Thursday, January 21, 2016

Onegin and the Weight of Time Past

Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin
Royal Opera House, London
January 2, 2015

The fleeting, haughty Onegin on the prowl.
Photo credit: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian
The fourth and final stop in our holiday season opera tourism circuit was London, to catch the great Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Eugene Onegin singing in his native Russian at the Royal Opera House. And while our favorite Siberian villain baritone was the decisive factor for this trip (even more so after seeing him in the very emotional Trovatore at the Met), we were positively surprised by the inventiveness of the direction as well as by the rest of the cast.

Tatyana in her reading room.
Photo credit: ROH
A co-production of the Royal Opera House, the Fondazione Teatro Regio di Torino and Opera Australia, this Onegin realized the directorial vision of ROH’s own Kasper Holten. It was one of the most clever and thought-provoking stagings I’ve seen. Holten’s Onegin emphasizes many of the core themes of the opera including reflections on the passage of time, the pervasive nature of nostalgia, and the inevitable consequences of one’s wrong choices. It was simple yet effective, intellectual yet very moving at the same time.

The fateful encounters of our youth.
Photo credit: ROH
The straightforward and very versatile sets consisted primarily of a grand partition with four floor-to-ceiling doors that could open up onto abstract projections of the countryside in fall, winter and spring as the scene required or else serve as an element in Prince Gremin’s palace in the final scenes. Recessed features in the great wall also housed bookcases. After all, books play an important role in Tatyana’s young life as a passionate reader, and will inform many of her actions.

While things start simple in this production, elements from one scene to the next begin to accumulate. Tatyana’s books begin strewn across the floor. The servants pick them up. She goes and scatters them all over the place again. And there they remain. As does the rest of the detritus from all intervening scenes, including bails of hay from the harvest, fallen tree branches, cabinet doors ripped from their hinges, even Lensky’s corpse – yes poor Michael Fabiano had to lie there motionless after his defeat in the duel for the last 45 minutes of the opera or so. Unfortunate soul!

Detritus of previous scenes clutter the foreground at the ball.
Photo credit: ROH
These unusual yet transparent directorial decisions all added up to a very clear take on the material: with the passing of time the decisions we make have consequences that we must forever live with. The passage of time was also emphasized by the decision to have many of the early scenes acted out by younger versions of the Tatyana and Onegin characters played by dancers while the singers looked wistfully upon the disingenuousness of their prior selves and seem to sing their roles in a tone of regretful nostalgia – a reflexive commentary on the paths they went down, which squares up with the main lines of the story.

Dancers reenact the past as their alter egos look on.
Photo credi: ROH
The use of costumes to identify characters over time was also particularly charged. The red dress that Tatyana continues to sport under her princess coat right up to the end suggests that maybe underneath her newfound glitz she has not changed so much. Key events of the opera leave a trail on stage, as well as below the surface of subtle costuming decisions, as a memento of the long lasting impact of certain moments in the characters’ lives. The past is inescapable and our decisions and transgressions, the messes we make and the books we read stick with us. They clutter the brave new world we are eventually forced to inhabit. They make us who we are. They either hinder or inform us – humbling reflections as we embrace a new year, look back at the one just past and put forth our resolutions for the one ahead.

Onegin is about to make the mistake of his life.
Photo credit: ROH
Tchaikovsky’s score under the baton of maestro Semyon Bychkov was more romantic and heart wrenching than ever. As to the cast, it was truly excellent throughout without a single weak link. Dmitri Hvorostovsky in the title role was as expected seductive, smooth and haughty, with his velvety baritone more fluid than usual in his native Russian. However, Dmitri’s rendition of Onegin was not as gut-stirring as I was hoping for. True that the last time I saw him live it was for his comeback at the Met when he was showered by love and support from the public and his colleagues alike, so there was a whole different emotional vibe surrounding him and possibly in his own performance, too.

Lensky woos his lady love.
Photo credit: ROH
The singer who truly had me head over heels was tenor Michael Fabiano in his ROH debut with the role of the poet Lensky. While I’ve heard good things about this American tenor (who was also the recipient of the Richard Tucker award in 2014), I was not prepared for such soaring, intense, ardent passion. Fabiano was the quintessential young idealistic poet in love and had so much vocal charisma that I was truly upset to see him die so early in the opera, I wanted to hear way more from him (and having him lie dead on stage until the end did not help!).  

