Young soprano Benedetta Torre will be Susanna in the revival of Giorgio Strehler's renowned production of Le nozze di Figaro at La Scala in Milan, which opens tonight, 30 September 2024.
Torre, who is not yet 30, made an unplanned debut at La Scala two years ago when she was covering Adina in L'Elisir d'amore and found herself taking over the role when the intended soprano had to cancel. It was a role that she sang for the first time at Teatro Carlo Felice in her hometown, Genoa, in 2017.
I took my first steps in my city's opera house when I was still at secondary school, so it's home. At the same time, I feel greater pressure to perform well artistically so as not to disappoint the Genoese audience.
It was also a role that took her to Glyndebourne in 2019.
Now she is returning to La Scala in one of the most challenging roles in the repertoire.
From a physical point of view, it's an extremely challenging role. During the performance you must run all over the place and deal with all sorts of props – practically everything is in Susanna's hands and she's almost always on stage. However, that aspect of the role is also stimulating. I love acting and, in this case, there's no respite. The ability to move and act on stage is crucial and then, from a musical perspective, I have the satisfaction of a beautifully persuasive aria.
Who is your Susanna?
My Susanna is just as Da Ponte portrayed her: not just any servant, but a remarkable governess, who seems able to do anything! She's resourceful, candid, intelligent, and astute, but is always guided by great inner virtue and solid integrity, which is evident in the sweetness of her relationship with Figaro.
Giorgio Strehler's 1981 production with Ezio Frigerio's sets and Franca Squarciapino's costumes has become a touchstone for how Le nozze di Figaro can be staged.
The stage set is magnificent, as are the costumes. We're immersed in a 1700s atmosphere that is splendid but not at all stultified! Great care has been taken over relationships between characters: not a single gesture or movement has been left to chance, and you can feel the genuine stagecraft which Strehler passed down to us in this staging. The play on perspective in the stage set and, even more than that, the play with lighting as the opera unfolds, creating the impression of following the natural movement of the sun, are wonderful. As we know, everything in Le nozze di Figaro takes place in a single day!
There is also an outstanding creative team behind the current revival.
The talented Luca Micheletti and I are back on stage together for the second time as Figaro and Susanna. Last time, in [Jonathan] Miller's production in Florence, we were absolutely on the same wavelength, and it's the same again here at La Scala.
It's an honour and a source of great pride for me to be singing alongside one of my childhood idols, Ildebrando D'Arcangelo as the Count, a legendary figure, particularly in this repertoire.
Then there are all my other amazing colleagues, who are not only great artists but also lovely people. From the outset, Maestro Orozco-Estrada created a great working relationship with the whole team, honouring Mozart's style from a musical perspective, and working to make everything go ahead perfectly on stage.
And so you are back, singing at La Scala.
It's a unique sensation. From this perspective, it's probably the most impressive opera house to sing in because of its long history and, I might add, because I'm Italian. Just thinking about the great singers of the past who have performed on its stage makes me tingle with excitement: a mix of responsibility and pride.
Who are some of your opera heroes?
Amongst the sopranos of the past, I have to mention Maria Callas for her uniqueness as an artist and musician, but the same applies to Renata Scotto, perhaps one of the most complete singers ever. Then, I might mention Leyla Gencer, Mirella Freni… and today, too, there are exceptional colleagues, including two Italians of whom we're so proud – Rosa Feola and Eleonora Buratto – and, of course, we have to admire the amazing ability and versatility of Anna Netrebko.
My teacher is Barbara Frittoli, and I've always admired her velvet tone, as well as the fact that she's an exceptional musician.
Barbara Frittoli, who was a notable Countess in Strehler's Figaro.
Studying a role with her is thorough work, from voice and interpretation to style, including her amazing experience on stage, thanks to which she can always give me the best advice.
How do you study new roles with Barbara?
When I study a role, I start by listening to the best edition of the opera, if there is one, and then I move on to study the score in depth on my own. After I've memorised and worked on it a bit, I go to Barbara and we study together, with a pianist always there to accompany my singing. If it's a specialised role, I try to work on it more in depth stylistically, with a pianist who has expertise in that specific repertoire.
You are still in your twenties, and exciting opportunities are opening up. However, many young singers disappear after a few years at the top.
It's definitely advisable to be careful with roles, choosing cautiously and considering one's voice from a long-term perspective, because one of the dangers is to burn oneself out with operas before being ready, particularly in contexts that are too demanding.
Then I think it's important to keep an eye on the psychological and emotional sphere, which we often neglect. It's only too easy to be overcome by responsibility and anxiety. It's a performative environment and it's normal to have to deal with such discomfort, particularly when we're young and have to “hold our own” and not disappoint those who have believed in us. It's important to normalise it all and be conscious and self-aware, to work on ourselves in that direction.
What an insightful answer!
What are your career highlights that spring to mind?
I've had the honour of singing in the Mozart Requiem conducted by Maestro Riccardo Muti with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Muti, the original conductor for the 1981 Figaro.
Then there is my first Nozze di Figaro in costume for Miller's legendary staging at Teatro della Pergola, where this opera effectively made its Italian debut in 1788 for the Festival del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. Then there was Emma Dante's staging of La Bohème at Teatro San Carlo in Naples, two years ago, which was perfect from a choreographic point of view, allowing me to tease out a very genuine Musetta, which gave me a great deal of satisfaction. Then, of course, my debut at La Scala with L'elisir d'amore, an unforgettable thrill, and I hope that this upcoming Nozze di Figaro will become yet another highlight. It's a dream for me to be singing in this role at La Scala!
Yet right at the point that all these projects were taking off you saw multiple cancellations in your diary as Covid hit.
It was terrible. I felt a great sense of bewilderment and, above all, it was a situation which really made us realise that nothing can be taken for granted and that normality might not be “normal” in the way we mean. But I tried not to get too depressed, and to organise my time to work on technique, finish studying some roles that I was working on, and other things too. I had so much time on my hands and tried to make the most of it, as best I could. The only consolation was that we were all in the same boat and couldn't do anything about it. As you know, our sector suffered a lot.
So what is coming up for Benedetta Torre?
I'll have the honour of taking part in the celebrations for Puccini's 100th anniversary as Lauretta in Gianni Schicchi, alongside Nicola Alaimo in the title role and the great Elena Zilio as Zita, amongst others. Then I'll be making my debut as Ilia in Idomeneo at Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa. I'll also have another new role, a belcanto one this time, as Adalgisa in Norma at the Opéra National du Rhin in Strasbourg.
In bocca al lupo!
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.