A Costa Rican Imprint on Milan's La Scala Theatre
It’s a bright, sunny day in the bustling city of Milan, the industrial heart of Italy. The history and beauty of the city are difficult to overstate, but we’ve come here for one attraction in particular. As the famous Duomo Cathedral lifts its gothic beauty to the heavens, we find nearby its long-time neighbor, the La Scala Theatre, which has for centuries been one of the most imposing spectators of lyrical verse.
When La Scala opened its doors in 1778, composers such as Mozart and Haydn were still alive. The celebrated composer Giusseppe Verdi had his first success here, with “Oberto, Conte di San Bonifacio,” in 1835. He also presented his last opera, “Falstaff,” here in 1893. Some of the works that debuted at La Scala continue to fill the marquees of the world’s most important theatres, such as Bellini’s “Norma”; Ponchielli’s “La Gioconda”; Verdi’s “Nabucco”, “Otello” and “Falstaff”; and Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly.”
Today, La Scala is recognized as a one of the most important theatres in the world, host to world-class composers and some of the greatest premieres in the history of music. Yet critics say that La Scala has lost some of its sheen in the last 20 years, as other theatres moved away from tradition and toward the avant-garde.
This is the challenge that faces Gastón Fournier, the first Costa Rican to direct artistic coordination in the theatre’s history. Nature Landings spoke with Fournier on one hot summer afternoon in Milan, and he was nothing if not confident.
“We want La Scala to be a historic point of reference as well as a guide on how opera can be done globally at the grandest level today,” said Fournier at one point, exhibiting the enthusiasm that he considers his greatest virtue.
Years of preparation and experience in Costa Rica and Europe brought Fournier to the doors of La Scala in June 2007, ready to fill one of the most prestigious and demanding posts in all of theatre. On his shoulders rests the artistic quality of La Scala’s presentations, which have now grown from 160 to 275 events per year and today are the heart of the theatre’s €150 million annual budget. Operas, ballets, symphonic programs and choral concerts drive Fournier to travel the world in search of the best directors and artists. It is a duty that challenges and fascinates him, despite the arduous pace that made several of his predecessors resign.
“It was my dream, but I never imagined it would come to pass,” says Fournier, who acknowledges that his passion for the world of culture was developed in Costa Rica. He says that he acquired techniques and languages from the Europeans, but that there were three things that he already possessed when he left Costa Rica: well-formed tastes, cultural knowledge and a sense of wonder.
“Europeans get enthusiastic, but they are not awed,” he said. “I think that amazement is a very Latin American trait, and it is essential for doing things enthusiastically.”
It is that drive to do things as well as possible, to give the public what it was promised, that compels Fournier to spend long hours at work, whether in be late nights at the theatre or traveling the world to find the next great performer. But no matter the project, he religiously devotes at least one day per week to his family in Rome.
Neither has he abandoned his passion for writing. His new book about the famous Wagner opera “Tristan and Isolde” was published last December and can now be found in all the Italian bookshops. He is the author of a book of images about the composer Gustav Mahler, on whom he is an expert. Fournier earned his master’s degree in musicology at Sussex University, and is the co-editor of another book on Mahler with one of his former professors there.
Fournier understands that while there is an audience for classical opera, it is important to bring the lyric arts to the general public, especially the younger generations. With that in mind, La Scala will be presenting a ballet with the music of Pink Floyd next season, and it will be the first opera theatre in the world to show a work on the issue of climate change, based on the book “An Inconvenient Truth” by Al Gore. The theatre has already bought the rights, and the work will premiere in May 2011.
Fournier’s daring was evident before he reached La Scala, and it has served him well in his position, where undoubtedly one of his greatest achievements has been to carry the name of Costa Rica with him.
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