At 74, after many years away from the stage, and often from singing (the wear and tear on her voice means that even singing a popular song on TV can lead to surprising results), Katia Ricciarelli returns to opera in Cavalleria Rusticana.
It was Cecilia Gasdia, now intendant of Verona's Arena, who convinced her. It will be paired with Pagliacci, and film director Gabriele Muccino's new productions will open the summer opera season.
I think she must have put something in the tortelli we were eating…
I suddenly felt the need to sing an opera, but not one I'd already sung, so I could say: I can still do it. I'd always dreamed of singing Cavalleria, though instead of Santuzza I will be Lucia, Turiddu's mother, who knows that her son will end up badly.
It takes art to perform a cameo. You know a great chef by how he makes scrambled eggs. Anyway, I'm good at cameos – in Come una madre, the series recently broadcast on television, I played a former opera diva who'd become a tramp. It was a small part but a successful one.
It will be director Muccino's first time directing an opera.
I'm curious to see what he'll do. Film directors are attracted to opera, but the risk is that they will be puzzled by opera's inconsistency: we sing “Andiam, andiam” and yet we stay where we are. A film set is very different. On the other hand, there is more attention to acting and making the characters believable. A good challenge for him and for me.
Ricciarelli first sang at the Arena in July 1973 in Simon Boccanegra with Piero Cuppuccilli.
There were flames lit around the set and I was ready, standing on a rock, when it started to rain. We thought it would be cancelled, but we waited, the clouds passed, and we performed the opera.
I haven't missed opera and I have no regrets. There are many things to do, and I do them: I teach, I'm in juries for competitions, I walk the dog, I act in movies and TV… The singer's craft is wonderful, but what stress! All it takes is one off-note and to ruin the performance. I've sung Traviata many times but I've never sung that treacherous E-flat – Verdi didn't write it, so why risk it?
With typical Ricciarelli tact, she comments on the recently departed Mirella Freni:
Mirella was a great singer, but not a diva. I am. I think I can say that. A diva is someone who even in slippers and curlers radiates an aura and makes heads turn. When I die, you can write, “She was the last diva.”
She also doesn't think that there are divas on the rise:
I can't see new divas even with a telescope. It's the fault of the directors too. How can you dress Netrebko in that awful costume for the second act of Tosca at La Scala. Woman of a certain age shouldn't show their naked arms. A diva would have refused.
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.