Chénier is not only a masterpiece of verismo, but it mirrors many contrasting aspects that preceded the music of the 20th century: there's Wagner, with echoes of the prelude of Tristan; there is Mahler, in the striking modernity of the orchestration; there is Puccini, who was certainly influenced when writing his Tosca four years later…
Riccardo Chailly has said that he doesn't want applause during the acts.
[The arias] were conceived in a new way, without interruption. Applauding would mean breaking the dramatic rhythm imposed by the musical flow and Illica's magnificent libretto.
[The opera was] prophetic from the historical point of view as two years later there were riots in Milan.
In 1898, when serious riots broke out in Milan over high food prices, the Italian government declared a state of siege in the city. General Bava-Beccaris ordered his soldiers to fire on demonstrators and 80 people were killed and 450 wounded.
The opera returns to La Scala after more than three decades.
In 1985, there was a revival of the ‘83 production with Carreras in the role of the revolutionary poet, Cappuccilli as Gérard, and Anna Tomowa-Sintow as Magdalene. 32 years have passed, which are too many for a work like this. But it is part of that absurd elimination of verismo opera, which is considered a less “noble” form of opera. In fact, the opposite is true: verismo looked forward, anticipating many forms, even that of cinema.
The cast for 2017?
His is an important voice. Chénier does not require powerful notes but variable ones, and on this we have done a great job together. Listening to him with Anna in the Act Four duet is profoundly moving.
The approach is different this time around?
Thirty years of intense musical activity changes the way you look at things. My experiences in Amsterdam, Berlin, Leipzig, my intense involvement with the music of Richard Strauss, Mahler, Zemlinsky… all this creates new viewpoints, even if I'm unaware of them. I took up Giordano's score as though it were for the first time, and I studied it and reinterpreted it in a totally new way. And it was the same for almost all the members of the orchestra; only eight remain of those who played it in the ‘80s.
Next year marks 40 years of Chailly's musical life at La Scala.
My first time [at La Scala] was in 1978 with I Masnadieri. I was 25-years-old. Abbado phoned me in Palermo, where I was to open the season with Prokofiev's The Fiery Angel. Gavazzeni was sick, and he asked me to replace him. It was hard to say no to Claudio, and so I arrived at La Scala with great apprehension but knowing that I'd find myself in front of a friendly orchestra, as I had already worked with them as Abbado's assistant. Since then, even while working around Europe with various symphony orchestras, I've always returned to La Scala, and always received a warm welcome. I have conducted many of Verdi and Puccini's works here, and those, with the operas of Rossini, continue to be the cornerstones of our repertoire.
I made the decision to open the season at La Scala with the Italian repertoire, especially the lesser-known titles. It is a heritage that deserves attention, especially from a theatre like ours. As for European works, they will always have an important place in our programming.
And the future?
We have a responsibility to stage contemporary opera, which is the only way to keep the tradition alive and to invigorate it with new ideas. Over the last forty years I've seen the public mature and the audience today is more knowledgeable and prepared. Obviously, young people are naturally more open to accept new proposals. They are tomorrow's public.
Taken from an interview in Il corriere della sera by Giuseppina Manin
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.