Film at 11

First off, La Cieca should tell you that her producer/alter ego JJ will be heard this afternoon on WNYC’s talk show “Soundcheck” discussing (what else?) L’affaire Alagna. The program begins at 2:00 PM and JJ is scheduled to be heard in the final segment between 2:30 and 3:00. “Soundcheck” gained notoriety last month when uber-diva Jessye Norman got into something of a snit after a fellow guest questioned the charitable motivations of certain celebrities. La Cieca hopes that this afternoon’s show will include comparable fireworks.

Well, now a different version of the “walkout” video has surfaced from Spanish TV:

In the words of dear Alex Ross, “I’m no Zapruder,” but La Cieca does note certain subtleties:

  • The staging has been modified since the opening night. Amneris (Ildiko Komlosi) does not enter during “Celeste Aida,” but remains offstage until the very end of the aria.
  • Alagna sings the written ending of the aria, i.e., a long high B-flat, without the added “vicino al sol” on the lower B-flat.
  • Alagna is still onstage when the orchestra begins the introduction to “Quale insolita gioia,” though he is out the door within seconds of Komlosi’s first vocal entrance.

Now, what, if anything, does all this mean? Well, the first two changes would seem to suggest that someone decided to try to avoid “killing” Alagna’s applause after his aria. The quiet ending, plus the presence of another character moving onstage) would tend to put a damper on audience reaction. La Cieca’s guess is that Alagna was not happy with the polite applause at the prima and so tried to (as one might say) “give the public a chance to express their admiration.” The video thus gives impression that Alagna was going a little mild milking of the applause. The well-timed “bravo” might be an attempt by a fan to build the ovation. Now, going further out into the realm of speculation, perhaps the ensuing “boo” was a scornful reaction to the “bravo” rather than a jeer at Alagna’s performance per se.

Here’s where it gets particularly interesting, at least to La Cieca’s fevered imagination. A feature of these La Scala shouting matches is that the exclamations used are both wildly inflammatory and dangerously ambiguous. We are told that shouts were heard of “Vergogna, vergogna!” and “Questa e la Scala!” But to whom were these cries addressed, and in reaction to what? Were they saying, “shame, shame” to Alagna because his singing (in their opinion) was below La Scala standard? Or was the “shameful” part his perceived disrespect (or cowardice?) in walking offstage just because of a mixed reaction from the public. (“This is La Scala, get used to it!”)

Or maybe the yelling was mostly, as we might say, intramural; i.e., various members of the audience yelling at each other, in which case Alagna’s walk was really a gross overreaction.

But, speaking of the “walk” issue, I think this video takes some of the heat off Riccardo Chailly. When he starts the Amneris music, Alagna is still onstage. All Chailly can see at that moment is that the tenor is not doing the staging he was taught, which is not exactly unprecedented in Italian opera. For all Chailly could see, it may have appeared that Alagna was just stepping into the wings for a moment to clear his throat or grab a gulp of water — again, these things do happen.

Had Antonello Palombi not bounded on from the wings, presumably Chailly would have stopped the orchestra, the curtain would have been lowered, and the performance would have continued with Walter Fraccaro, perhaps following a brief announcement. Where La Cieca is going with this is that it doesn’t look like Chailly was necessarily conspiring against Alagna along with the three mysterious karate men, the anonymous phone caller and all the other members of the anti-Alagna faction.

Meanwhile, the latest installment of Opera Chic whispers that Stéphane Lissner has given orders to the Scala staff: if Alagna attempts to enter the theater, call the police! In contrast to such hysteria, Riccardo Muti spoke to La Stampa Daily, turning aside questions about Alagna’s behavior but sniping at the “moronic” stage production by Franco Zeffirelli.

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