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January 16, 2012

Don Giovanni's triumph at La Scala (but failure at La Scala del calcio)

scala.jpgLa Scala summarises Milan’s modern history for good and bad. Built under Austrian empress Maria Theresa, home of music under Enlightenment and then romanticism, symbol of the Risorgimento when Verdi lived down the road and the Nabucco inspired patriotism, destroyed by Allied bombing and then immediately rebuilt (se sta mai cuj man in man) and re-inaugurated by Toscanini with a Tosca in strong antifascist tone. From 1968, its season opening on the 7th of December (Milan’s holyday, Sant’Ambrogio), the poshest of all events in Italy, is on and off the opportunity for political protest, including occasional egg-throwing at aristocrats, nouveaux riches and fur-dressed ladies. At the peak of Berlusconism it was privatised (1997) and completely renovated (2002-05). Love or hate opera, this is THE place to love it or hate it.

This year’s season was opened by the most important opera of all, Don Giovanni, and it was attended by fresh new prime minister Monti, who had just replaced a prime minister that had not come to the previous openings but believed to be himself the best embodiment of Don Giovanni. Given Monti’s symbolic (not yet regulatory, unfortunately) heavy hand on tax fraud, maybe for next year’s première tax police will make on-spot checks on the public – as they did for last new year eve in Cortina d'Ampezzo, the most exclusive Italian resort. It was also the first opening for a long time under a leftwing mayor, who made sure that no tickets were given for free to authorities and arranged big screens for live broadcasting around the city.

What a symbolic occasion for a turning point, it would seem: after a taste of Haendel, here comes Mozart to celebrate, with the most popular of all operas, the descent into hell of the Great Seductor and maybe the rise of new morality. However, Mozart stands in the way: too complex for instrumental readings, and especially so in the minimalistic and modern staging of Robert Carsen. In the most remarkable of a few coups-de-théâtre, at the end Don Giovanni, after falling into hell, reappears, and nonchalantly lights a cigarette smiling at the other characters descending themselves into the abyss... contrary to any moralizing, Don Giovanni wasn’t so evil and the others were not so innocent. Already the initial mirror behind the scene, portraying the theatre behind the theatre, had exhorted to look at ourselves and find the Don Giovanni in each and every one of us...

I didn’t go to the première, of course, but I managed to get in to the last show on Saturday. Opera tickets at La Scala are very expensive and big shows sell within minutes, but if you don’t mind standing in queue for a few hours in the freezing cold, on the day of the performance 140 gallery tickets are sold for just 12 Euros or less. This is especially for the cash-poor music fanatics, those known for whistling and throwing tomatoes at the slightest misinterpretation: this is the most difficult opera audience in the world. The two high galleries have a separate side entrance and you cannot mix up with the upper crust of the other levels of the theatre, least of all peak in into the foyer and disturb those who paid twenty times more: the reason they paid is not the music, it is exactly not mixing with you.

In my student days, the cheap day entrance tickets were more numerous but standing. Now, it is all-seated, and with E we were in the closest seats to the scene, at the very top (sixth) level: we had to dangerously lean out, but we could see almost all quite well. For the January shows unfortunately the best attraction for us (the direction of Barenboin, and Bryn Terfel as Leporetto) were missing, but replaced very well (by Steffens and D’Arcangelo). And if opera’s usual attraction is the over-the-top staging, this minimalistic one allowed welcome space for singers’ acting skills, and provided food-for-thought for further heated discussions on competing interpretations on the icy Piazza del Duomo.

La Scala del calcioIf there were only two isolated whistles for Don Giovanni on Saturday, there were 80,000 people whistling a disappointing Alexandre Pato on Sunday at the second Scala of Milan: that ‘of calcio’, itself long all-seated, for Milan-Inter. Unlike the triumph of last Spring, this was the most frustrating of Milan derbies: lot of Milan sterile possession only to be punished by an Inter break. Pato had been nearly sold to PSG on Thursday, but then held back by Berlusconi, whose daugher and AC Milan executive has been romantically conquered by the 22-year old player...... messy seductions go on.

November 13, 2011


Follow-up to Berlusconi's decay and the rise of debtocracy from Around Europe 2010-12

Italian people could not restrain from celebrating despite the not-so-rosy prospects. And in the occasion they confirmed some national stereotypes: musical creativity through a performance of Händel's Hallelujah in front of the presidential palace, and not so much sportmanship towards the defeated...

It is worth watching a full Hallelujah performance:

...although it is the last words of a very different Hallelujah, Leonard Cohen's, from a different but not totally off the topic context (sex), that come to my mind:

And even though it all went wrong

I will stand before the Lord of Songs

With nothing on my tongue than Hallelujah

April 11, 2011

Libya: A New Kosovo???

The intervention in Libya is increasingly complicated and it is also highlighting European divisions, not just on military and foreign policy (nothing new) but also on Schengen. The Schengen Treaty is naked, unable to decide who should host the couple of thousands of boat people and insisting that they should be sent off: a few hundreds have already died, and the Italian government is even threatening to leave the EU - as if Italy had ever done anything for a European policy on refugees, especially when it was Germany, still under Kohl, to propose to 'share the burden' (horrible wording).

But while the issue is very complex, an argument keeps being made that leaves me astonished: a supposed 'succesful precedent' of Kosovo, 1999. Succesful precedent? Kosovo?? Two months of bombing and a huge wave of refugees (after, not before the bombing started), a failed state based on ethnic cleansing, and an enduring military and civil engagement, with no prospect of end in sight. The majority of the UN countries - including, for obvious local reasons, the Spain where I am right now - still does not recognise Kosovo, and the failure of the EU Mission was well described on the Guardian website, a couple of days ago, by a friend who knows the place well.

Describing Kosovo as a success of 'humanitarian intervention is not just setting the benchmark for success extremely low, but it is also dihonest: the intervention is described as a quick, painless solution - shouldn't governments be explicit, then, on the risk of really repeating Kosovo, that is of a military and civilian intervention protracting for another twelve years or more?

Celebrating the bombing of Libya 100 years earlier

Of course the situations are so different that comparing them or talking of precedents is nearly meaningless. On the positive, on Libya there is at least a UN Resolution and a facade of legality. It is an unusual issue displacing traditional war or peace divides: most pacifists are either silent or supportive of the intervention, while to oppose it there are, besides the inconclusive Germans, the racists of the Italian Northern League, who would also like to withdraw Italian troups from Lebanon - the only undisputably positive peace-keeping mission around the world.

Last week I was, as an old Pink Floyd fan, at Roger Waters' The Wall concert in Milan. The concert, by an artist who is an orphan of war, has a very strong antimilitaristic message, which goes down well with the public. The strongest cheers, beside for the initial poignant "Mother loves you baby - dad loves you too" and a strong "No" to "Mother should I trust the government?" were indeed for "BRING THE BOYS BACK HOME" but none, least of all Waters, seemed to mean from the Libyan skies. Even in Italy, which exactly 100 years ago bombed Libya (first ever plane bombing - if of course ineffective...) and, after a year of war, occupied it in a very unpleasant precedent glorified only by protoFascist futurist poets. Let's hope that Libya does not repeat Kosovo - and does not repeat Libya.

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