Anna Netrebko opens the new season at La Scala – as each year, on 7 December – as Tosca. It will be her fourth time in what is always a prestigious occasion (Italy's President and other dignitaries will be present) after heading new productions of Andrea Chénier, Giovanna d'Arco, and Don Giovanni. With the ultra-critical ‘loggionisiti' watching over from the gods, it is always something of a challenge.
Challenge is the right word. There have been many exciting evenings in my life on stage, but none is comparable to the pressure and magnificence of La Scala's opening. You never get used to it. Each time is a challenge, although it gives me strength to have Maestro Chailly on the podium again. As for me, I will gather all my experience together to try to be the Tosca that Puccini would have wanted.
Netrebko made her role debut as Tosca at the Metropolitan in New York last year.
I must confess that at first I didn't find her a sympathetic character: too hysterical, too over the top, too much the diva. All those clichés… The risk of overstepping the line and making her ridiculous is great. But, singing it night after night, I began to appreciate her. Tosca is a diva, but she is also a woman – jealous and possessive, like anyone in love. If Yusif [her husband, the tenor Yusif Eyvazov] looked at someone else, it wouldn't end well! The only woman I'll let him look at is the Queen of Spades, in the production he'll sing in at the Met the day after my opening in Milan.
Netrebko's Cavaradossi at the Met was Eyvazov; at La Scala, he will be sung by Francesco Meli.
With Yusif, we really kissed. It always happens when we find ourselves on stage, being that in opera the soprano loves the tenor, so we take advantage of it! With Francesco, of course, it will not be like that, but Tosca knows how to pretend… she is a showwoman! Joking apart, I'm always happy to work again with old friends, like Francesco and Luca Salsi, whose presence makes even Scarpia likeable. But that's not the story, so I'll make sure he finishes badly!
Everyone sings Tosca, but I've seen very few good ones… Callas's, Kabaivanska's. Kabaivanska was magnificent with both Pavarotti at the Rome Opera and with Domingo in De Bosio's film. Raina is a role model for me.
My Tosca will seem traditional but will have a contemporary core. What will make the difference is the extreme realism that the director is using to let the audience of today have reactions that mirror those of the audience when it was first seen.
For love, Tosca is ready for everything: to betray, to kill, to die. But she is also the victim of the cruellest sexual blackmail, that of a man who uses his power to harm. It has always happened, even if today, fortunately, more and more women are rebelling.
Under the silk cloak, a dagger is hidden waiting to be driven into the body of her predator. She stabs him to defend herself, with all her anger, and at La Scala it will be a very violent and realistic scene.
Netrebko finds aspects of Tosca's behaviour bemusing.
She can be narrow-minded – she doesn't want to be kissed in front of the statue of the Madonna, even though she is then convinced. I, however, am a convinced atheist, so I'm not like her in this respect.
Davide Livermore is directing the production with sets by Giò Forma and costumes by Gianluca Falaschi.
Livermore wants to honour Puccini's cinematographic approach in his musical language, with his fast-paced and immediately appealing melodies. It is a blockbuster of a Tosca, a thriller which doesn't let up, with special effects, details in close-ups, continuous changes of scenery and perspective.
Vissi d'arte, vissi d'amore… “I lived for art, I lived for love”?
I don't live in the past tense. I am young, so art and love for me are combined in the present.
Anna Netrebko was talking with the Corriere della Sera
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.