Renée Fleming described it as the worst night of her operatic life, after Celeste Aida Roberto Alagna gave a military salute and walked off stage, Katia Ricciarelli quit the opera house refusing to come back, and Callas, Pavarotti, Verrett, Caballé and many others have all been on the receiving end. Being booed by the loggionisti at Milan's Teatro alla Scala can be thought of as a rite of passage, as Cecilia Bartoli found out last Monday, but does it have to be that way?
While the hecklers of the upper gallery have become a laughing-stock abroad (and amongst most Italian opera-goers) it doesn't distract from the fact that a singer, however famous, is made from skin and bone like the rest of us. Shouting down politicians is often justifiable and another matter entirely, but insulting an artist as they perform is cruel, to say the least. A singer, courageously baring some of the essence of their being in front of thousands of people, cannot fail to be emotively affected by these disturbances: even if the head is saying that there are only a handful of idiots making a premeditated attack, the violence of the act must leave a scar, however tiny, in the heart.
Rosalind Plowright explains her experience at the hands of the claque (which mercifully no longer exists) and the element of the loggionisti who want to save La Scala from the peril of an imminent downfall.
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 kinds 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
Photo: Rosalind Plowright in Alceste at La Scala in 1987 with director/designer Pier Luigi Pizzi
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.