Among the pandemic-induced streams of operas and concerts over the past year, the Teatro alla Scala‘s creations have been notable in their imagination, from a “gala” that managed to integrate many art forms, i.e. history, drama, painting, theater, dance and music, to concerts that make full use of the orchestra, chorus and guest soloists. This concert, conducted by Riccardo Chailly with soprano Lise Davidsen making her house debut, was another such distinguished occasion, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the rebuilding of the theater.

The Chorus and Orchestra of Teatro alla Scala
© Brescia e Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

Five hundred fortunate audience members were admitted, sitting in boxes and galleries. The full orchestra, socially distanced and mostly masked, occupied the stalls, while the masked chorus was placed on stage.  The program was an eclectic mixture of Italian, English and German repertoire, but the message delivered was clear: amid sadness and devastation, we must find a ray of hope.

Riccardo Chailly, Lise Davidsen and the Orchestra of La Scala
© Brescia e Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

The orchestra and chorus began with the plaintive lament of “Patria oppressa” from Macbeth, somber and subdued. Davidsen followed with “When I am laid in earth” from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. Her voice was rich, creamy and velvety in this selection with abundant chest tone. Dido’s final plea “Remember me, but ah! Forget my fate” showed off her heart-wrenching pianissimo. She was stupendous in two German arias close to her heart, Strauss’s “Es gibt ein Reich, wo alles rein ist” and Wagner’s “Dich, Teure halle”, maintaining consistent tone throughout her range, shading and coloring her voice with beauty and subtlety. The Norwegian soprano's control of high tessitura was on full display in “Pace, pace mio Dio” and she floated the last notes in the air with exquisite sense of finality after traversing Leonora’s emotional journey in this demanding aria.

The Orchestral del Teatro alla Scala
© Brescia e Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

As splendid and polished as Davidsen’s singing was, it was the magnificent and versatile Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala that received the greatest ovation from the grateful audience. It played three pieces from Verdi’s operas: “Patria oppressa”; the overture from La forza del destino and “Va, pensiero” from Nabucco with flourish and sophistication. Verdi’s music is in their DNA. The sense of legato, that melodious continuity of line that is so distinct in Italian music, was carried over into the two Wagnerian selections, the Meistersinger prelude and Tannhäuser overture. Maestro Chailly approached both pieces as one big melody, with continuous flow of lush and beautiful notes, transparent and deep at times, but always moving. His unhurried tempo was never languid but was an ingenious juxtaposition of slower and quicker, softer and more dynamic. Every motif in Wagner’s music was clearly delineated and the majestic conclusions of both were nothing short of thrilling. 

Riccardo Chailly
© Brescia e Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

The concert concluded with another Italian favorite, “Va’ pensiero”, with orchestra and chorus expressing in an understated, but brilliant manner a longing for their homeland. It is a sad chorus but one full of hope for future. It was a perfect way to capture the emotional journey of all of us, still reeling from the devastating effects of the tragedy of the past year, trying to move slowly out of darkness into light.

This performance was reviewed from the RaiPlay video stream