La Scala - The Golden Years: Volume 3
Interviews by Enzo Biagi
DVD Video. Aspect ratio: 16:9 NTSC
Audio Format: Linear PCM 2.0.
Original language: Italian
Subtitles: Italian, English, French, German and Japanese
Sleeve notes in Italian and English
rec. Tokyo, 1981
Notes: English, Italian DYNAMIC DVD 37730 [81:00]
This is the third volume of a series of films originally made for broadcast. As I noted in my introduction to Vol. 1 (see review) and Vol. 2 (see review) in the series, the films involve the journalist Enzo Biagi, one of Italy’s most famous music journalists, who had extensive access to La Scala, its artists and staff. He is seen interviewing and following productions during a golden period for the theatre extending from the 1970s into the 1980s. As is the case with the previous issues this volume comprises two films. However, for volume 3 the focus is on the 1981 visit of La Scala to Tokyo. The quality of the film, if not of the clips from the stage productions, is generally superior to the earlier volumes.
The first film starts with views of Tokyo and its twelve million people. There is mention of its six symphony orchestras and twenty music conservatories although it lacked a purpose-built opera house. La Scala arrived with over four hundred and fifty people including musicians, soloists, chorus, stagehands, the renowned corps de ballet and technicians. With performances of Verdi, Puccini and Rossini the whole enterprise cost over five billion Italian lire. It is noticeable that whilst rehearsals are in hand Domingo arrives on the night to give his Otello. There's a brief clip of his opening, full-voiced Esultate. His power alone probably explains why he is allowed to miss rehearsals.
The first interview is with music director Claudio Abbado. A somewhat shy and modest man, he openly states his admiration for Carlos Kleiber, whom he might otherwise see as a rival and who is to conduct performances of La Boheme during the visit. Abbado reveals his admiration of Furtwängler above fellow Italian Toscanini. Other Italian colleagues such as Muti, Chailly and Sinopoli are touched upon whilst he expresses the view that London is the cultural capital of Europe.
Domingo gives a wide-ranging interview. He talks about singing at La Scala and recounts that during the visit to Moscow the company's performance of Tosca was followed by a forty-five minute ovation and repeated curtain calls. He claims that singing is his hobby and he does it for fun. Looking at him now, at seventy-five still seeking new roles to learn, one can believe it.
The second part of the film starts with relaxation in Tokyo. It then goes on with the preparations for and performance of Strehler’s famous production of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra. As well as seeing clips of a performance there is an extended interview with Cappuccilli who talks about his Verdi roles, particularly Rigoletto which at that point he had sung exactly three hundred and fifty-six times. He also mentions his one hundred and ten appearances as Rossini’s Figaro. He talks about his passion for fast motorboats. One of the clips shows him as Boccanegra in the recognition duet from Boccanegra, Mirella Freni is the Amalia. We also see Ghiaurov as Fiesco making his declaration to the Genoese after the death of Boccanegra. Japanese stagehands are seen at work during the scene-changes.
In an extended interview Freni talks freely about her underprivileged childhood and the value of hard work. She tells how she took on the role of Aida following Karajan’s encouragement - a role which she considers a favourite alongside Mimi. She is asked about her views on Pavarotti and Domingo as well as the inevitable contrast and competition between Tebaldi and Callas. Her answers: beauty of tone for the former and the flare for drama of the latter. She has a warm and captivating personality that comes across together alongside the frankness that Biagi was able to elicit from all his interviewees.