I am happy to report that the main takeaway of our little holiday opera tourism is that the tenor famine is officially over. Russell Thomas (as Pollione in Norma), Francesco Meli (as Carlo in Giovanna D’Arco) and now Michael Fabiano convinced me that there are still tenors out there capable of sounding powerfully manly yet goosebump-inducing and swooningly moving. Thank goodness as lately I was starting to lose hope.

Tatyana relives the letter she once wrote.
Photo credit: ROH
Australian soprano Nicole Car was a fresh and lyric Tatyana with an effortless beautiful sound. Acting-wise I found her more convincing when she portrayed the younger Tatyana in love compared to the older wiser version that came across as more stiff and confused than disdainful and mature. Bass-baritone Ferruccio Furlanetto as Prince Gremin was magnificent, with a deep seductive instrument and a very moving rendition of the older soldier who rediscovered the joys of love with the young Tatyana. It was one of those magic operatic moments when time stopped and everybody held their breath.

Prince Gremin with his fountain of youth.
Photo credit: ROH
Even the Royal Opera House itself seems to be going through a similar upheaval at the moment, grappling with the detritus of its past in this space. Their home at Covent Garden is breathtakingly gorgeous but also seemingly very messy. The common areas were all very stressful to navigate, definitely poorly organized and clearly not capacious enough to comfortably accommodate the crowds. As far as we can tell, the company recently started extensive renovation works, though it is unclear whether the discomfort we experienced was due to the works or rather the works are aimed at fixing the issue. In any event I definitely look forward to visiting the ROH again to check out how the ambitious renovation will solve the problem in the future.

– Lei & Lui

Younger Onegin enacts years of intervening debauchery while older Onegin watches.
Photo credit: ROH
The men prepare for their duel.
Photo credit: ROH
Princess Tatyana spurns her desired lover.
Photo credit: ROH
When Tatyana knew young love.
Photo credit: ROH

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Waltzing Away the New Year in Vienna

Die Fledermaus
Operetta by Johann Strauss
Volksoper, Vienna, Austria
December 31, 2015

Orlofsky's Ball
Photo credit: Volksoper
Lei: The third stop this holiday season in our opera tourism series is Die Fledermaus at Vienna’s Volksoper – on New Year’s Eve, no less. And yes, with back-to-back tickets for a gala Viennese ball immediately after the opera. One must do things right or not at all.

Lui: Nothing says New Year’s Eve quite like the effervescent waltzes of Strauss’s operetta Die Fledermaus. This was our third Fledermaus in a little over a year, but our first entirely in the original German. And if there’s one place where you think they might know where to do it right, it is definitely here: in Vienna. What a city. Culturally it is hard to beat. It is full of great art and museums. And there is music, whether classical or otherwise everywhere. The opera-going experience is unique as well.

Die Volksoper all lit up for the new year
Photo credit: Allegri con Fuoco
Lei: The opera-for-the-people theater was our backup plan (the Wiener Staatsoper was sold out), and although it looked and felt less glamorous, grand and centrally located than the main Vienna opera house, it was nevertheless very well suited for an operetta like Die Fledermaus. The Volksoper is pretty intimate and very unfussy in terms of its décor yet very civilized on the things that matter: there’s a coat check on every floor and the main foyer is nicely decorated and serves champagne minions. Also, acoustics and views were excellent, even in our nosebleed seats. The only flaw to me were the English supertitles that translated the arias verbatim but only summarized the general gist of the dialogue-heavy interludes, which forced non-German speakers to miss out big time on the many jokes (and we could tell they were good ones judging by the many belly laughs that frequently cascaded through the audience).

Chacun à son goût
Photo credit: Volksoper
Lui: After having only just recently enjoyed an English adaption at the Met, in the original German the operetta seemed to flow right along. One of the most glaring differences in seeing the original libretto performed was the different take on the Prince Orlovsky character. His key Chacun à son goût aria has a decidedly sadistic bent to it as it was originally conceived. He boasts of poor hospitality skills. He forces his guests to drink massive amounts of vodka and if they can’t keep up he unapologetically vows to throw the bottle at their head. When asked why he is such an insensitive, inconsiderate, cruel jerk, in the German version of the libretto his response is, “Don’t ask me why I behave like I do, just understand: Chacun à son goût!” To each his own. He’s going to do whatever he wants, so suck it up. He is bored and ennui ridden and so he unleashes himself on his guests for his own divertissement.

