The tenor, who was singing the role of Radames in the new Franco Zeffirelli production of Aida which opened La Scala's season last week, left the stage, and the theater, in a huff when some audience members booed and hissed following his rendition of "Celeste Aida" in Act I. Alagna later told reporters — first the paparazzi outside the opera house, later radio and television journalists — that he was "bravissimo" and that he would never again appear at La Scala.
The house's administration agreed with that last remark. The incident "showed an obvious lack of respect for the audience and the theater," St_phane Lissner, La Scala general and artistic director, said yesterday. He went on to point out that Alagna had broken his contract and so would be replaced for the rest of Aida's current run. (The new first-cast Radames will be Walter Fraccaro, who was a successful substitute in another high-profile Verdi production just last month, Il trovatore at Lyric Opera of Chicago. Antonello Palombi, who was literally shoved onstage to cover for Alagna after his walkout, remains in the second cast.)
Yet matters are not so simple in this all-too-operatic saga.
Decca Classics had contracted to film all the first-cast performances in order to make a DVD, and the label — having counted on Alagna's well-known (and now tarnished) name to market the release — is reportedly furious at his behavior. The wayward tenor, no doubt worried about his future career prospects (and potential legal liability), has begun telling the Italian media that he intends to show up at the opera house and perform as scheduled on Thursday (December 14) — and that if La Scala managers do not allow him to perform, they will be violating his contract and that he will sue the theater.
"Write this down: on the 14th, Roberto Alagna ritorna vincitor," he told television reporters, as quoted in the Corriere della sera. (The phrase means "return the victor"; the tenor was alluding to Aida's famous aria of that title, sung to Radames.)
The management begs to differ. "Word has come to our attention of Roberto Alagna's request to return to La Scala for the next performance," press representative Carlo Maria Cella told Corriere della sera and other outlets. "His behavior has caused a definitive split between artist and audience which there is no possibility of La Scala repairing."
According to the Associated Press, Cella added that Alagna was the party to break the contract — "He did not leave because he was sick; he left voluntarily" — and that La Scala's legal office would evaluate what action to take.
As of this morning, Alagna was desperately backpedaling. The Milan-based blog Opera Chic (which has been offering regular and detailed updates on the entire affair) has links to, and translated quotes from, an interview the tenor gave early today to Italy's AGR Radio in which he offers all manner of explanations, excuses and conspiracy theories. He insists that a claque of those who hated him planned the booing from the balcony in advance. He asserts that there was a backstage plot to drive him out of the production. He argues that journalists have misquoted him and that he really said, "If they don't want me, I'll never come back" to La Scala. He even maintains that he had no idea that booing was a common occurrence at the house: "Now I understand that this thing is not evil ... This is a human thing. If it's normal to be booed, then that's fine ... So I shall sing."