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October 19, 2019

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La Scala to perform two Mozart operas

The opera company from La Scala in Milan is among the first performing troupes to arrive in Shanghai for the 21st China Shanghai International Arts Festival. It performs Mozart’s famous “The Magic Flute” and his lesser-known “The Disguised Gardener” from yesterday to Thursday.

For the first time, the 241-year-old Teatro alla Scala has brought its complete 250-strong performance crew, including choir and orchestra, to China.

The two operas are being performed at the newly opened Shangyin Opera House. It’s the first time that a domestic opera venue will be staging two operas alternately on one stage in such a short period of time.

Alexander Pereira, executive and artistic director of La Scala, said the troupe was honored by the invitation to perform.

“We are pleased to show La Scala’s finest productions to Shanghai audiences,” he said. “The new opera house has the most advanced facilities we have seen in years, including its structure and sound effects.”

“The Magic Flute” (Die Zauberflote) is among the most frequently performed of all operas. The performances in Shanghai feature La Scala Academy Choir and La Scala Academy Orchestra. The staging is by German director Peter Stein.

“To perfectly present the production, we had a lot of communication with our Shanghai partners during preparation work,” said Stein. “It is a courageous endeavor by both parties.”

“The Magic Flute” is a two-act opera, with a German libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder. It is a form of singspiel, with both vocal and spoken dialogues. Mozart’s last opera is a fairy tale with Masonic subtexts.

In the story, the Queen of the Night, who has one of the most famous arias in the opera repertoire, persuades Prince Tamino to rescue her daughter Pamina from the captivity of the high priest Sarastro. But Tamino is moved by the high ideals of Sarastro’s sect and sees through the queen’s conspiracy. Tamino and Pamina then undergo severe trials to become initiated into the sect. The queen is ultimately vanquished. Comic aspects of the opera revolve around Tamino’s sidekick Papageno and his lady-love Papagena.

“It’s a famous work that has been performed many times,” said Stein. “La Scala has brought new-blood performers here this time. They are quick learners, who will present the work smoothly.”

“The Disguised Gardener” (La Finta Giardiniera) is a three-act, Italian-language opera Mozart wrote in 1774, when he was 18 years old. The comedy, set in the mid-18th century, involves complex love relationships between its characters.

The heroine of the opera is Countess Violante Onesti, who has been stabbed in a fit of jealous rage by her lover, Count Belfiore. Fortunately, she recovers. Calling herself Sandrina, she goes into hiding, disguising herself as a gardener at the house of the local mayor. The mayor immediately falls in love with her, which annoys his servant Serpetta, who is in love with the mayor. Serpetta, in turn, is loved by Violante’s servant Nardo, who also pretends to be a gardener.

The Glyndebourne Festival production will be presented by the orchestra on historical instruments. The staging is by German director and producer Frederic Wake-Walker.

“This is a piece close to my heart and was the first major production I did in Europe,” said Wake-Walker. “It’s amazing to see the production is traveling and growing, since it’s not very often performed in Europe.”

He added: “In my opinion, it’s one of my first choices for opera. The way the seven characters are presented in the work is very mature. The music is old, but all costumes and performers’ gestures are contemporary. We will be enjoying an 18th century work in a modern time.”

Both the operas will be conducted by Diego Fasolis.

“I was hesitant about the trip at first since I’m not a fan of long flights,” said the Swiss-born conductor. “But the idea that I would get to conduct two works on the same visit was too tempting to turn down. I checked out the facilities of the new opera house, and I’m very confident about the performances.”

The Shangyin Opera House, owned by the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, officially opened last month after more than three years of construction.

The eight-story structure, including three underground levels, has a main theater with 1,200 seats, and four rehearsal halls for opera, orchestras, choruses and folk music. The facility is equipped with the most advanced acoustics, and the U-shape design of the main theater allows audiences to sit closer to the stage.

“The Disguised Gardener” is performed yesterday, tomorrow and on Tuesday, while “The Magic Flute” will be on stage on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday.

“To present two operas alternately on one stage is a challenge to both the theater’s machinery facility and its management,” said Liao Changyong, president of the conservatory. “I’m happy that the new venue has received recognition from the Teatro alla Scala. The opera house is a new downtown cultural landmark that contributes to Shanghai’s ambition to become Asia’s performance capital.”

Liao said the Shangyin Opera House would serve as platform bringing together domestic and international artists.

The La Scala troupe arrived about two weeks ahead of its performances in Shanghai. Master courses and music lectures have been organized to benefit conservatory students and local opera fans.

“Compared with our visit some 20 years ago, I have seen great changes this time,” said Pereira. “Chinese audiences show great interest and knowledge in opera, and this is a world-class venue.”

Pereira said La Scala has signed agreements with the Shanghai Conservatory of Music to promote more educational exchanges in the future. Two students of the conservatory will take part in the performance of “The Magic Flute” in Shanghai.

“La Scala Academy has 1,800 students,” said Pereira. “It has a long tradition of cultivating performing artists and talent in theater management, staging and mechanics. We seek to encourage investment in academies and in the cultivation of talent who can popularize classic opera in a modern era.”


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