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Last Updated: Friday, 15 December 2006, 12:01 GMT
High melodrama strikes La Scala
By David Willey
BBC News, Rome

Roberto Alagna
Alagna has said he will sue La Scala

The international tenor Roberto Alagna arrived outside La Scala Opera House in Milan where he had been billed to star as the lead singer in Franco Zeffirelli's glittering production of Aida.

But he did not enter through the stage door.

In the cold night air, surrounded by a small group of well-wishers, he sang a touching farewell aria, not from Aida, but from Puccini's Madame Butterfly: "Addio fiorito asil, di letizia e d'amore" (Farewell oh happy home, farewell, home of love!)

Alagna's swansong to La Scala was almost drowned out by the sound of traffic.

It was the unconventional last act of an unrehearsed melodrama that began on the newly reconstructed stage of La Scala opera house in Milan last Sunday night.

Antonello Palombi
Palombi will now share the role of Radames with Walter Fraccaro

It has ended with a lawsuit and the cancellation of a valuable artist's contract worth tens of thousands of dollars.

Supporters and critics of the singer who triggered the dispute by walking off stage without warning, have been arguing all week.

Some say the incident may have damaged the future career prospects of Alagna, the 43-year-old star tenor who sparked off the scandal.

Rowdy behaviour

Bare armed and clad in a toga, he was playing the Egyptian general Ramades in Giuseppe Verdi's spectacular opera Aida, set in ancient Egypt.

Alagna suddenly walked off in a huff after being booed from the gallery for his rendering in the first act of the popular aria Celeste Aida.

Maria Callas
Callas also had a run-in with her audience

A small group of opera buffs known as the 'loggionisti' standing or sitting in the top-most gallery of the 18th-Century opera house had booed, whistled and heckled the international opera star.

The 'loggionisti' - who claim to know every note of every opera by heart - are notorious for their rowdy behaviour when they consider a performance to be below standard.

Luckily, standing in the wings was Roberto Alagna's understudy Antonello Palombi, who continued the performance.

Prima donna

Although he had no time to change from black jeans and a t-shirt, or to warm up his voice, he strode boldly on to the glittering stage set designed by Franco Zeffirelli and sang the role of Radames for the rest of the opera.

Conductor Riccardo Chailly later apologised to the audience, some of whom had paid up to $1,500 (766) for their tickets.

La Scala
La Scala in Milan is arguably the world's most famous opera venue

Other opera stars, such as Katia Riciarelli and Luciano Pavarotti, have been recalling that they were once booed at La Scala.

Even the legendary Maria Callas, the ultimate prima donna, received the occasional cat-call. She refused to continue with a performance of Norma at the Rome Opera House in 1958, although she did complete the first act.

But no-one at the theatre could recall a scandal similar to Roberto Alagna's tantrum.

'No crime'

Alagna said afterwards that he was prepared to return to the theatre to carry out the five more performances of Aida for which he was contracted to sing.

But La Scala's general administrator Stephane Lissner informed him that he was in breach of contract and that his services would not be required any more.

Roberto Alagna
Alagna said La Scala should have 'protected' him

The dispute will end up in court and Palombi and Walter Fraccaro will now share the role.

Alagna said: "I have been in Milan for a month rehearsing. They are treating me like a monster. I have committed no crime, done nothing wrong.

"What was I supposed to do when some people started booing? La Scala should have protected me and suspended the show."

Alagna, husband of the acclaimed Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu, claimed he had received messages of support from singers and conductors around the world.

'Real maniacs'

Enrico Molinari, a noted Milan psychologist who is also a long-time frequenter of La Scala sitting among the loggionisti, told Italy's Ansa news agency "there are some real maniacs in the upper gallery."

"They listen to a recording of an opera four or five times before they go to see it, in order to recognise every nuance of every note," he said.

"But La Scala is human after all, it is not the abode of the gods, and even gods have weaknesses!"

Another opera veteran, Dr Maurizio Alpi, medical officer at the Parma opera house for the past 60 years, recalled an incident back in 1971 when the then famous Italian baritone Renato Bruson rushed off stage brandishing a sword during a performance of Il Trovatore after receiving cat-calls from the audience.

"I thought he was going to cleave in two an unfortunate photographer standing in the wings," he said.

Dr Alpi calmed down the singer with a shot of valium. And the show went on.

Roberto Alagna on stage in Aida

Booed singer puts on rival show
15 Dec 06 |  Entertainment
Booed tenor suing opera company
13 Dec 06 |  Entertainment
La Scala opens season with Aida
08 Dec 06 |  Europe
In pictures: Zeffirelli's Aida
08 Dec 06 |  In Pictures
La Scala faces uncertain future
12 Nov 05 |  Europe


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