Roberto Alagna, the tenor lead in the wildly popular new Aida that opened La Scala's season last week, stormed off the stage and out of the house after his first aria in last night's performance was booed by some of the audience.
According to the Milan newspaper Corriere della Sera and various other media reports, Alagna completed the famous "Celeste Aida" to some hisses and boos amidst the usual applause. The tenor was seen to shake his fist at the audience at the upper balcony (where the notoriously vocal "loggionisti" sit, and where the hissing started); he then stormed off the stage and out of the theater.
Mezzo Ildik‹ Koml‹si, singing the Egyptian princess Amneris, was "left to sing a duet by myself," as she put it after the performance. As she began the piece, the stage manager grabbed understudy Antonello Palombi and literally threw him onto the stage in street clothes, amid cries of "Vergogna!" ("Shame!") from the balcony, so that Act I could be completed.
Palombi went on to perform the rest of the opera (in costume) to general applause; La Scala general and artistic director St_phane Lissner came on stage before Act III to "express regret for the incident which happened during Act I" and to "thank Antonello Palombi, who generously took the stage so as to allow the opera to continue without interruption." Alagna's name was conspicuously absent from the announcement.
"I am happy because I proved to myself that I have a lot of sangfroid, and for the first time I understand what it means to behave like a man," Palombi said after the performance, as reported by the ANSA news agency. "But I don't forget that I found myself in this situation because of a colleague's incident."
Meanwhile, the furious Alagna told paparazzi outside the theater, "I'm displeased, embittered, stunned: I have sung all over the world, but standing in front of tonight's audience, I felt like I was in another world ... I sang beautifully, I was bravissimo. Too bad for those who didn't understand." (The quotes and translations were posted on the blog Opera Chic, which has been offering detailed and regularly updated accounts of the saga.)
"I shall never come back to La Scala: This is not a theater, it's a Roman arena," the angry divo continued. "Professionals here get manipulated. I have canceled my commitment for Manon Lescaut in 2008. My wife is thinking of canceling her commitment for La traviata here in July 2007." (Said wife, soprano Angela Gheorghiu, is notoriously strong-minded herself, and her eventual decision remains to be seen.)
The Associated Press quotes conductor Riccardo Chailly as saying after the performance, "In many years at La Scala I have never seen anything like what happened tonight."
The audience at Milan's opera house, and especially the loggionisti, are legendary for their readiness to voice their disapproval loudly; Alagna is hardly the first singer to suffer their boos. (He might not even be the first singer to be booed by them this month.) Among the most famous previous victims of their wrath are Renée Fleming (for her 1998 performance in Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia) and Luciano Pavarotti (who cracked a high note as Verdi's Don Carlo in 1992 and later said that the audience was right to jeer him).
In a statement to the press this morning, La Scala general and artistic director Stéphane Lissner described the incident as "very painful" and said that it showed "an obvious lack of respect for the audience and the theater."
The next performance of Aida is tomorrow night, with the second cast scheduled to take their first turn in the new Franco Zeffirelli production. As of this morning, Alagna was still listed on La Scala's website as singing on December 14, 17 and 22, with the Radames for December 19 "to be determined."
If Alagna does intend to keep his word and not return, matters could get complicated. Decca Classics is filming the entire December run of this Aida for DVD release, and had contracted with La Scala for a starry cast headed by Violeta Urmana (in the title role), Komlósi and Alagna. If contracts are broken in a high-stakes situation like this, the attorneys could be brought in.