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.