In the English adaptation performed in the most recent production at the Met they tidy up this little bit of princely barbarism and turn him into an advocate for radical individualism and self expression. The text sung by the Met’s Orlovsky homilizes his commitment to creating an atmosphere at his parties in which everyone feels at ease to be whomever they please. Chacun à son goût! In an entirely different interpretation of the “to each his own” motto, the Orlovsky’s cruel frat boy tendencies have been whitewashed and he becomes a quainter feel good character.

Two fake Frenchmen
Photo credit: Volksoper
On the same note, whereas the Met’s adaptation manages to foil the bat’s plans and turn the whole debacle into a comedy of remarriage between the temporarily estranged Eisenstein couple, the Volksoper’s take on the ending emphasizes the successful completion of the revenge of the bat. A very subtle shift that leaves you with a different feeling at the end of the night. And it runs deeper than just casting. When you play the Eisensteins (Jorg Schneider and Melba Ramos) as a couple awash in the doldrums of middle age and Herr von Eisenstein in particular as a dirty old man, then the whole trajectory of the plot takes on a different tone. The final image the Volksoper leaves us with is that of an only slightly repentant old lecher who is forced to publicly acknowledge the mistakes he was duped into making by the sly Dr. Falke (Marco Di Sapia) and grant the bat satisfaction in his revenge. There is little of the reconciliation between the Eisensteins that makes for a much more uplifting ending: the couple in their mid-marriage crisis rediscovers love. The German take leaves us where we began only with their faults revealed to the world.

The Hungarian countess makes her entrance
Photo credit: Volksoper
Lei: This was my first “authentic” Die Fledermaus as in NYC so far I’ve only seen various degrees of English bastardizations of it. When fully performed in its original German, in this articulation Strauss’ operetta flows way better since the musicality of the language matches the score and also moves much faster, particularly when compared to the Met’s production that extended the show by almost another hour with its lengthy dialogues. Sure the Volksopera’s sets were pretty traditional and far less spectacular than the Met’s lavish production, however the overall performance was no less entertaining for that reason. Orchestra led by maestro Rudolf Bibl was tight and energetic and captivating, making the delicious tunes as danceable and enjoyable as ever. Singers were solid and obviously all very comfortable in their parts and had terrific comic chops, the most endearing aspect, however, was to perceive how the Viennese public so obviously adored this operetta, responding with warmth to uber-familiar musical numbers and jokes.

Die Fledermaus unwinds his revenge
Photo credit: Volksoper
Lui: The cast was solid. In the role of Alfred, Vincent Shirrmacher was particularly pleasurable. He has a solid tenor voice and an infectiously flamboyant, playful stage presence. His coiffure and facial expressions lent him the air of a caricature or cartoon character. He was a lot of fun to watch.

Einsentein and his infamous gold watch
Photo credit: Volksoper
Lei: I particularly enjoyed mezzo Martina Mikelić as Prince Orlofsky. Not only was her vocal delivery the perfect mix of regal flair and princely ennui, but her stage presence was sensational. Tall and lanky, with her long hair in a low ponytail, tight black pants, knee high boots and a fabulous embroidered robe, she moved on the stage as true royalty and dominated each scene she was in.
A joyously cynical finale
Photo credit: Volksoper

Lui: Our neighbor during the opera was a passionate local gentleman by the name of Peter – a retired gardener, he seemed to indicate in his broken English – who was there with his elderly mother. He was a big fan of Strauss and conducted along with the orchestra during all of the big set piece waltzes, laughed exuberantly with the comic interludes and mimed all the key plot points for us. He vaunted of having seen the opera at least twenty times and knew all of the scenes by heart. His joy was infectious and during the intermissions he told us a barrage of Austrian drinking jokes in colorful German – or so we were told by other opera goers equally captivated by his method of delivery that tended toward the Chaplin-esque. If only my German was good enough to catch their meaning. One of the beats I did catch was that when Peter’s mother is around, Peter is in prison with his hands cuffed. Without his mother, Peter is free! Peter die schauspieler! Indeed.  

Die lovely Volksoper
Photo credit: Allegri con Fuoco
Lei: It was a colorful, joyous evening. The festive spirit was in the air. Even despite its sadistic, less feel good slant, with all its bubbly tunes and bouncy waltzes, Die Fledermaus is a great way to get your party started. And from there we were off to an Orlovsky-esque ball of our own at the Rathaus in the center of Vienna to waltz our night away into the new year.

