Teatro alla Scala photo
I've just read a theatrical horror story that made me think of the Marx Brother's Night at the Opera crossed with the most biting satire one could imagine about mounting a production -- except that it's all real.
In the style of current TV storytelling, I'm going to introduce it from the closing paragraphs, then let you click on the link to read the harrowing journey to that moment. It's a long but gripping read, as Britain's Classic FM presenter Natalie Wheen chronicles, in The Arts Desk, every hairpin twist and turn in a new production of Kenneth MacMillan's classic 1965 choreography for the ballet Romeo and Juliet at Teatro alla Scala, in Milan.
(When I interviewed Italian soprano Serena Farnoccia earlier this year, during her wonderful turn in the Canadian Opera Company's production of Maria Stuarda, she mentioned that she doesn't accept many opera engagements in Italy anymore, because of the headaches leading up to opening night.)
Granted, there's plenty of nail-biting before every first curtain. But this is scarier than most.
Here is how Wheen's story ends:
At 8pm, the theatre is full with Milan in its finery. Kevin Rhodes enters the pit in his evening dress, his orchestra in shorts and T-shirts. I wondered whether they were the faces he expected to see.
So the bustle of the market starts, the swashbuckling swordfights, Juliet and the nurse and meeting the unlucky Paris. The team holds its breath before the opening to the Capulet’s ball - which seems to go pretty well – swags and candelabra more or less all present. The change to the Balcony scene works its magic – until someone knocks a fader and a great streak of white light blares across the stage.
And you could hear everyone in the theatre thinking, “For goodness sake, why can’t they get something as basic as that right?”
And here is how it all began.
As a soundtrack, here is a clip of Andrei Gavrilov playing the "Montagues and Capulets" scene from Sergei Prokofiev's score on the piano (in case you didn't know, Prokofiev composed everything at the piano, then worked out the orchestration afterward):