Fantasy, elegance and sensuality beat everything
According to this year’s Scala program, which embraces many various masterpieces of the Ninetieth Century, “West Side Story” was considered to be the hardest challenge to beat. The dare was spectacularly won thanks to a show of amazing beauty, a overwhelming, sensual and moving performance characterised by a rhythm of perfect narration, rich in fantasy and elegance. This proves that believing in musicals as a lively expression of art music rather than as a toy at Broadway’s tourists’ disposal, simply means accepting the evidence of truth.
The Scala shows that profoundness and style can perfectly match with amusement, joy of life and experiencing feelings, such as the enchantment of a night in New York, the bellicosity, and the impulse to dance and to make love, which “West Side Story” is rich of. Once the curtains are closed, you can feel the extraordinary fascination of Paul Gallis’ scene which mirrors that mysterious iron structure of scaffolding and stairs making up so many of New York’s buildings, the vivid colours of the lights, Joey McKneely’s choreography taken from the original version and all the other “visual” elements. It’s a make-up which embodies all that easy-taking unscrupulous world where these notes were born, i.e. among Times Square’s sprinkling, but at the same time it shows a graphic quality able to adapt itself to the “sacred” space of the Scala. The singers, actors and dancers are marvellous: from David Miller’s Tony, so young, impulsive and lovely, to Montserrat Martì’s sweet, fragile and dramatic Maria up to the very erotic Christina Marie Norrup’s Anita; Juan Betancur (Bernardo), Tony Rivera (Chino) and Jim Ambler (Riff) are rightly daring.
To listen to this music, perfectly played by the Scala orchestra under Donald Wing Chan’s direction is, rather than luxury, luxuriance.
From “La Repubblica” - 9 July 2000
A miracle in Milan called Robbins
Milan. It’s obvious that it is considered as an event. In a way, this Scala representation celebrates a genre, which in Italy has been approved by the critics and has only recently found an increasing number of new fans. As to the choice of the title, West Side Story, the author of which is Leonard Bernstein, evokes a curious familiar heath. Bernstein directed numerous concerts at the Scala, the first of which took place in November 1950 and the last one in 1994. He mastered operas among which the unforgettable “Sonnambula” with Maria Callas and was present as both a compositor and a pianist.
From its humble origins the musical has kept on growing thanks to the participation of extraordinary musicians, lyricists and choreographers becoming wiser and wiser. There is no doubt that Balanchine’s choreography for “On Your Toes” and particularly that ballet part called “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” have influenced all the successive dancing concepts of the musical. It is worth mentioning Agnes De Mille of “Oklahoma!” but above all the not so many, (in all 10), choreographic scenes by Jerome Robbins. It would be a mere academic exercise to discuss the most supreme, creative, classical scene. Robbins’ infinite curiosity has guided him on many different paths. West Side Story embodies an unusual capacity of invention, the most different cultural elements and fortunately, it stays so through all the different editions of the musical, all of which maintain absolute respect towards the original choreography which is performed like the Olympic Flame. Apart from the joy you can feel while looking at those magnificent scenes, it is even more fascinating to look at the choreography and the dancers during the scenes while analysing the sequences as well as the single steps and movements.
Does Donald Chan direct this miracle of bodies, which galvanised even the Scala orchestra? The fact is that the orchestra plays as were it on Broadway, showing and defending the truth of those past affirmations by Robbins, Laurents, Bernstein and Sondheim who absolutely wanted to create something different from the Opera. No doubt, the Scala orchestra has offered a perfect, though unusual performance, mastering all kinds of music problems due to microphones and particularly to the enormous space. As to Donald Chan, he directed West Side Story a number of times in the past. The director Joey McKneely has reduced the scenes to the minimum while strictly observing the sublime original choreography performed by a group of enthusiastic young people, all of which would be worth mentioning because of their generosity. The two main characters, Tony and Maria, Romeo and Juliette’s modern counterparts, are played by David Miller and Montserrat Marti, whose mother, the famous Spanish soprano Montserrat Caballé, visibly proud looking at her daughter’s performance from a box affirms that “singing, dancing and reciting at the same time is a tough challenge; musicals are even more exhausting than the opera”. The two characters are touching in their love scenes. However, here again, the second couple emerges and maybe this has now become part of the tradition.
Among the public, during the interval at the Scala Bookshop, Bernstein’s sons, Alexander and Jalme signed copies of a “West Side Story” registration directed by their father. Bernstein actually never accepted to direct his most famous work in a theatre. “This musical is undoubtedly one of the ninetieth century masterpieces and I’m happy that the Scala has proposed it. My father would have enjoyed it. What really wondered me was the particular musical echo that the Scala orchestra was able to transmit to the notes”.
Many many thanks to Daniela for painstakingly translating these from Italian for use on this site!