– Lui & Lei

From one ball to the other - Rathaus Silvester Ball
Photo credit: Allegri con Fuoco 
Die magnificent Rathaus
Photo credit: Allegri con Fuoco

The Mad Maiden of Orleans

Verdi’s Giovanna d’Arco
Teatro alla Scala, Milan
December 23, 2015

Giovanna bears her cross triumphantly.
Photo credit: Brescia-Amisano/Teatro alla Scala
Lei: It’s always exciting to go to a show at La Scala where so many of the operas we love first debuted. This time even more so because Verdi’s Giovanna D’Arco was being performed again at La Scala 150 years after it was last staged there (in 1865, 20 years after its 1845 debut). And it’s not like it’s a La Scala issue, this opera is really rarely seen at any house around the world. Part of the reason seems to be the difficulty of finding singers able to tackle it. Which made this show all the more exciting. Vocal excellence! “New” Verdi! La Scala glamour! (and the pre-show Marchesino aperitivo with its cups of risotto alla Milanese remain a solid plus).

Lui: A much anticipated return to Milan’s Teatro alla Scala for the second installment in our holiday season opera tourism, this time for another rarity, a young Giuseppe Verdi’s Giovanna d’Arco. Only his seventh opera, it’s really not the product of a green Verdi. Giovanna comes on the heels of Nabucco and Ernani and will be followed by Macbeth and Un ballo in maschera, among others, in quick succession.

Giovanna looks on as the king of her dreams is deposed.
Photo credit: Brescia-Amisano/Teatro alla Scala
Lei: First things first, here’s a recap of the little known plot, which diverges significantly from both the Schiller source material as well as history. We’re in medieval France, during the infamous Franco-Anglo Hundred Years’ War. Enter the king, Carlo (Charles VII), very worried that his troops may be defeated soon by the Brits and ready to give up his crown. He had a dream where mysterious voices told him to go into the forest and lay his sword and armor by a certain oak tree.

A father begins to suspect malfeasance.
Photo credit: Teatro alla Scala
The scene moves to the forest, where our pious maiden Giovanna lives with her intransigent and paranoid peasant father, Giacomo. Giovanna very much wants to fight with the French army and prays fervently to the Virgin Mary to procure her a sword and a helmet (una spada ed un cimiero). What a happy coincidence that the king left all his armaments next to the oak tree! So Giovanna is torn between demonic and angelic voices giving her conflicting instructions, but ends up happily putting on soldier gear and convincing the king to fight back. Her father is suspicious of all this and thinks she sold her soul to the devil.

Under Giovanna’s lead, the French crush the British in battle and the king and his lady-warrior fall in love, though Giovanna continues to hear voices and feels very sinful about the whole love thing. While everybody’s happy celebrating the victory, Giacomo publicly denounces his daughter of lustful behavior and witchcraft. Her terrified silence is seen as an admission and she’s turned to the English. When Giacomo hears her piously pray in the Brits’ prison, he understands her righteousness, frees her and even gives her his sword so that she can go back to battle. French army definitively wins, Giovanna dies on the battlefield and ascends to heaven in saintly fashion, the king and her father despair.

Giovanna in ecstasy.
Photo credit: Teatro alla Scala 
Lui: The production by Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier was impactful and thought provoking. In their take, the protagonist is a disturbed young woman who has been transposed from the French Middle Ages to nineteenth-century institutional setting with a vaguely Freudian underpinning. Apparently suffering from some sort of schizophrenic hysteria induced by profound daddy issues, she aspires in her mind to a life of glory in the vein of Joan of Arc. And so, everything takes place in the confines of her room in the psychiatric ward, with armies, angels, demons, churches and statuesque equestrian kings all appearing as a series of vivid feverish visions.

Packing all this action into such a contained space emphasizes that everything is seen from Giovanna’s point of view. It’s all in her head. Rather than being a cop out, it is actually a clever trick to intensify the shaky plot of the opera. One of the ideas that inspired the directors were a series of early studies of hysteria conducted in the nineteenth century, documented by pictures of disturbed women going through extreme mood swings, including ecstatic contemplation. Interestingly, some historians have hypothesized that Joan of Arc’s saintly visions and voices were in fact due to some sort of mental illness (though many medical professionals disagree with such a diagnosis).

The patriarchy repents.
Photo credits: Teatro alla Scala
Lei: I wish I had seen a “traditional” Giovanna before in order to better appreciate the nuances and ideas of this one. The directors’ premise is that this libretto (based on Schiller’s Jungfrau von Orleans) has little to do with the historical character and is full of narrative holes (motivations of characters are not really fully developed), which gives them the freedom and even some grounds to interpret the story as the tale of a hysterical young lady having all sorts of Giovanna d’Arco visions and stories in her head.

