Monday, December 11, 2006

Don't forget the Diva: Roberto Alagna walks off stage

Thanks to Roberto Alagna, world-class tenor, for walking off stage during an opera performance, thus turning a cliche back into a tradition.

Here's what I gather from the short BBC News article: Aida, an opera composed by (cospicuously Italian) Guiseppe Verdi, was being performed at La Scala, a world-famous opera house in Milan. I hope I haven't already lost your attention. During Alagna's performance of a song called Celeste Aria, the tough Italian crowd, which contained some pretty damn important people, started booing him. Enraged, Alagna walked off the stage. His duet partner was temporarily screwed; his understudy, Antonello Palombi, had to rush on-stage and continue the performance in his denim-wear.


Now, I don't know much about opera (obviously), but thanks to Wikipedia, I DO know that the word "diva" was originally used for female opera singers. We've been using it for bitchy adult alternative vocalists for so long that we've almost forgotten its origins; the first Urban Dictionary definition is as follows:

"a bitchy woman that must have her way exactly, or no way at all. often rude and belittles people, believes that everyone is beneath her and thinks that she is so much more loved than what she really is. selfish, spoiled, and overly dramatic."

There's also a lot of reference to diva being an over-used industry buzzword, and its association with lonely housewives and gay men. A few of the definitions mention the opera singer origins, but that's probably because those contributors looked at the same Wikipedia article that I did.

Luckily, we have Roberto Alagno to thank for reminding us what "Diva" really means. Sure, it's self-important, but it's a matter of being so irrationally proud of your art that you don't take shit about it. He walks off the stage as if to say, "Sure, diplomats and journalists, we have a deal... if you don't want to hear me sing, I don't want to sing for you. Humph!" When you're singing in an opera, you're licensed to be dramatic, and there's no better way to express yourself than to stomp off the stage.

Compare this to American celebrity freakouts. I'll give you two examples...

1) Michael Richards' situation, with the heckling, was kind of like Alagno's. He wasn't being appreciated, and he objected. Unfortunately, he couldn't manage the demands of his art (i.e. he couldn't "jujitsu" it, laugh it off, or take it lightly). Instead, he fucking FREAKED OUT and went on a racist rant that got his name in a lot more headlines than Roberto Alagno will ever manage.

2) Going back a little more, look at Ashlee Simpson's lip-synch faux pas on Saturday Night Live, October 25, 2004 (sorry about the quality of the clip... this video has mysteriously vanished from the Intertron). It resulted in a reaction that was similar to Alagno's... a miffed exit stage-right... but for what? An embarrassing lip-synch switch-up that revealed the authenticity of Ashlee's vocal talents. Not exactly an expression of pride in her art-form. Pretty sad, walking off because you were caught faking... if the crowd had actually booed her during her song, would she have walked off? Probably not, because her voice would have kept on singing.

So good job, Roberto Alagno... if you're not getting the respect you deserve, get off the stage, and do it proudly and angrily. Thanks for showing us the Diva as an indignant defender of his/her own precious performance... a role that still merits respect.


Anonymous said...

An interesting contrast between spefically Alagna and Simpson (I've never seen Richards' stand up so I can't say) is the difference between art and fake art. No one will argue that Verdi is not art. Alagna was trying to perfect an art form and was not appreciated. I agree, he had every right to leave out of respect for the art.

Ashlee Simpson's departure from the stage was also out of respect for her art (yes, I am referring to pop music as art, and my inner music theory nerd is cringing), but for different reasons. Where it was the audience disrespecting the art at the Opera, it was Simpson herself disrespecting the art at SNL. She tried to get away with it, got caught in the act, and the only thing left to do was (in the immortal words of Kelly Clarkson) walk away.


Jesse M said...

Excellent call. You could boil this down to a difference in the attitude that accompanied the departure. Alagna departed in pride; Simpson departed in shame.

Thanks for the contribution, Rach, and happy holidays.

Evan Tucker said...

...Let me try writing this again....

La Scala has a very very long tradition of booing things they don't like. Over 150 years ago, Verdi himself was booed for an opera they didn't like. These opera lovers capable of booing -and possibly murder - are the 'loggione'. They are known as the toughest, hardest to please opera lovers in the world. They sit in the very back stalls of the opera house and have the knowledge to back up their opinions. And while they are incredibly rude, a booing from them means something very significant.

Here is the clip from Italian TV. You may notice something very crucial, Alagna's sings a high note with an extraordinary ring to it. The problem however is that he sings a B when the note is a B-flat. If that sounds trivial, well, that's opera. It's not enough to boo a singer over, but it is certainly enough to withold applause. If Alagna had simply ackowledged that he was not singing his best that night, the resulting feud between him and La Scala might have been remedied before it even began.

But instead, Alagna was obstinate that he was singing his best. His famous comment was "I was bravissimo." The clip shows that he clearly wasn't.

Alagna and his wife, Angela Gheorghiu are the preeminent "Divi" before the public today. They're both talented, but La Scala is now the second major opera house to ban Alagna. The MET had banned them both for a while, though they've since reconciled. There are legions of stories about how badly they treat people they work with.

Alagna is a talented singer, but an episode like this is a long time coming. The audience should never boo a singer, but he didn't have to cancel all his appearances with La Scala in response and refer to the world's most historic opera company as a 'circus.' That is diva (actually Divo) behavior in the worst sense of the word.

Anonymous said...

I agree that booing is a time honored tradition at LaScala. If Alagno can't stand the heat, he needs to get out of the kitchen. tony pfannenstiel

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

For a male, it is DIVO, which means literally ANGEL. Unless of course, you are suggesting something additional regarding Alagna's personal life? :')

Enrique S.