Anna Netrebko © Dario Acosta
Anna Netrebko
© Dario Acosta

Few opera singers capture the public imagination like Anna Netrebko. And there are few more glittering occasions in the opera calendar than the opening night of the season at the Teatro alla Scala. When the two collide, things can be very special indeed. In recent years, Netrebko has transferred to heavier soprano roles, such as Puccini’s “material girlManon Lescaut, which suits her perfectly. This autumn, she opens the La Scala season in a new role, that of Maddalena de Coigny in Mario Martone's production of Andrea Chénier. Netrebko's husband Yusif Eyvazov takes on the title role of the revolutionary poet. The opera is conducted by music director Riccardo Chailly and heads an incredibly appetising season, one of nine new productions.

Chailly’s other appearance next year is conducting the new staging of Donizetti’s comedy Don Pasquale. Dramatically, it’s a tricky opera for a director to get right. Elderly bachelor Don Pasquale plans to marry to disinherit his nephew. Dr Malatesta cooks up a scheme to teach Pasquale a lesson, by presenting Norina (Ernesto’s beloved) as his sister “Sofronia” as a suitably obedient bride for Pasquale. As soon as the wedding contract is signed, “Sofronia” makes Pasquale’s life a misery. In the wrong hands, it can turn the joke into something quite cruel and nasty. Davide Livermore usually has a sure comic touch in Rossini, so hopes will be high for this Donizetti staging. In Ambrogio Maestri, Livermore has one of the great comic baritones at its disposal; the greatest Falstaff in the world at present, his comic timing and nimble patter should suit Don Pasquale well. Rosa Feola, who made her La Scala debut in this season’s La gazza ladra, is the feisty Norina who teaches the old man a thing or two about married life.

Riccardo Chailly at La Scala © Marco Brescia & Rudy Amisano | Teatro alla Scala
Riccardo Chailly at La Scala
© Marco Brescia & Rudy Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

Ernani was only Verdi’s fifth opera but considering how many times Nabucco (his third) or Macbeth (his tenth) are scheduled, it gets staged relatively infrequently. This is a shame as it’s a terrific work, packed with wonderful arias. Based on Victor Hugo, it’s not so much a love triangle but a love square, with three men seeking the hand of Elvira: the bandit, Ernani; her uncle Don Ruy Gomez de Silva; and Don Carlo, later to become the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (the same character who crops up as the mysterious monk in Verdi’s Don Carlos). Despite a pact between Ruy Gomez and Ernani, and a magnanimous gesture from Carlo towards his conspirators, the opera doesn’t end well. Casting Verdi is difficult these days – even for Italian houses – but La Scala has come up trumps. Ailyn Pérez has proved herself one of the classiest Violettas on the circuit and is well equipped to tackle the heavier vocal demands of Elvira, especially the taxing aria “Ernani, Ernani involami”. Francesco Meli’s robust tenor should be a good fit for the bandit of the title role, while Simone Piazzola (Don Carlo) is undoubtedly one of the most promising young Verdi baritones for years.

More fiery Italian repertoire – of the verismo sort – comes via Riccardo Zandonai’s Francesca da Rimini, a rip-snorting tale based on an episode from Dante’s Inferno about a woman who falls in love with her brother-in-law with murderous consequences. David Pountney directs La Scala’s new production, which stars Maria José Siri (this season’s Butterfly) and Roberto Aronica.

<i>Orphée et Eurydice</i> at Covent Garden © ROH | Bill Cooper
Orphée et Eurydice at Covent Garden
© ROH | Bill Cooper

Two productions from British shores find their way to La Scala next season. John Fulljames Royal Opera staging of Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice was most remarkable for the integration of dance into the opera. The remarkable Hofesh Shechter Company transfers to Milan, as does the tenor Juan Diego Flórez. His Eurydice this time is German soprano Christiane Karg. From Glyndebourne’s leafy paradise comes Mozart’s La finta giardiniera (The Pretend Garden-Girl), in a delightful production by Freddie Wake-Walker. Two lovely sopranos head the cast: Hanna-Elisabeth Müller as ‘Sandrina’ (a marchioness disguised as a gardener) and Anett Fritsch as Arminda.

Sonya Yoncheva triumphed at the start of the 2016-17 season at Covent Garden making her debut as Bellini’s Norma, a role which immediately conjures the ghost of Maria Callas. Next, Yoncheva tackles another of Callas' Bellini roles – Imogene in a much rarer opera, Il pirata, in a production by Christof Loy. The work premiered at La Scala in 1827 and within two months, the opera had been performed to fifteen full houses. The opera, with its tale of shipwreck, a love triangle and pirates in disguise, fell into obscurity until the 1958 La Scala production, headed by Maria Callas and Franco Corelli, helped bring about a slight reversal of fortunes.

György Kurtág’s Fin de partie (based on Samuel Beckett’s Endgame) is given its world première at the end of the season, in a co-production with Dutch National Opera by Pierre Audi.  

Franco Zeffirelli's production of <i>Aida</i> © Marco Brescia & Rudy Amisano | Teatro alla Scala
Franco Zeffirelli's production of Aida
© Marco Brescia & Rudy Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

There is no Wagner for the Milanese public next season, but Schubert and a very different pair of Strausses represent German language opera. The late Patrice Chéreau’s acclaimed staging of Elektra (a co-production with five other houses or festivals) arrives at La Scala with Ricarda Merbeth in the title role, while Johann Strauss II’s fizzing paean to Champagne, Die Fledermaus, is given its first ever performance by the company. Cornelius Obonya directs and Zubin Mehta conducts. Schubert’s Fierrabras marked the composer’s attempt to move away from the Singspiel tradition. It’s a tuneful opera and is give its first La Scala performance ever in a co-production with the Salzburg Festival by Peter Stein. Daniel Harding conducts.   

A couple of revivals notable for their casting – Krassimira Stoyanova in Franco Zeffirelli’s grand production of Aida to celebrate the director’s 95th birthday, and Stuart Skelton as Florestan in Fidelio – round off a very tempting season indeed.

Click here to view the listings for the complete opera season.


Article sponsored by Fondazione Teatro alla Scala