Teatro alla Scala: La Bohème returns in Franco Zeffirelli’s centenary year

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by OPERA Charm Magazine
March 3, 2023

The premiere on March 4th will be the 200th performance at the venue of the historic staging
of 1963, filmed by Marco Gandini. LaScalaTv will broadcast the March 14th performance live. On the podium is Eun Sum Kim. In the main roles Marina Rebeka, Irina Lungu, Freddie De Tommaso, Mariam Battistelli, Luca Micheletti, Alessio Arduini and Jongmin Park.

BIOGRAPHY

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INTERVIEW

Teatro alla Scala celebrates the centenary of Franco Zeffirelli’s birth with eight performances, from March 4th to 26th, of the legendary Bohème, which was born on this stage 60 years ago, in 1963, with Herbert von Karajan conducting. This is the 24th revival of the production (the last was in 2017) and the premiere on March 4th will be its 200th performance. Three weeks before the premiere, the show was already sold out in all performances (at the same time only a few dozen seats remain on the five performances of the ballet Le Corsaire).
The centenary bohème represents the operatic debut at La Scala of the 33-year-old Korean conductor Eun Sun Kim, who has been at the helm of the San Francisco Opera since 2021 and has been appreciated on the podium of the Metropolitan and Lyric Opera of Chicago. On stage Mimì is Marina Rebeka in the first four performances; Irina Lungu, who is Musetta in the first, takes over the title role in the next four, when she is succeeded by the young Italian soprano Mariam Battistelli in her La Scala debut. Luca Micheletti, the highly applauded Guido di Monfort in the recent Vespri siciliani, is Marcello, Alessio ArduiniSchaunard, Jongmin Park – Colline and Andrea Concetti sings Alcindoro and Benoît. Two Academy students complete the cast: Hyun-Seo Davide Park is Parpignol and Giuseppe De Luca the sergeant of the customs officers.

The March 14th performance will be broadcast live on www.lascala.tv starting at 7.45pm.
One hour before the start of each performance, an introductory lecture on the opera given by Liana Püschel will be held in the Ridotto dei Palchi.

In an interview with Sergio Talmon, Zeffirelli said: [that of Bohème] “was the most successful staging of my entire career. The quality is completely protected by the structures of La Scala who care so much about this production, they have jealously preserved it, by the Chorus and by all those who were born into it and feel it on them like a house dress. We hit it then. It was one of those blessed things! We nailed it, with Karajan! We were evidently twenty years ahead of our time, because sixteen years later it is still hailed as the last word on the staging of Bohème, it is still fresh, as if it were conceived today, it means that when we conceived it we were projected into the future. I consider it the most successful thing of my entire operatic career, also because I have had the pleasure of seeing the rebirth […] of memorable musical performances […] that have blossomed within this staging and have found their perfect home and harmonic destination”.

Eun Sun Kim
Korean Eun Sun Kim is the Music Director of the San Francisco Opera. She made her highly anticipated debut with the company conducting Rusalka in 2019. She first made a name for herself in the United States with performances of Verdi’s Requiem with the Cincinnati Symphony and La Traviata with the Houston Grand Opera, where she became Principal Guest Conductor. In the 2022-23 season, Kim continues a series of important opera engagements: after La Bohème at La Scala, she returns to the Vienna State Opera to conduct the same title. He will also lead the Rotterdam Philharmonic in Verdi’s Requiem at the Dutch National Opera. Kim has recently enjoyed success in North America at the Metropolitan, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Los Angeles Opera and Washington National Opera.

Marco Gandini, Zeffirelli’s assistant since 1992 and, therefore, director with performances in Italy, from Maggio Fiorentino to Comunale di Bologna to the Ravenna Festival, and abroad, from Salzburg to Seoul and Tokyo, is called upon to renew the relationship between this production and La Scala. No one has experienced Zeffirelli’s creative process as closely as he has. In an interview with our magazine, Gandini recounts: “(at the Rome Opera) the most substantial change was made to the costumes, which the great Piero Tosi reconceived for an absolutely new and magnificent image. The performance was then re-programmed at La Scala in its new guise with new modifications in the following years: the houses and the gate of the third act were rebuilt, so as to also allow for faster scene changes, and the bench in the third act where Rodolfo and Mimì ended the scene was replaced with a central fountain that the maestro conceived for the version at the Metropolitan in New York, which followed the one at La Scala. We can say that these changes are like today’s system upgrades in our digital world and have allowed the show to stay alive”.

