Cross and Cross-over

The latest in the long line of La Scala scandals happened this week when Roberto Alagna, his fist raised in anger, walked off the stage in the first act of Verdi’s Aida because of the barracking he was being subjected to by the notoriously demanding ‘loggionisti’. After an earlier performance of this Zefferelli production he had been reported as complaining that La Scala was not a theatre but an ‘arena’. (His understudy took over at a minute’s notice, wearing his back stage jeans and apparently gave a tremendous and wildly applauded performance!). But this was only the second unhappy operatic event this month.

Last week the great Spanish tenor Placido Domingo (see our article August 18 2005) was booed at the New York Metropolitan, as he came on to conduct the second act of Puccini’s La Boheme. Apparently some regarded his tempo as pedestrian in a work in which he has sung so often it must be in his bones. He was visibly shocked at the reception. Conducting is his second career, and I had understood that he was proving very successful in it.

Perhaps this was an off night or a breakdown in sympathy between him and the soloists. He deserved more respect and I am reluctant to believe that his conducting could have been so bad.

This cross-over for musicians has becomes a common feature, the longest and perhaps most successful being that of Vladimir Ashkenazy’s move from internationally acclaimed pianist to conductor. I have seen him on several occasions, most recently a year ago. A small, casually dressed man, he is like a whirlwind on the podium – advancing to the platform as if late for an appointment and at the end of a performance rushing off in the same way, reluctant to accept applause which he quickly diverts to his orchestra. He is presently Conductor Laureate of both the Philharmonia and the Icelandic Symphony Orchestras, and although he jets around the world conducting many other orchestras, he manages somehow to continue his solo career.

He has many recordings to his name.

A more recent convert to the podium is Mikhail Pletnev who, like Ashkenazy, is Russian born. I heard him give a stunning performance of Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini in the nineteen eighties. The advertised pianist was ill and he substituted at short notice. Under his hands a familiar work became new and the audience rose to him. In 1990 he founded the Russian National Orchestra, the first orchestra in Russia not to be sponsored by the government. He is now its Artistic Advisor. He has made several recordings both as pianist and conductor, one of the most notable being the second symphony of Rachmaninoff.

….I wonder if, for a different and pressing reason, Roberto Alagna may now need a second string to his bow.

B.R.

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