The visionary hears voices.
Photo credit: Brescia-Amisano/Teatro alla Scala
There’s no doubt that Solera’s libretto diverges quite a lot from history: Giovanna is torn between angelic and demonic “voices” (when she really only heard saints and angels and was always adamant about her sacred mission), she has a love story with the king Carlo (totally historically ungrounded), she is condemned by a bigot father (false again, she was subject to inquisition by the church at the request of the English) and she dies on the battlefield (though everybody knows she was burnt at the stake).

And so, the libretto’s propelling emotional forces are the love between Giovanna and Carlo and, most importantly, the oppressive and obsessive father-daughter relationship of Giacomo and Giovanna. Leiser and Caurier’s psychoanalytical take made the dramatic tensions even more about sexual frustration (Giovanna wants Carlo but her father and the angelic voices pull her back) being the propeller for the heroine’s heroic deeds in the name of God.

Giovanna gives in to her baser desires.
Photo credit: Teatro alla Scala
Lui: I’m torn as to whether or not the production hit the nail on the head or just confounded matters unnecessarily. At the core the story in the libretto is relatively straightforward for an opera. It takes certain liberties with time and place but the general narrative flow only slightly borders on the avant-garde or surreal. Even the central father-daughter relationship is par for the course for Verdi, despite its unhealthy fixation on her virginity.

The production here takes those mildly avant-garde elements of time lapse and interiority and runs with them. On the whole I found the poetic license of the directors to be engaging and very satisfying, making the whole thing very deep and Freudian. Really poor Giovanna is a young woman repressed by her father. At the same time, there is a Don Quixote approach to the story where this simple peasant girl aspires to battlefield glory in the name of God and for the good of her country.

The religious warrior suits up.
Photo credit: Teatro alla Scala
In fact, in moments, as in the end of Act I, where she prays for the guidance of the Virgin Mary in her early quixotic desire to wage holy war against her enemies and to vindicate the king, I couldn’t help but think that the directors were also subtly drawing parallels with the religious warmongers of today. Giovanna has delusions of grandeur. Although her heart is seemingly in the right place, her desires are out of step with reality for a poor girl kept under lock and key by her father in some kind of convalescent ward. It was heartbreaking, oneiric, often surreal, and very intelligently carried out.

Lei: The orchestra was incredibly electric. I’ve never heard anything quite like it and from the first fiery bars of the overture when, after the soft start, the orchestra attacks the military triumphal themes, I didn’t know what hit me. So vigorous, fiery and intense. My first thought was that they were all on steroids, including maestro Riccardo Chailly who sported the energy of someone half his age. We were in very good musical hands. The pacing was thrilling. The opera sped along on overdrive, which contributed to the haunted feeling that Giovanna is not well, not in her right mind, but possessed, especially since the orchestra itself felt possessed.

Riccardo Chailly on fire.
Photo credit: Teatro alla Scala
Lui: The score was just fantastic, packed with sensational and breathtaking musical moments carrying a very fast paced plot. It was fun to discover that Giovanna contains a lot of Verdian musical nuggets that the composer will develop more fully in later operas. Most of the demonic bits reminded me of Macbeth, particularly in the forest and storm sequences with the forest chorus sounded a lot like Macbeth’s witches. Other times, Un Ballo in Maschera, Ernani and Traviata also come to mind. And so, Rossini was not the only one to “recycle” bits of his operas...

Lei: Verdi’s use of the chorus in Giovanna d’Arco is extraordinary. In this opera more than others the narrative importance of the chorus (magnificently lead by maestro Bruno Casoni) came across, making it really the fourth protagonist. It wore so many hats: poor folk, people broken by war, “voices” of demons and angels, British soldiers and French courtiers. The “voices” are particularly important as they play a central role in pushing Giovanna to action (and then martyrdom), even more in this production where everything is just in her head.

The chorus is an all-encompassing presence.
Photo credit: Brescia-Amisano/Teatro alla Scala
Lui: On stage and/or just off stage but still heard, they really do fill the role of something like the chorus in a Greek tragedy. They push the plot forward without actually becoming agents in the plot. They comment and they inflict themselves through moralizing or lazing or tormenting the protagonists in some of the most novel ways that I have ever seen in an opera, almost borrowing moves from Aeschylus’ Eumenides. The very particular way the chorus was dislocated in this production was pretty sensational too. I am still trying to figure out where the off-stage singers were as many times the voices felt like they were coming from the prima galleria. These unusual staging decisions added to the eerie surreal take on the story as a whole. I loved it. It produced such a unique musical experience.

