Juan Diego Fl‹rez Sings First Encore Heard at La Scala in 74 Years

Classic Arts News   Juan Diego Fl‹rez Sings First Encore Heard at La Scala in 74 Years
Ever since Arturo Toscanini himself held the podium there, Milan's Teatro alla Scala has had a strict rule: no encores. The continuity and integrity of the score, the music and drama as a unit, must be respected. (Today many other houses follow the same practice, most famously the Metropolitan Opera.)

Though Riccardo Muti did allow the chorus to repeat "Va, pensiero" from Verdi's Nabucco (which is virtually a second national anthem in Italy) once in 1986 and once in 1996, no soloist has sung an encore at La Scala since the legendary bass Fyodor Chaliapin did it once in 1933 (while Toscanini was out of town).

Until the night before last, that is. At opening night of La Scala's current production of Donizetti's La Fille du r_giment, superstar tenor Juan Diego Fl‹rez so impressed his audience and colleagues with his big showstopper aria that he really did stop the show — and sing it one more time, the first star to do so in 74 years.

The aria, "Ah! mes amis," is a starmaker: it earned Luciano Pavarotti the nickname "King of the High Cs" — because it has nine of them. Fl‹rez, as he always seems to do, hit each of those top notes perfectly and with ease, as if they were so many bowling pins. And then he did it again. (The blog Opera Chic has links to audio files of the performance.)

Truth be told, the encore was hardly a complete surprise. In an interview published the day before opening night, Fl‹rez had told the newspaper Corriere della sera that, prohibition notwithstanding, "If they insist on an encore tomorrow night at La Scala, maybe I will repeat those famous nine chest-voice high Cs fired off one after the other in the famous and difficult aria "Ah! mes amis" ... In London, where I just performed the Donizetti opera, despite the long applause I didn't do it, but I did repeat [the aria] at the Carlo Felice in Genoa in 2005, when Decca made the DVD."

New Yorkers get their next chance to hear Fl‹rez in a solo recital at Carnegie Hall on March 10. "Ah, mes amis" isn't on the announced program, but he has been known to sing it as a post-recital encore.

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