Instead of lounging in the pressroom with glass of something bubbly in my hand during the opening of La Scala’s season, I found myself in the wings holding a mic and trying to describe – and translate – what was going on around me.
The idea for this first live backstage video stream came from Silvia Farina, who is responsible for La Scala’s digital adventures, and was with me onstage. The world’s most famous opera house has been quickly catching up in the social media sphere, and this is the latest of a series of steps to open its doors to an even wider public. So for Deborah Warner’s new production of Fidelio, which is Daniel Barenboim’s last production as the theatre’s Musical Director, there were three cameras backstage throughout the opera, and before, after and during the interval Silvia and I babbled into our Sennheisers and interviewed some of the figures indispensable for making it all happen.
I’m used to being backstage having always worked in the theatre, but this was quite special. The opening of the Opera and Ballet season at the Milanese theatre is always a grand occasion, with as much drama outside the theatre (protesters) and in the foyer (20 TV crews clamouring to interview politicians and assorted VIPs) as on the stage. But even on stage there was more drama than usual.
Apart from the cameras and operators for the backstage streaming clogging up the arteries, towards the end of the second act various theatre workers, many now changed out of their working clothes, were assembling on the sides of the stage ready to attend the buffet which is traditionally offered to the theatre workers in the scene dock at the back of the stage. This lead to the most surreal experience of watching Florestan wasting away in his prison cell while there was the smell of crepes wafting from behind the cyc.
With the full chorus, extras and all the soloists on stage for the final act, the 45 stagehands, 55 technicians, firefighting crew, and various theatre personnel scattered in the wings, the stage was already chock-a-block. When the curtain came down – to triumphant applause – the creative team arrived for their curtain call, followed by the whole orchestra and Daniel Barenboim who, rightly, thinks they should be seen as well as heard on the most important evening of the theatre’s calendar.
The place was packed. The muffled cheering from the other side of the tabs mixed with the yelled instructions from stage management as the full orchestra with their instruments clambered over the polystyrene cement-blocks and foam rubber mud that made up the set. As the tabs flew upward, there was the expected roar from the audience but all those backstage looked at the TV monitors or glimpsed between the proscenium and the beginning of the set with wide-eyes and broad smiles, as though they were witnessing it all for the first time.
On this occasion however, several thousand others were witnessing it too, truly for the very first time, as La Scala’s first ever live backstage streaming came to an end.
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.