MILAN (AP) — Italy’s premier opera house, Teatro alla Scala, on Tuesday defended its decision to stage Russian opera “Boris Godunov” for its December 7 season-opening gala.
The opera fends off protests from Ukrainian officials in Italy who insist that the showcasing of Russian culture during Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine sends the wrong message.
The Russian title was chosen to open the 2022-23 season three years ago and “contains no propaganda for the Russian government”, La Scala chief executive Dominique Meyer told reporters.
Written by Modest Petrovic Musorgskij and based on a play by Russian poet and playwright Alexander Pushkin, it tells the story of a Russian tsar whose manipulation of power haunts him and his family.
“The Ukrainian consul wanted us to cancel. From a certain point of view, I understand because Ukrainians are hurt, every family has dead and destroyed houses,” Meyer said. “I understand this attitude, but I cannot agree with it because we have to do concrete things for the Ukrainian people.”
He said there was “nothing in this production that goes against Ukraine”.
He pointed out that La Scala had been the first to cancel the engagements of Russian conductor Valery Gergiev, who was conducting at the Milan opera house when Russia invaded Ukraine in February, after failing to express a desire to a peaceful solution to violence.
La Scala also raised 400,000 euros ($410,000) at a benefit concert for Ukraine, and the theater hosted children from a dance school in Kyiv and their families, he said. .
“It’s a drop in the ocean for people in difficulty, but that’s what a theater like La Scala can do,” Meyer said.
Meyer said he had not met with the Ukrainian consul in Milan, who filed the complaint.
The two institutions exchanged letters, which have not been made public.
An official speaking on behalf of Ukraine’s Consul General in Milan, Andrii Kartysh, told The Associated Press that the choice of “Boris Godunov” was viewed negatively in Ukraine. He said the difficulty of rescheduling the gala season opener was understandable, but there was disappointment at the “unwillingness” to consider it.
“Boris Godunov” was chosen for La Scala’s gala season by conductor Riccardo Chailly three years ago, and features Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov in the title role, making his sixth debut performance of La Scala season. The opera has already been conducted at La Scala by Arthur Toscanini and Claudio Abbado.
Meyer said the mood among the Russian actors during rehearsals was “great”.
“They work very hard,” Meyer said, adding that the war was also weighing on them. “We know that there are Russian victims. There are also Russian victims in Ukraine. It’s a much more complicated thing than what is said, we all know that. They are great artists, and they are happy because they know that they are involved in a production at the highest level.”
Danish director Kasper Holten, who is handling the staging, said it would be wrong to cancel the opera, “which is about unmasking power”.
“It’s a special opera, and it was even in its time,” Holten said.
Abdrazakov said he was grateful to both Meyer and Chailly for not canceling the production, at a time when presenting Russian culture has become difficult.
“For a Russian bass, singing Boris here is a joy,” Abdrazakov said. “Today is a moment that is not so easy. I must thank Maestro Chailly and Dominique Meyer who chose this opera and did not remove it from the repertoire.