The 83-year-old Zeffirelli has never been shy about speaking out on most any topic, from Italian national politics to Catholic belief to Riccardo Muti's embattled reign as La Scala's music director. Now he has spoken publicly about l'affaire Alagna — and none too gently. Below are excerpts from comments the director made yesterday to the Italian newspaper Il Giorno.
On the tenor's behavior:
"Alagna was always a little nervous about facing a role like Radames, which is not exactly in his Fach ... But he did not have a professional approach, and it didn't come out well ... At a La Scala premiere a tenor cannot get all nervous like a little boy. It's unacceptable."
On his suitability for the role he was singing:
In the current market a [true] Radames does not exist. It's useless to try looking for one; he's not there. There are many baritones, mezzo-sopranos, but there is an extraordinary lack of dramatic tenors. ... Certainly, in different times the loggionisti would have protested much more vigorously. But in the opera world we know that there doesn't exist any [real] choice for Radames; one must be satisfied with a singer who has certain deficiencies.
On the remaining run of this Aida:
I have already worked with the other two tenors, here and at the Bolshoi, and they are quite fine. We will go forward with or without Alagna. Certainly it would have been better had this not happened, but the audience reacted quite civilly; they even applauded Sunday's performance.
On future work with Alagna:
"I am supposed to do a Traviata in Rome with him and his wife [Angela Gheorghiu, planned for L'Opera di Roma beginning next April 20]. She is more intelligent than he is; I know her well, and we agreed to work together. Then Alagna arrives and says, 'I want to sing in your Traviata.' I said OK, but now he has developed this persecution syndrome. I am very embarrassed; I don't think I can agree to work with a tenor who has been so wildly and stupidly rude at La Scala.