Last weekend took me on a last-minute press trip to Milan and Lake Como. More about that later in "Journeys" when I can transfer my pictures to the Mac. But, for now a confession. My hotel, The Four Seasons, was a hundred yards from La Scala but I could not make it to a performance. On the Friday night they were giving Massenet's "Manon" - never a favourite and on the Saturday, Verdi's "Luisa Miller." I had no ticket and the press trip kept me out and about and just far enough from the great temple of opera, on the Friday night, to feel that, if I cupped my hand to my ear, I might even hear a few sublime voices echoing through the hot, turgid Milan night air. Saturday took me to Lake Como, to a gorgeous resort called "Casta Diva" - once the home of legendary 19th century soprano, Giuditta Pasta and just across the lake from a villa that once housed composer, Vincenzo Bellini. It is said that he could hear her rehearsing.
was far enough away by then for those fantasies of hearing present-day
to fade away. And the "Casta Diva" resort did
their best to compensate by providing a young soprano and tenor to
serenade us during dinner. But the longing
for La Scala was too great. I ate a starter, applauded the fine young
looked at my watch and calculated that I
could perhaps, just perhaps, find a way to sneak into the last act of
Miller." My hosts saw my dilemma and
provided a taxi. I rode the 50 minutes into Milan in the company of
an articulate and informed driver, who told
me stories of the "Clooneyisation" of Lake Como. More on that in
Luigi and I arrived in town too late for
that last act. I bid him farewell, and made my way to the great green
doors of the opera
house. I pulled one open and stepped inside.
La Scala's ushers, Le Maschere, as they are known, were standing around
little groups waiting for their working
evening to end. I was too late so what was I hoping for?
"Can I just sneak into the ovations?" I heard myself asking
can't do that," said an usher. "Please - just a
quick glance." This was tantalizing. I could
hear a tenor off in the distance. I hadn't looked at the cast, hadn't
had the time but even through the thick
walls, I sensed it was one of the greats. "Go on," I persisted, "just
a peek." I was advised to come back when the
show was over in 15 minutes. I wandered outside for those 15 minutes. On
this late June night, the air was thick with
heat and unmoving. Lovers kissed among the trees on the little piazza in
of the theatre. The great glass-roofed 19th
century Galleria arcade was quiet. Nearby a new gelato parlour beckoned
had my date with the ovations.
When I returned to the
theatre, a kind young usher, ushered me into the auditorium. THAT
auditorium. The one that still somewhere in
its ether, holds the echoes of voices from Caruso to Pavarotti. This is
the theatre that looks the way we all imagine
a great opera theatre should look. Red velvet, gold filigree,
all wildly impractical for truly listening to
and seeing an opera but this is La Scala and most of us don't care.
The singers came out for their bows. And sure enough, there was one of my
favourite tenors, the great Argentinian, Marcelo Alvarez.
And wonder of wonders, there was baritone,
Leo Nucci, 70 years old and bowing to tumultuous applause. I joined in.
is that? But by now I had realized that I was
getting the froth if not the coffee in the cappuccino. And in Italy how
could that be?