Teatro alla Scala Opening Night 2016-17: Anna Netrebko, Jonas Kaufmann, Diana Damrau Featured in 5 Memorable La Scala Inaugurations of Last 10 Years

By Francisco Salazar

On Wednesday, Dec. 7, the legendary Teatro all Scala opens its 2016-17 season with Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly.” The opera stars rising star Maria Jose Siri, Bryan Hymel and Carlos Alvarez and is led by music director Riccardo Chailly.

The opening continues La Scala’s tradition of inaugurating the season on Dec. 7 and continues Chailly’s Puccini cycle, which he began back in 2015. The production will be directed by Alvis Hermanis, who recently directed Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” at the Salzburg Festival. With such a star-studded event and anticipation, Opera Wire takes a look back at some of the most memorable opening nights of the last 10 years starting with the most recent.

2015-2016 – New Management Showcases Superstar Anna Netrebko in ‘Giovanna d’Arco’

At the start of last season, Riccardo Chailly became the music director and Alexander Perriera took over as General Manager. The new team knew that it needed to have a memorable opening to showcase the new direction the pair was taking the opera company in.  Surprisingly, the company chose “Giovanna D’Arco,” a seldom performed work by Giuseppe Verdi and one that had made its world premiere at the theater back in 1845. The opera had not returned to the house since 1865 and as a result, it was an occasion to celebrate. But if the choice of opera was rather baffling in some respects, the cast was not.

In the title role, superstar Anna Netrebko made her staged role debut after triumphing in a concert version in Salzburg two years prior and was joined by Francesco Meli, who had also sung the role of Carlo VII at Salzburg with Netrebko. Giovanni Meoni joined the two, replacing an ill Carlos Alvarez, who later returned to singing the remaining performances.  Critics were ecstatic, calling the evening “the most vocally resplendent evening of Verdi singing heard here this century.”

2013-14 – Diana Damrau Shines in Controversial ‘Traviata’

Verdi’s “La Traviata” is one of the most famous and performed works in the repertoire. However, at La Scala, the work has not been as popular and has not been seen as frequently when compared to its presence in other theaters. In 2013 the theater opted to inaugurate its season to celebrate Verdi’s Bicentennial with a new production of Verdi’s work directed by visionary Dmitri Tcherniakov. It was the first new production of the work since 1990 and for the event, Diana Damrau sang the role after acclaimed performances at the Metropolitan Opera. Piotr Beczala and Zeljko Lucic joined with Danielle Gatti conducting. The result was met with mixed reaction. The production was booed by the loggionisti as was tenor Beczala. However, Diana Damrau obtained an 11-minute standing ovation.

2012-13 – Jonas Kaufmann Receives Raves As ‘Lohengrin’

To celebrate the bicentennial of Wagner’s birthday, La Scala decided to open its season with “Lohengrin.” The decision was not a very popular one given it was also Italian composer Verdi’s 200th but as they say in show business, “The Show Must Go On.” “Lohengrin” had not been presented in six years and it would be the first time music director Daniel Barenboim conducted the work with the company.

For the opening, Barenboim chose Jonas Kaufmann for the leading role and was joined by Annette Dasch, who replaced Anja Harteros. The cast also included the revered dramatic soprano Evelyn Herlitzius, Zeljko Lucic and Rene Pape. Claus Guth directed a production. The result saw rave reviews for Kaufmann as critics stated that the tenor was on another level and he gave “a masterclass of daringly varied, sometimes mannered, vocal technique.” Then-Prime Minister Mario Monti attended the evening amidst political tensions in Italy.

2011-2012 – A Superstar Cast Takes on ‘Don Giovanni’

As is the case with all La Scala opening nights, the company selected a cast of superstars on this occasion for its new production of “Don Giovanni.” Anna Netrebko was making her long-awaited La Scala debut while Peter Mattei was bringing his acclaimed interpretation of “Don Giovanni” to La Scala for the first time. Scala favorites Barbara Frittoli and Giuseppe Filianoti were also returning to the revered stage and Bryn Terfel was singing the role of Leporello after many years. Daniel Barenboim presided over the pit but audiences were not so excited as they shouted “Troppo lento” (Too slow) at the opening of the second act. Robert Carsen created a production that inserted the action within a stage that critics generally dismissed. What made this recent opening so special was the singing, which was forever immortalized in a home video release.

2007-2008 – “Tristan Und Isolde” Triumphs Amidst Unresolved Labor Disputes

There is a reason that Wagner’s opera is difficult to stage and not often performed. The opera is one of the most difficult in the repertoire and one that few tenors can actually sing it. For this opening night, Daniel Barenboim conducted with Waltraud Meier in the title role of Isolde. The two had collaborated previously on “Tristan Und Isolde” and their interpretations are some of the most beloved around the world.

The opening night in December 2007 represented the first  “Tristan” in nearly 30 years at the house. And while Tristan is one of the most dramatic and transcendent operas in the repertoire, the true drama was happening off-stage. Prior to opening night, long-standing and unresolved labor disputes had forced the company to cancel two pre-gala performances of the Verdi Requiem. Moreover, the orchestra had threatened to strike the opening night. However, amidst the chaos, the performance led by Barenboim became one of the most memorable in recent Scala openings. The performance was described as “rich, densely textured, and multilayered” and showed off what Barenboim would do the next few years as music director. “Tristan” would also be performed the following season but has never returned to Milan since.


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