Opera goes where the money is NOT

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    Delmar Williams


    First in Africa
    Ghana First
    Historic cultural crossover performance today

    By Alhaji Harruna Attah* | Posted: Monday, April 23, 2007

    It is certainly not for the money.
    It is certainly not for recording contracts.
    So what could Daniel Barenboim and the Orchestra and Chorus of La Scala Milan be doing in Ghana? La Scala, one of the most famous orchestras in the world, will be playing its first ever concert in Africa, not in Pretoria, not in Johannesburg, not in Cape Town, not in Cairo, not Alexandria, not Rabat, not Casablanca, but here in Accra, Ghana. Something good must be happening in and to Ghana. The Principal Guest Conductor, Daniel Barenboim, himself a living legend and one of the greats of the piano and conductor’s baton would be in charge in this historic African performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
    It may not mean much to many Ghanaians, but in terms of global cultural crossovers, this is as major as debt cancellation. Barenboim and La Scala are in town to celebrate with Ghana her 50th Anniversary of independence.

    If the sound engineering is sound enough to permit a CD to be produced, it would certainly be a landmark recording. Today’s performance is a very significant cultural step being taken by this historic European cultural icon.

    The Teatro alla Scala (or La Scala, as it is known), in Milan, Italy, is one of the world’s most famous opera houses. The theatre was inaugurated on 3 August 1778, under the name Nuovo Regio Ducal Teatro alla Scala with Salieri’s L’Europa riconosciuta.

    The current edifice is the second theatre on the site. A fire destroyed the first, the ancient Teatro Ducale, on 25 February 1776, after a carnival gala. A group of ninety wealthy Milanese, who owned palchi (private boxes) in the theater wrote to Archduke Ferdinand I of Austria asking for a new theatre and a provisional one to be used while completing the new one. The neoclassical architect Giuseppe Piermarini produced an initial design but it was rejected by Count Firmian (an Austrian governor).

    A second plan was accepted in 1776 by Empress Maria Theresa. The new theatre was built on the former location of the church of Santa Maria della Scala, from which the theatre gets its name. The church was deconsecrated and demolished, and over a period of two years the theater was completed by Pietro Marliani, Pietro Nosetti and Antonio and Giuseppe Fe. This theatre had a total over 3,000 seats organized into 678 pit-stalls, arranged in six tiers of boxes above which is the ‘loggione’ or two galleries. The stage is one of the largest in Italy; the proscenium is 26m wide and 27m high, and the stage was originally 20m deep.

    La Scala hosted the prima (first production) of many famous operas, and had a special relationship with Giuseppe Verdi.

    La Scala’s season traditionally opens on December 7, Saint Ambrose’s Day, Milan’s patron saint. All performances must end before midnight; long operas start earlier in the evening if need be. Ticket holders are not allowed to enter after the performance has begun.

    Daniel Barenboim who was born on November 15, 1942 is an Argentine-Israeli pianist and conductor. He was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina; his parents were Russian Jews. He holds Spanish citizenship in addition to his Israeli and Argentine citizenships. He first came to fame as a pianist but now is as well-known as a conductor, and for his work with mixed orchestras of Arabs and Jews, and for his collaboration with Palestinian American intellectual and activist Edward Said. In 2001, he sparked a controversy in Israel by conducting the music of Wagner.

    He started piano lessons at the age of five with his mother, continuing to study with his father Enrique, who remained his only teacher. In August 1950, when he was only seven years old, he gave his first formal concert in Buenos Aires.

    Barenboim made his debut as a pianist in Vienna and Rome in 1952, Paris in 1955, London in 1956, and New York in 1957 under the baton of Leopold Stokowski. Regular concert tours of Europe, the United States, South America, Australia and the Far East followed thereafter.

    He made his first recording in 1954. Following his debut as a conductor with the Philharmonia Orchestra in London in 1967, he was invited to conduct by many European and American symphony orchestras. Between 1975 and 1989 he was Music Director of the Orchestre de Paris, where he conducted much contemporary music. He made his opera conducting debut in 1973 and made his debut at Bayreuth in 1981, conducting there regularly until 1999.

    He served as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1991 through June 17, 2006. He also is music director of the Berlin State Opera (Staatsoper Unter den Linden) and the Berlin Staatskapelle since 1992. He now is conductor for life at the Berlin State Opera. On May 15th, 2006 Barenboim was named Principal Guest Conductor of the La Scala opera house, in Milan, Italy. It is in this position that he is making this historic African appearance tonight.

    *With some notes from internet sources

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