The centenary revival features some of the most outstanding artists of our time on stage. In the leading role is Marina Rebeka, who at La Scala was Thaïs and Elena in Vespri siciliani as well as taking part in “…a rivedere le stelle”, while in the coming months, she is expected as Norma in Palermo and Leonora in Il Trovatore at Covent Garden. Alternating with her is Irina Lungu, whom we have already heard at La Scala in a dozen or so productions (at least Falstaff, La Traviata and L’elisir d’amore) and who will be the first artist to perform both Mimì and Musetta on this stage in the same production. La Bohème is also an opportunity to finally hear Freddie De Tommaso at La Scala, one of the tenor voices that have established themselves most rapidly in recent years and who made his debut as Maurice of Saxony for one evening only. De Tommaso will be in Berlin as the Italian singer in Rosenkavalier and Alfredo in La Traviata. Audiences will also be reunited with Luca Micheletti, whom they have just applauded in I Vespri siciliani and who will return in the next production of Le nozze di Figaro, but who is also expected in Milan as a prose actor in Molière’s Il misantropo directed by Andrée Ruth Shammah. Making her debut at La Scala as Musetta in the latest performances is Mariam Battistelli, a young soprano born in Ethiopia and raised in Mantua who has made her mark in the company of the Vienna Staatsoper and was Norina in the recent Don Pasquale at the Glyndebourne Festival. Colline is Jongmin Park, who, after his studies at our Academy, has already participated in numerous Scala productions. Benoît and luxury Alcindoro is Andrea Concetti.

La Bohème at La Scala (by Luca Chierici)
With by now 385 performances, including trips to Japan, the United States, and Canada, La Bohème is Puccini’s most-performed title at La Scala and perhaps the opera most loved by the public, which has been present in the theatre without interruption since the first performance on 15 March 1897, which followed the première in Turin on 1 February 1896 under Toscanini’s baton. The première at La Scala, entrusted to Leopoldo Mugnone with Pandolfini’s Mimì and De Lucia’s Rodolfo, was a decisive success, reported in the chronicles of the time that spoke of “six calls for Puccini”, “exceptional spectacle”, “endless ovations and acclamations”. A reception that happily belied the rather lukewarm one reserved for the opera by the public and above all by the Turinese critics, who often launched into comments that were later resoundingly refuted: reading judgements today that speak of “music that can allure, but hardly moves” or forecasts according to which La bohème “will not leave a great trace in the history of our opera house” really makes one smile.
Among the fundamental invariants of La Bohème at La Scala is the set and direction entrusted since 1963 to Franco Zeffirelli, and since then changed only by the intervention of costumes by Anna Anni (1994) and Piero Tosi (since 2000), who replaced the long-used costumes by Marcel Escoffier (from 1963 to 1991). Zeffirelli’s Bohème, of which a film version was also made, is by far one of the most successful opera productions; it has never known a decline in public taste and critical appreciation, so much so that it has experienced a second youth both at La Scala in 2012 (Zeffirelli came to the stage in a wheelchair, visibly moved by the audience’s standing ovation) and in 2017 and at the Metropolitan. Prior to Zeffirelli’s intervention, for a long period from 1934 to 1955, La bohème had been staged with Mario Frigerio directing and Nicola Benois scenery. As in the case of other operas that can be said to live a life of their own, La Bohème is also relatively independent of the fame of the conductors and singers, however famous they may be, who have alternated in the theatre. The batons of Karajan and Kleiber signed two certainly unforgettable editions in the recent past, but from the very beginning great names had alternated on the podium, starting with Toscanini. Votto, Guarnieri and Santini were protagonists of the Bohème between the two wars, while the post-World War II period saw the prestigious presence of De Sabata (who also took the opera on an away tour to Berlin in June 1937) and Bernstein. Still on the subject of away performances, we should remember here the four Moscow performances in September 1964 and the further four in November of the same year in Munich, with Karajan and the extraordinary company that had contributed so much to the success of the production. Again Karajan was to be La Scala’s ambassador in October 1967 during the celebrations for the Montreal Expo, while the four performances in Washington staged in September 1976 on the occasion of the bicentennial of the United States were conducted by Prêtre. In the 2000s, the direction was also entrusted to up-and-coming young conductors such as Gustavo Dudamel (2008, 2015) and Daniele Rustioni (2012) until the 2017 revival with Evelino Pidò, a former professor of orchestra at La Scala. Mimì of undisputed fame in the past were Rosina Storchio, Rosetta Pampanini, Mafalda Favero, Licia Albanese (who sang in that role in Toscanini’s recording), Magda Olivero and the young Renata Tebaldi, Renata Scotto and Rosanna Carteri, to arrive at perhaps the most famous of our times – Mirella Freni – who dominated performances from 1963 to 1994, with an interval from Cotrubas in the 1970s. Equally decisive was the contribution of the exceptional Rudolphs, from Di Stefano and Gianni Raimondi to Pavarotti and Carreras, with a brief appearance by Domingo. Fernando De Lucia and Aureliano Pertile were the idols of a bygone era, even if listening again today to the recordings of the first tenor, one is disconcerted by certain expressive freedoms that seem quite out of place. Exceptional musettes were, for example, Alda Noni, Graziella Sciutti and Lucia Popp. In the role of Marcello, artists such as Stabile, Bastianini, Panerai, Gobbi, Cappuccilli and Nucci stood out, while Colline had the honour of the voice of Ghiaurov in 1994, after the role had been covered by basses such as Pasero, Siepi, Vinco, Modesti, Zaccaria and Christoff. Among the young voices engaged in Bohème in the 2000s were Piotr Beczala and Vittorio Grigolo, Angela Gheorghiu, Anna Netrebko and Maria Agresta.

