Tenor cries betrayal as Milan's La Scala dumps him
By COLLEEN BARRY,Associated Press Writer AP - 2 hours 22 minutes ago
MILAN, Italy - It was classic La Scala intrigue.
The famed opera house threw its understudy into one of its biggest nights Sunday, removing tenor Giuseppe Filianoti at the last minute for the season-opening premiere of "Don Carlo" after he made mistakes during a dress rehearsal.
American tenor Stuart Neill, who has mostly performed in second and third casts, got the break of a lifetime in the title role and survived his unexpected debut of "Don Carlo" with generous applause _ and a smattering of boos.
That's not bad for the self-ordained critics of La Scala's uppermost balconies, who in another era hurled salami and risotto at singers they deemed unworthy. In 1982, they even booed legendary tenor Luciano Pavarotti as he sang "Don Carlo," considered among the most difficult tenor roles.
"Tough crowd, but no I wasn't nervous at all," the 43-year-old Neill said backstage still in costume just minutes after the curtain came down.
Filianoti didn't go quietly, telling the Milan daily Corriere della Sera that he had been "betrayed" by the opera house, "stabbed in the back at the last minute."
"La Scala wanted me to say I was sick. But I, Giuseppe Filianoti, am in perfect condition, ready to engage myself in a role in which I feel secure," the paper quoted him as saying.
Filianoti showed up for the first act, but left without watching his understudy through to the final duet with Elisabetta, sung by soprano Fiorenza Cedolins.
The opening was conducted by Milan-native Daniele Gatti, making his debut at a La Scala premiere. The night is one of Europe's most highly anticipated cultural events of the season, regularly attended by the cream of Milanese society, captains of Italian industry and heads of government. This year, the presidents of Rwanda and Togo attended.
The reaction was mixed _ with boos sprinkled in with the final applause, a relatively parsimonious eight minutes.
The longest and most unreserved shows of appreciation were for Cedolins, mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick as the princess of Eboli, bass Ferruccio Furlanetto as Phillip and baritone Dalibor Jenis as Rodrigo.
La Scala's general manager Stephane Lissner shrugged off the boos as anger over the tenor swap _ not the performance.
"What matters is what we heard, and anyone who heard it, knows that the orchestra, the chorus truly performed an exceptional 'Don Carlo,'" Lissner said.
Neill, a native of Atlanta, Ga., was thrown into the title role just a day before the premiere.
The switch was a huge break for the tenor who made his debut at La Scala in 1997, the same year he debuted at New York's Metropolitan Opera as Arturo in Bellini's "I Puritani."
Since then, he has sung a total of just 13 performances at the Met _ including as the Italian singer in Strauss' "Der Rosenkavalier" and Alfredo in Verdi's "La Traviata" _ but none at all since 2000. He has also performed in other major opera houses, including Teatro La Fenice in Venice, the Vienna Staatsoper and The Royal Opera Covent Garden.
La Scala's audience _ especially the inhabitants of the uppermost balconies known as the "loggionisti" _ is infamous for its ruthlessness. The "loggionisti" don't hesitate to shower boos on any singer, no matter how renowned, if they feel their exacting standards aren't met.
Last year, tenor Roberto Alagna walked off stage during a performance of "Aida" when he was booed during the opening aria.
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