La Scala Opera Season Begins Amid Verdi vs Wagner Row
words by Carol King
Daniel Barenboim will open La Scala’s opera season tomorrow by conducting ‘Lohengrin’ by Richard Wagner while facing an onslaught of criticism in the media and from opera lovers.
The choice of an opera by the German composer rather than one by Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi in the run-up to the bicentennial of their birth in 2013 has led to outrage. Some see it as a blow to national pride – particularly at a time when Italy is experiencing an economic crisis – asking whether the Germans would inaugurate a Wagnerian year with a work by Verdi.
Ironically, the two composers were bitter rivals in real life. However, when Verdi heard of Wagner’s death, he lamented: “Sad, sad, sad... a name that will leave a most powerful impression on the history of art.”
Such has been the furor that President Giorgio Napolitano assured Barenboim, who is general music director of La Scala, his absence at the opening night was not because of the row but because he has to stay in Rome to oversee crucial legislation passed. Napolitano wrote to Barenboim: “I consider any controversy about the order of priority between the Wagnerian and Verdian anniversary celebrations totally futile, and [it is] somewhat pathetic to dig up... the conflicts that inflamed the lovers and patrons Wagner and Verdi’s art in the second half of the 19th century.”
‘Lohengrin’ is the first of five operas by the German composer the opera house will stage during the 2012 to 2013 season that includes ‘Der fliegende Holländer’ (The Flying Dutchman), and the four epic operas that form the ‘Der Ring des Nibelungen’ (The Ring of the Nibelung) cycle: ‘Götterdämmerung’ (Twilight of the Gods), ‘Das Rheingold’ (The Rhine Gold), ‘Die Walküre’ (The Valkyrie) and ‘Siegfried’.
On 15 January, La Scala will kick off a series of performances of Giuseppe Verdi’s operas with ‘Falstaff’ conducted by Daniel Harding, England’s best- known conductor at present. Other Verdi operas to feature in the season are ‘Nabucco’, ‘Macbeth’, ‘Oberto, Conte di San Bonifacio’, ‘Un ballo in maschera’ (A Masked Ball), ‘Don Carlo’ and ‘Aida’.
Other operas to be performed this season are Russian composer Alexander Raskatov’s modern piece, ‘Sobač’e serdce’ (A Dog’s Heart) and popular Italian composer Gioachino Rossini’s youthful farce ‘La scala di seta’ (The Silken Ladder).
La Scala’s opera season traditionally opens on 7 December, which is the feast day of Saint Ambrose, the patron saint of Milan and the city where the world-famous opera house is located. Ticket prices for the opening night start at €120 and go up to €2,400.