculous. How can they know the performer won’t be any good? Why should they come to the show if they don’t want to hear her? I don’t go to see Andrea Bocelli because I think he’s a fake. I certainly wouldn’t deliberately attend one of his performances just to yell at him. It’s not my business if some people like how he pretends to sing opera tunes. Bartoli has a right to perform for her fans.These others should shut up or stay home.
Quite true. I actually try to avoid La Scala and choose other opera houses whenever possible. It simply gives me much more pleasure to enjoy both singer and music. If I’m not very impressed by the singer I’d still give him or her a chance and attend second time – maybe they were just having a bad day before. But even if I’m greatly disappointed I would never never show any disrespect, let alone boo like an imbecile.
And you’re so right on Bocelli 🙂
Having been on the receiving end of this myself in 1987, I can completely identify with most of the comments written. The claque not only attempts to destroy all artists who venture into sacred Tebaldi and Callas territory but also ask you for money not to do this. My debut at La Scala in 1983 as Suor Angelica was comparatively incident free. Just a request for money. Alceste with Muti in 1987 was sacred Callas territory. I enjoyed exactly the same booing and cheering as Miss Bartoli. From an artists point of view it isn’t very pleasant but at the same time, if you ride the high surf you’ll come up against these kind of challenges. The public at large know Miss Bartoli to be a wonderful artist and this will enhance her reputation and not damage it. I wonder if Maria Callas herself would be happy that her grey haired fans behaved this way. My own feelings are she would quote Tosca at them ..muori dannato. Rosalind Plowright OBE
Thank you. I love Bartoli’s voice but not her stage presence at all. You, on the other hand, are perfect!
I wish the population of every country (esp the U.S) were so vehemently invested in their opinions about what goes on in an opera house or concert hall. The worst insult of all is indifference. (In Italy, evidently, there is no such thing as indifference.)
Berlioz had quite a low opinion of the Italian music taste and from his observations nothing seems
to have changed especially the observation that most is “surface ” and that the Italians were
impervious to the poetic side of music ,the loggionisti a prime example who it seems would
not recognize great singing even if their lives depended upon it .
Is it really your intention to smear an entire culture and nationality by virtue of the acts of a few? You have ignored the fact that the vast majority of the audience at La Scala who cheered and applauded Cecilia’s performance were in fact Italian. You site Berlioz as an authority on “Italian music taste” and then you over simplify by engaging in the logical fallacy of hasty generalization to support your conclusion. Personally, I treasure the vast artistically creative contribution of the Italian culture and nationality to operatic, chamber, orchestral and chorale music including that in particular of Cecilia Bartoli.
The Berlioz comment was not a smear as you interpret it , but a musical observation
neither good nor bad- I find Ms. Bartoli entertaining to a point and you must admit
her audience comes to hear her dazzle them with technique and should she ever
delve deeply into any work after the fashion of the great Ewa Podles the Bartoli
audiences waits patiently until she is done and is back on” track.” Perhaps it is
just the opera audience who really have little to do with music or singing other
than wait for a high “e;” or a bellowed high “c”. No one is questioning the creative
contribution to the world by Italian artists but while giving us a Bartoli somehow
we also get a Bocelli……..
Although this is considered part of ‘ tradition’ in Italy I find it appalling. If those old guys don’t like her, they should stay home.
If you don’t like Bartoli, stay at home!! So simple!!