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Alice Lechner

Alice Lechner comes from a music-loving family. Her first encounter with the opera universe was at the tender age of six. The grandeur of the stage productions and costumes, the backstage chatter, and last, but definitely not least, the music left her in awe, beginning with Mozart’s Don Giovanni. The overall feeling that opera awakens in anyone who gets a glimpse into this part of artistic eternity, that each and every day passes the test of time, was what drew her to stay and be a part of this world. The Opera House of Brașov became her second home, and the people who worked there were her second family.

Since then, Alice has devoted her spare time to maximising her musical knowledge through instrumental studies, studying both piano and violin for a short time. In the following years, her number one passion stepped out of the limelight and graciously gave way to Law Studies.
Since 2018 she has been studying Law at “Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University in Iași.

Her passion for opera, even if it is no longer her top professional priority in terms of career, it has most definitely become her priority during her free time. Wanting to experience the best of both worlds and extend her musical horizons, she regularly attends opera performances throughout Romania and abroad.
With OPERA Charm Magazine, Alice aims to nurture her creative side to help it flourish and bloom and to discover, alongside the magazine’s readers, the fascinatingly complex world of opera.

Currently, she is an LL.M. in Business Law at “Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University in Iași.

Oana Zamfir

Oana Zamfir is a second year MA student at the “George Enescu” National University of Arts, at the Department of Musicology.

She studied violin for 12 years at the “Stefan Luchian” High School of Art in Botosani, later focusing on the theoretical aspects of music. In 2019 she completed her bachelor studies in Musicology as a student of the National Academy of Music “Gheorghe Dima” in Cluj-Napoca. Her research during 2018-2019 brought to the forefront elements of the archaic ritual within works of composers who activated during the communist period, giving her the opportunity to start a research internship at the “Carl von Ossietzky” University in Germany. In this context, she recorded conversations with members of the Sophie Drinker Institute in Bremen, and had access to documents directly from the Myriam Marbé archive.

Since 2019 she has been a teacher of Music Education and Theoretical Music Studies, making full use of interactive methods in the musical training of students and working, at the same time, with the children’s choir founded in the first year of her activity.

Her interests include pursuing a degree in interior design in 2020.

Alexandru Suciu

Alexandru Suciu inherited his passion for art growing up in a family of several generations of musicians. He began his musical studies at the “Augustin Bena” School of Music in Cluj, where he studied piano and guitar. Even though his main study direction was philological, his passion for music prevailed. He began his academical journey at the Faculty of Letters of the “Babeș-Bolyai” University, studying Comparative literature and English. He continued by studying Opera Singing at the “Gheorghe Dima” National Music Academy. He also graduated the Musical Education section, followed by Artistic Directing at the Musical Performing Arts department.

His multidisciplinary education opened the doors towards research, which is seen both through his participation in national and international conferences and symposia, such as the Salzburg Easter School PhD-forum, organized by the Salzburg Universität or the Silesian Meeting of Young Scholars, organized by the Institute of English at the University of Silesia, as well as the collaboration with Opera Charm Magazine.

During his student years, he won several prizes, including the Grand Prize at the “Paul Constantinescu” National Musical Interpretation Competition, the Romanian Composers and Musicologists’ Union Prize at the same competition, the First Prize and the Schubert Prize at the “Ada Ulubeanu” Competition.

He further developed his artistic skills by specializing in courses and masterclasses held by personalities such as Vittorio Terranova, Giuseppe Sabbatini, Marian Pop, Ines Salazar, Riccardo Zanellato, Paolo Bosisio, Valentina Farcaș and Manuel Lange in contexts such as the Internationale Sommerakademie für Operngesang Deutschlandsberg, Corso Internazionale di Canto Lirico I.M.C. Licata or the Europäische Akademie für Musik und darstellende Kunst Montepulciano. Besides his activity on-stage, he currently teaches Opera Singing Didactics, and Pedagogical Practice within the Department for Teacher Education and Training at the “Gheorghe Dima” National Music Academy.

Cristina Fieraru

Cristina is a 24 year-old Romanian soprano & a student at the National University of Music Bucharest, where she pursues the MA program in Vocal Performance.

She made her debut in Pamina from “Die Zauberflöte” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at only 19 years old at the Bucharest National Opera House, as a member of the Ludovic Spiess Experimental Opera Studio. Over the years she made her debut in roles such as Contessa d’Almaviva (Le nozze di Figaro), Mimì & Musetta (La Bohème), Alice Ford (Falstaff), Erste Dame (Die Zauberflöte) in her university’s opera productions.
Her passion and experience extends in the field of choral music, too.

She has been part of our dream team since the fall of 2021. For a good period of time she took care of OPERA Charm’s social media and took you on the monthly journey through the history of opera through our Legends rubric – and a few times through the Theaters around the World rubric.

Her little soul rubric – from 2021 to present – is definitely the Conductors of the Future, where, every month, she gives you the chance to meet a young star of the world of conducting and, of course, to find out what’s the most charming feature of opera in these artists’ views.

BIANCA L. NICA

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