93-year-old Luisa Mandelli, who sixty years ago was the Annina in Luchino Visconti's La traviata with Maria Callas, was due to perform the same role under the baton of Daniel Barenboim this month.
Was… unfortunately things didn't go as planned.
As a Wagner fan, Mandelli attended many of the performances conducted by Barenboim during the 200th Anniversary celebrations in 2013. They met at the stage door so often, in fact, that Barenboim had the charming idea of asking her to reprise her Annina that she'd sung at La Scala in 1955. What an idea.. what a coup!
For months Mandelli worked to get her voice into shape and visitors to the Verdi Retirement Home for Musicians in Milan could hear her exercising by herself, or with an accompanist from La Scala, at one of the home's many grand pianos.
At 93, Mandelli is certainly spritely and astute, but apparently no one in Berlin had thought that shiny floors, a large step and various other elements of the set and staging could be difficult, if not dangerous, for someone of her age, and evidently no one wanted to make changes to accommodate her for the one performance, which was to have been tonight, 19 December.
Mandelli only encountered Barenboim once in his office; his substitute conducted the rehearsals as the Maestro was ill. Barenboim told her that he couldn't take the risk of her injuring herself on stage, gave her a hug, and told her she could return to Milan. And so she did, much of the trip being at her own expense.
She has nothing but praise for the wardrobe department, who tried to alter her costume to make it easier for her to see the floor, but has little time for Barenboim's collaborators: “Maestro is surrounded by the wrong people!”.
She left the theatre. No one said a thank you or a goodbye. But, as she says,
At least I left with my head held high!
NB An earlier version of this post reported that none of the expenses of the trip were covered. In fact, Berlin paid for her plane flight and hotel, but the return trip to Rome airport, restaurants, taxis and so on – which would have been covered by her performance fee – were not reimbursed.
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.
Lousy treatment, for sure. As they say and as I hope, “What goes around, comes around.” I have been fortunate enough to have lived long enough to actually see that happen–several times.
Chi imperiva alla Direzione del Teatro di scusarsi e di dire alla Signora mandelli di restare come ospite di riguardo, visto che fare qualche piccolo cambiamento nella scenografia sembrava un’impresa impossibile?
Un mazzo di fiori, una scatola di dolci e un biglietto di scuse e ringraziamenti? Il minimo per una Signora della sua età!
che piccola umanità!
bello il commento finale della Signora Mandelli:
“At least I left with my head held high!”
Well that could have been handled better! She has all our sympathy.
How very sad! They should at least refund her out-of-pocket expenses. The great city of Berlin can well afford such trifling sum but grand humanitarian gesture to compensate for the theatre’s own ineptitude in not foreseeing and catering for this issue.
Barenboim gave her only a hug? What a clown.
If this really is true, it is a disgrace. What a rare moment it would have been for the audience to experience this historical figure on stage. Lack of respect for tradition. When the great Renata Tebaldi showed up in the audience at the Met, I remember clearly the excitement … The place would have gone crazy had someone figured out how to get her on stage as an ” extra”.
What a way to treat a great artist like Luisa Mandelli … not a word of thanks … quite shameful!
Hopefully someone will see this and at least cover Mme Annina’s costs along with her time invested. This is a shabby way to treat someone of this status.
This is typically for mr. Barenboim- very inhuman and bad behaviour!!!
This is just shameful. Older people often get depressed, feel overlooked and ignored, and forgotten by society. What a missed opportunity for the younger singers in the production and for the audience…and really, it’s Annina…she doesn’t run around the stage or do cartwheels…and to not cover her expenses…And Barenboim should consider that he too will be ‘put out to pasture’ soon enough…shame shame shame.
*If* all the events as presented are true (which, as an opera singer who has had to deal with a fair share of nastiness in this business wouldn’t surprise me), this story is not only sad: it is appalling and utterly unacceptable!
It is high time that this type of behaviour be publicly exposed, reprimanded and vanished.
Too many people in positions of power in opera theaters in Europe in general, but in Germany, in particular, act like absolute despotic, sociopathic tyrants. Beyond failing to show consideration for artists (which is, apparently, too much to expect), they also fail to show the most minimum display of good manners and civility. And the culprits seem to forget that they are not ancient feudal lords, plantation owners, or even modern-day CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies, but *public servants* employed by our government and supported by our taxes!
In fairness, Paula, he probably is unaware that this happened, and would never find time to read this blog, or any other.
It was ever thus.
The Met treated Tebaldi very shabbily at the end of her career and some others as well. Look how J. Volpe treated Pavarotti when P. was ill and unable to perform. What about the now revered R. Bing and countless singers including Callas, herself?
The final point is: not ENOUGH people care and certainly not enough people with money.
Real lack of consideration for
What an absolute heartless son of a bitch! Forget the stage direction for one night and have a few well built male supers guide her. Alicia Alanso danced beyond legally blind because she had partners guiding her.
Maybe her voice and body would have been shaky but I’m certain she’d have brought something wonderful to the stage. Something magical and life affirming was surely missed by her absence. And what else do we go to the theater for but to witness the triumph of spirit?
Thanks for the reminder of those Alicia Alonso performances. The whole thing is so sad and shows lack of respect for the heritage of this work, to say nothing of a missed opportunuty. Wouldn’t a frail Annina have made Violetta’s situation even more poignant?
First thing I would like to mention is that Luisa Mandelli sings the Boy Page on the Callas / Gobbi recording of Rigoletto and ANNINA on the Stella / di Stefano / Gobbi recording of La Traviata. It is worth listening to her, out of respect for the unpleasant incident with Barenboim. Small parts and a good voice.
Second thing is, Barenboim. As a conductor, I have never liked him. Happily, I am not the only one with this opinion. Listen to his TWICE recorded Don Giovanni and you’ll understand and realize how weak he is. He is a fabulous pianist and sensitive piano interpreter, but NO conductor. Or, not a GOOD one.
As a person, he is on the verge of UNBEARABLE. To bring an old respectable and respected lady all the way to Berlin and let her go, on her her own expense, shows exactly his typical Jewish Hutzpah !!!!! Veteran musicians that worked with him were / are mostly unhappy . It seems that his Public Relations department works extra hours to promote his weak “conducting” abilities. He is NOT a Klemperer (his mentor), a Karajan, a Solti, a Maazel, or a Abbado. Just a shady person that lies unpleasantly and relentlessly in their shadow.
The “Jewish” hutzpah was typical of the type of bigotry that still exists. He is a dreadful person from what I’ve heard, but I’ve known dreadful (and good) people of all religions and backgrounds. I’ll restrain myself and say no more.