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Subject: La Scala opening night tenor uproar
From: ERIC FETTMANN <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:ERIC FETTMANN <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sun, 7 Dec 2008 15:42:35 -0500

text/plain (58 lines)

La Scala swaps tenors just before opening night

MILAN, Italy (AP) - The famed La Scala opera house has long been known for its behind-the-scenes intrigues-with strikes, personality disputes and artistic differences often eclipsing its performances. Sunday's opening night was no exception. 
La Scala unexpectedly removed Italian tenor Giuseppe Filianoti from the leading role of "Don Carlo" and put American tenor Stuart Neill in his place. It said Neill was in better shape to tackle the challenging lead role of Verdi's opera, at least on the high-pressure season opener, after Filianoti made mistakes during a dress rehearsal this week. 

The unusual, last-minute substitution gave a bit of offstage drama to one of Europe's most highly anticipated cultural events, with Filianoti claiming he was "betrayed" by the house, "stabbed in the back at the last minute." 

"La Scala wanted me to say I was sick. But I, Giuseppe Filianoti, am in perfect condition, ready to engage myself in a role in which I feel secure," the Milan daily Corriere della Sera quoted him as saying. 

Despite his disappointment, Filianoti showed up to watch Sunday night's performance, telling reporters that he came "for the good of the theater." He said he was shocked by the decision but that he didn't harbor any rancor. 

"I wish for La Scala-the institution-all of the goodness that it deserves," he said. 

Neill, originally the lead in the opera's second cast, performed solidly in Act I, albeit without much style, Alfredo Gasponi, opera critic for Il Messaggero daily, said during intermission. He said Neill didn't make any mistakes, but noted that the more challenging scenes occur later. 

La Scala spokesman Carlo Maria Cella said the musical director had full discretion to substitute cast members at any time. "Neill seemed to be in better shape than Filianoti," Cella said. 

Filianoti, a well-regarded 34-year-old tenor, acknowledged that he had made errors during a dress rehearsal but said they didn't warrant his removal. 

"And anyway, as it was a dress rehearsal, I wasn't expected to make the maximum vocal performance. I wanted to save myself," he told Corriere. 

Cella said Filianoti had made several mistakes. "It's not just the theater that is saying it, others heard it as well." 

"Don Carlo" is recognized as among the most difficult tenor roles. Legendary tenor Luciano Pavarotti himself was booed while singing "Don Carlo" in 1982, the last time the opera opened La Scala's season. 

La Scala's audience-especially the inhabitants of the uppermost balconies known as the "loggionisti"-is infamous for its ruthlessness. The "loggionisti" don't hesitate to shower boos on any singer, no matter how renowned, if they feel their exacting standards weren't met. 

Last year, tenor Roberto Alagna walked off stage during a performance of "Aida" when he was booed during the opening aria. 

The substitution is a break for Neill, who made his debut at La Scala in 1997, the same year he debuted at New York's Metropolitan Opera as Arturo in Bellini's "I Puritani." Since then, he has often been in second and third casts at some of the world's major opera houses, including Teatro La Fenice in Venice, the Vienna Staatsoper and The Royal Opera Covent Garden. He has performed the tenor role in Verdi's Requiem more than 175 times. 

Filianoti was not the only substitution Sunday: Finnish bass Matti Salminen came down with bronchitis and was substituted as the great inquisitor by Anatolij Kotscherga. 

La Scala is never short of offstage drama. A strike threat that hung over this year's premiere dissipated just days ago after management reached a deal with some orchestra and choir members over additional compensation for recording rights. 

Artistic differences and personality disputes have also been a constant problem. Most recently, music director Riccardo Muti stepped down in 2005 amid a dispute triggered by the dismissal of superintendent Carlo Fontana. Workers had accused Muti of trying to turn the opera house into his personal fiefdom, and several performances were called off because of the feud. 

Daniele Gatti was conducting his first gala premiere at La Scala. American mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick is singing the role of Princess Eboli and soprano Fiorenza Cedolins was Elisabetta. 

-- Eric Fettmann

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