Spotlight: Alagna Speaks His Piece, Gheorghiu Speaks Her Mind, Dessay Takes Her Bows, Fischer Makes Her Rounds

Classic Arts News   Spotlight: Alagna Speaks His Piece, Gheorghiu Speaks Her Mind, Dessay Takes Her Bows, Fischer Makes Her Rounds
What the stars are up to, on stage and off.

Tenor Roberto Alagna is still giving his explanation(s) for his now-infamous mid-performance walkout at La Scala this past December. And, of course, he says it wasn't his fault. In a rambling interview with BBC Radio 3 this month, Alagna laid blame with conductor Riccardo Chailly for beating time incorrectly, with the orchestra for playing below par, with director Franco Zeffirelli, and with the "hooligans" in the audience who hooted him off the stage. In addition, the divo says, he was suffering from the effects of hypoglycemia, which added to the stress of the evening.

Alagna, who has been widely derided as a crybaby since the incident, gave the interview ahead of a broadcast of the opening night of the production in question, a lavish Aida which opened La Scala's season. The opening went off without a hitch but Alagna, who sang Radames, left the stage on the second night of the opera's run after his "Celeste Aida" was booed lustily. The tenor, told the Beeb's Music Matters program that he believes the booing was directed not at him but at the new management of the opera house and at Zeffirelli. Alagna, who sounded agitated at times, said his health was a major consideration. Yet he also claimed that by walking out on La Scala's notoriously critical audience, he was striking a blow on behalf of all singers: "I think my gesture was fantastic. I made a real revolution for myself and my colleagues because today singers are treated as slaves."

While Alagna was defending himself in England, his wife, soprano Angela Gheorghiu, was giving him only tepid support in Italy. In an interview published Easter weekend in the newspaper Corriere della sera, the other half of opera's "love couple" said, "Find me a couple where the husband and wife always think alike. I'm not saying that Roberto has made a mistake. My idea I will keep to myself." Gheorghiu, who appears this month in a Zeffirelli production of La traviata in Rome, added that she has spoken with the director about the walkout and "everything is fine." Maybe, but it is noteworthy that Gheorghiu will only be appearing in two performances of this Traviata and Alagna, who was supposed to sing Alfredo opposite his wife's Violetta, is out of the show altogether.

By the way, Gheorghiu tossed off a few more gems in her interview. She said that while Zeffirelli appears to be obsessed with the ghost of Maria Callas, she never considered the Greek diva to be much of an influence. She also took a bit of a swipe at opera glamour girl Anna Netrebko, saying that the rival soprano still has much to learn, while there are many tenors who are eager to sing with Gheorghiu.


Natalie Dessay is either one of today's most down-to-earth opera stars or completely nuts. (or both.) At the opening of Donizetti's La Fille du regiment in Vienna this month, the French soprano took her first solo bow while manipulating a small, stuffed white Easter bunny that someone had tossed onto the stage, according to our witness at the Staatsoper. When Dessay bowed, the bunny bowed, too, and wiggled its arms. But that was only the beginning of Dessay's antics. She mock-berated an audience member for lobbing a bouquet short of the stage and into the orchestra pit; Dessay pretended to cry and pout until the flowers were tossed onto the stage. Then she commanded the entire house to give her a standing ovation, turning her stage scowl into a huge smile and nodding her head when the stragglers finally stood.

All that happened during the first curtain call. For a subsequent bow, she came out in the arms of co-star Juan Diego Fl‹rez, who spun her around in circles. In all, thanks to Dessay's clowning (and the quality of the perdormance), the curtain calls lasted nearly an hour; people would not leave even after the fire curtain came down. Dessay's buffa performance finally ended when she and Florez poked their heads out from behind a light fixture in the proscenium and gave the crowd a final wave.


Up-and-coming violinist Julia Fischer is putting her stamp on the big warhorses of the repertory. After getting terrific reviews for her recent recording of the Tchaikovsky Concerto, the 23-year-old is moving on to the Brahms and Beethoven concertos. Fischer, recently picked as one of "tomorrow's classical superstars" by Gramophone magazine, will perform the Brahms with the New York Philharmonic this month and again on tour in May. In late April and early May, she joins the Philadelphia Orchestra for performances of the Beethoven concerto. Her recording of the Brahms Concerto, with Yakov Kreizberg and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, is also due out this month on the PentaTone label.


Fresh from triumphs in Europe, soprano Nicole Cabell returns in May to the scene of one her earlier successes, Indianapolis. Cabell appears in two programs with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra — she sings the soprano solo in Brahms's German Requiem and then returns to the orchestra a week later to perform arias from Gounod's Rom_o et Juliette, Gustave Charpentier's Louise and Donizetti's Don Pasquale. Cabell, a 29-year-old Californian, drew international attention in December when she stepped in to sing the lead role in a concert performance of Rom_o et Juliette at Berlin's Deutsche Oper on just a few hours notice after Mrs. Alagna withdrew. But her career was already taking off: since winning the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition in 2005, she has been attracting fans at many major opera houses. Her first engagement in Indianapolis came in December 2005, when she sang memorable renditions of Handel arias under the direction of Raymond Leppard as part of the Indianapolis Symphony's Christmas program. Cabell's upcoming calendar includes appearances at the Santa Fe Opera, her debut at the Metropolitan Opera and return engagements with Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Royal Opera (Covent Garden) in London.


Grammy-winning classical guitarist David Russell and his wife, Maria Jes‹s Russell, will head up the first Koblenz Guitar Stars Charity Golf Day on May 20, in Germany. The tournament, which takes place on an 18-hole course overlooking the Rhein, benefits NGO David Russell y Maria Jes‹s, an organization that builds wells for drinking water in Africa and supports other projects in the developing world. Russell expects the event to attract guitarists, golfers and music-lovers from around the world ... Pianist Christopher O'Reilly is making the jump to television. O'Reilly is the long-time host of the successful weekly public radio program From the Top, which showcases talented young musicians. In mid-April, O'Reilly led a TV version of the show live from Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall. The program, which aired on PBS, included guest appearances by Joshua Bell, Bela Fleck, Denyce Graves, and Yo-Yo Ma. Beginning in May, the television version of From the Top will become a weekly series, available on many PBS stations ... Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato's new album of Spanish songs, titled ԍPasi‹n!, has been named Classical CD of the Week by The Sunday Times of London and Disc of the Month by Classic FM magazine.

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