Giovanna is tossed in a sea of torments.
Photo credit: Brescia-Amisano/Teatro alla Scala
Lei: The core cast was sensational. The three leads were extremely strong, with perfect voices for their roles. Anna Netrebko keeps getting better each time we see her. She displayed a superb vocal range and convincingly portrayed the fiery warrior but also the loving and mystical maiden, inspired and idealistic (and very cuckoo too). She’s always had power but now her sound is cleaner purer and her Italian more articulate. In fact, the Russian soprano sounded much better tonight than in her live recording of this same opera only two years ago in Salzburg. It is exciting to see such a great artist grow over the years. Netrebko’s acting was very specific and demanding, as she basically was always on stage one way or the other given the directors’ choice to have this be all in her head. She bounced around with youthful energy and intensely rendered Giovanna’s swings from crazed demented girl to warrior to determined martyr.

Declarations of love.
Photo credit: Teatro alla Scala
Francesco Meli as Carlo may be my new favorite tenor. He has a beautiful effortless sound, round and ardent, fills the space with a lyricism that’s very powerful too, as he held strong next to Netrebko (who usually drowns everybody out). As the gold plated king who had just descended from his equestrian statue mount, he was incredibly gripping. The whole opening three numbers are all his and he set the tone with an urgency that carried us through the rest of the night.

Verdian baritone Carlos Alvarez as Giacomo displayed a smooth legato, long lines and a wonderful musicality. His role of the paranoid almost demonic father is a complex one and he embodied it expressively, particularly touching in his final act of repentance when he realizes he entirely misunderstood his daughter. Bass Dmitry Beloselskiy in the minor role of Talbot, the English general had an impressive stage presence (he’s extraordinarily tall and muscular) and an even more astonishing voice, deep and dynamic yet extremely strong and effortless, riding with ease over the orchestra and chorus.

The patriarch who cannot be trusted.
Photo credit: Brescia-Amisano/Teatro alla Scala
Lui: The sets created by Christian Fenouillat were deceptively simple as they had as a base Giovanna’s room (with very few pieces of linear furniture), but as the plot unfolds all of the protagonist’s visions come to life in that same room. And that’s when the exciting stuff happens: the chorus popped out now behind transparent portions of the walls at the ground level now up above next to the ceiling, soldiers and spears broke through the walls during battle scenes, very vivid videos of lusty desires and saintly aspirations scrolled slowly across the walls, the massive cathedral of St. Denis emerged from the floor to then descend in thunder at the end of Act III, the statuesque golden king emerged from a trapdoor on his gold horse (very much like a monumental equestrian statue, as that’s how Giovanna imagines her ruler). And the very clever touch of having everybody but Giovanna and her father disappear as half of the stage literally sinks underground at the end of Act IV when she’s about to die and all her visions fade away.

A daughter burns at the stake in her mind.
Photo credit: Teatro alla Scala
Costumes by Agostino Cavalca very equally clever: all characters wore medieval clothes except for Giovanna’s father who, like her, belonged in the nineteenth century, emphasizing how the true and very troublesome dramatic core of the opera is the father/daughter relationship. And Giovanna, who navigates reality and fiction, had the most fluid and feverish transformation on stage during Act I: one moment she is a lost long-locked girl in a nightgown, the next she is cutting her hair, shredding her gown to a short tunic and donning gold armor and a helmet right over the top of her bed clothes, proudly pointing a sword towards the audience.
Una spada ed un cimier
Photo credit: Teatro alla Scala
Lei: I have never seen the merciless and hard to please public at La Scala go so unanimously wild with love and appreciation for all of the performers, musicians and directors. Maybe it was because Giovanna d’Arco is little known and rarely performed (and so the public does not have the tools to trash it like it does with more mainstream repertoire). Whatever the reason, this time there was none of the hooligan-like loggionisti behavior booing and shouting colorful insults left and right, rather, people were outdoing each other yelling “Brrrr-aviiiii!!!” at the top of their lungs and literally going crazy calling the cast back at least three times even after final bows. Not even at the stadium do you see such ardent displays of love and support! And that in itself was the most sensational and surprising sight of the evening.

– Lei & Lui

Unleash the ovations!
Photo credit: Teatro alla Scala
Giovanna's spirit rides on... and on.
Photo: Place des Pyramides in Paris, France