Saturday, November 6, 2010
From La Scala, Wishing You Were Here
Mike and I along with Wil and Siena Scott just attended the opera Carmen at La Scala. Going to La Scala was on my “must do” list while we live in France. The evening was everything I imagined and so much more.
My journey to La Scala started with my dad, the music director. As a kid I remember him flipping endlessly through the TV channels until he would eventually end up on PBS watching a symphony or anything musical. Even as a child, I knew what an oboe or bassoon looked and sounded like. Every now and then, Tony Randall would be on “live from the Met.” I knew nothing of opera but its music, elaborate costumes, and stylish people were enough to arouse the curiosity of a teenager. And that’s how it came to be that Dad took me to my first opera – Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. I doubt it was the greatest production since it was in Austin and in English but to me it was a memorable event. We dressed up and drove to Austin – just he and me. I still remember feeling proud that I was actually going to an opera.
In the weeks before the performance, he dug out a worn libretto and score that we went through together. I could literally see the music, the words and the acts. He explained about the world of opera and the major opera houses like the Met in New York City or, for those lucky few, La Scala in Italy. I still remember my wide-eyed fascination as I imagined that far away land – Italy – with sophisticated people attending operas at a place called La Scala. It was a place that little girls from Smithville, Texas could only dream of. Even the name sounded beautiful – La Scala. His casual comment sparked an unspoken desire to participate in the experiences that the world had to offer.
So – since Mike and I were already in France we planned a visit to Milan, specifically to attend an opera at La Scala. The visit was a stop-over on our way to Austria. We only had one day in Milan and we packed in the sights.
I had an early morning run in a lovely park next to the hotel that was filled with tall, yellow trees that left a carpet of gold leaves underneath. The only sounds were a lone leaf blower and the crunch of gravel under runners’ feet.
Mike, Wil and I started our morning with a climb to the top of the Duomo. The Duomo is a mass of stone that manages to look dainty with all its frilly spires. On top of the roof the spires became an elaborate fence where we could peek out between the intricately carved stones to see the city spread out below.
It’s quite a climb to get to the top so you can imagine our amusement to discover, perched on the roof, a man in a business suit working on his laptop and talking on his cell phone. He was either desperate for serious alone time or he was 007.
Later, Mike and Wil went to the Brera museum while Siena and I window shopped. Milan is the fashion capital of Italy and possibly the world, although Parisians may disagree. The pretty streets were lined with high-end shops filled with trendy apparel. I forgot how many big designers are Italian – Prada, Versace, Dolce Gabana, Gucci, Ferragamo, and on and on. All of them in Milan. Never have I seen so many well dressed women and men in one place. It was hard to not be a little self-conscious in my jeans and fleece! We enjoyed watching the people and browsing the shops. Before we knew it, it was time to prepare for the main event.
Dressed in heels for the first time in months, I arrived with Mike, Wil and Siena in front of the La Scala opera house with lights flooding its exterior. Outside, La Scala is imposing with its arched, stone façade, but, honestly, it’s rather plain when compared to other elaborate music venues we’ve seen in Barcelona and Stockholm (and now in Vienna). The doors on the ground floor were open and people were flooding in. All those well dressed people we had seen during the day now seemed to be dressed for Cinderella’s ball. The people became their own event with many truly decked out - men in tuxs with red bow ties, women in long designer gowns, short strapless satin, or sequins and fur.
The lobby was bustling with people milling about under the tall ceilings and crystal chandeliers. It was lovely but again not as extravagant as some. The walls were mutely colored – white with gold on the richly ornamented walls and ceilings. Pretty. And then we went to our seats.
Inside the theater it was opulent and red. All over red - the velvet seats, the tall curtain across the stage, the brocade walls inside the boxes that encircled the floor for six levels up. It was simple and absolutely stunning. Ushers dressed in long black frock coats and heavy chain necklaces escorted us to our seats.
From there we could watch the spectacle unfold. And it unfolded in spectacular fashion. The huge chandelier dimmed as the concert master came out into the orchestra pit.
Then the music started – beautiful layers of music. But it was the combination of the music, staging and acting that made the performance memorable. Carmen was seductive, sensual and passionate for life. Don Jose, her tortured and tormented lover, was…..tortured and tormented with an added layer of guilt from his mother and the church – quite a combination. And the toreador was regal, proud and charismatic. They played the parts perfectly and – they could sing. It was a stunning performance. When the music swelled to fill the opera house I couldn’t help but think how much Dad would have loved it and how happy he would have been that I had the opportunity to experience this. Of course, that brought tears to my eyes. When the opera was over, cheering aficionados seemed to spill over the opera boxes with the people silhouetted against the red brocade. It was magic. As we all made our way into the streets of Milan it was clear that the passion of the performance had been transferred to each of us. That’s what music does and it's what opera does.
For me, it was particularly poignant and emotional. It completed a circle that was opened 35 years ago and that brought us to La Scala. So, Dad, thanks for the inspiration that has lasted a lifetime. I’m thinking of you and….well, you know the rest.