Sunday, 24 January 2010

Opening night

Last night, Saturday 23 January, we went to the Opening of the New Season at the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma. The first night was the opera Falstaff. The sets were designed in 1964 by Franco Zeffirelli for the Metropolitain Opera house in New York.
This is grand opera with wonderful music and if well staged is a great piece of comedy, it is a masterpiece by Giuseppe Verdi.

We arrived at the Opera house and like all great first nights in Rome, it was a throw back to the 19th century, lots of officers in splendid uniforms with silver and gold braids with great cavalry boots and gleaming swords, a traffic jam of shiny expensive limousines, ladies covered in furs and diamonds, gentlemen in tuxedos and white silk scarves and great capes. Lots of paparazzi snapping flash photo at the crowd walking down the piazza in front of the teatro dell'Opera. Because it is the opening night of the new season, the President of the Italian Republic, Giorgio Napolitano came, so in the grand style the Carabinieri Guard of honor in their wonderful parade uniform were present, a red carpet, ornamental trees and exotic flowers, the Corps de ballet, composed of young girls about 8 yrs old in pink tutus was lining the great staircase, it is customary to say to them as you ascend, bello, carini, and they in turn smile demurely. Even the firemen who are present by law at all major representations wore for that night their parade uniform which is a throw back to the 19th century, with great helmet and cape lined in red silk.
The crowd was also something to behold, it had a distinctive flair of a Fellini movies, remember Edmea Tetua. The crowd was not young, Lots of politicians with medals, bankers with medals, aged famous actors of years ago with medals, designers, and of course Italian aristocracy and Knights of Malta. All dressed up in formal wear, more furs, more jewellery, lots of big diamonds and everyone with a blackberry, that you do not turn off. No one was there to listen and see the opera, no this is a social evening, were la bella figura is important, you are there to be seen.

The crowd took forever to sit down and suddenly in this organized chaos, the first bars of the Italian National Anthem, the crowd stands up as one and turns towards the Royal Box, looking up, way up to the President of the Republic and next to him the mayor of Rome who is also the Superintendent of the Opera House. There is something very strange in this old theater, inscriptions to the King of Italy and to the Fascist Dictator Benito Mussolini and this Royal Box with the Coat of Arms of the Royal House of Savoy who were voted out of office in 1946 and in it standing there the President of the Italian Republic. Is it a Republic or a Kingdom?
While the anthem was playing, I noticed that most people did not know the words beyond the first two, so most hum along.
Behind us in a box Franco Zeffirelli with his young attendant and Carla Fracci who heads the corps de ballet of the Opera and in deep mauve an elderly actress, once famous, Valentina Cortese, she played in movies by Vittorio de Sica. There was an endless parade of people paying their respects to him. In front of us paparazzi shooting with powerful flash hundreds of photos, we were sitting in between. Beside us an Italian Princess with a fortune in diamonds on her arms. Frankly looking around us the theatre and this evening had a surreal quality. If someone had told me that Nora Desmond and Cecil B. De Mille were present I would have believed them.

It was not a great production, in fact it had all the quality of reheated leftovers slightly mouldy. At the intermission, there was free champagne and chocolates offered by Hotel de Russie, the most expensive premier hotel in Rome, a famous jeweller was also displaying in the foyer different pieces, there was an exhibit of a few Calder modules. All this to give the impression of exclusivity. We could have been in 1950 it was Rome, it was la Dolce Vita.

At the end of the show, we left quickly, while the crowd applauded and cheered Zeffirelli, I do not think it was deserved at all, this was after all a production he had created some 45 years ago, nothing new and it looked cruder. A very disappointing evening all together, but also great human theater, as Falstaff says the world is a stage and we are all actors and clowns. Hopefully the rest of the season will be better.


  1. reheated leftovers slightly mouldy!! LOL u should become an opera critic! my only encounter with an event like this was watching my very first ballet (Vienna).

  2. Bad performance not withstanding,I would love to have been there,and listened to your insightful critique of the 'human theatre' being played out.
    ..Sounds like great fun to me!

  3. Well Will and I will never forget this evening, it was really unreal but then many things in Rome are unreal. Maybe this is because the city is so old and has too much history and memories.