Opera’s sheer universality represents deeply emotive stories reflecting the best and the worst of human nature. When the 80 musicians from La Scala Theatre Orchestra take their places on stage in the Dubai Opera on December 1, it will mark a historical moment as the music ensemble from the world’s most revered La Scala Opera House in Milan makes its debut in the Gulf region after more than two centuries since its inception. A pianist and conductor widely admired in both roles for his acute, deliberately unflashy musicianship, Michele Gamba, 40, will be at the podium for ‘Concert for Tomorrow’ for the United Nations COP28 Climate Summit. He will lead the instrumentalists of La Scala in an operatic gala concert featuring a mix of well-known operas by Giuseppe Verdi, Giacomo Puccini and Pietro Mascagni.
La Scala Orchestra is one of the world’s top ensembles for opera productions. Its recording catalogue stretches back to the 78rpm era and includes some of the most famous opera records ever made under the guidance of the Orchestra’s legendary principal conductors and musical directors.
Maestro Gamba will bring the written score to life through his fiery baton and establish a deep connection between his arm movements and the music emanating from the players. On the Dubai Opera stage, he will also keep the beat and shape the sound for two of the major opera stars who will showcase their vocal and theatrical power: the Russian soprano Aida Garifullina, a mind-bending talent with a beautiful voice in perfect pitch and coloratura and Italian tenor Vittorio Grigolo who, at the last moment, replaces Piero Pretti.
Music is a unifying, powerful force, and in Dubai, La Scala Theatre Orchestra, with its name’s history and its sound’s cohesiveness, aims to transmit a rich tradition and a message of hope that raises social awareness on climate change. City Times met Michele Gamba as he prepared to fly with the troupe for the event. Edited excerpts from an interview:
This debut represents a historical landmark in the history of our prestigious orchestra, and we all hope this concert will also be a fruitful opportunity to develop new policies to protect the environment.
Relations between nations and people need time, and culture plays a key role in everyone’s identity. Now, we all feel that the time has come for our cultures to get closer and merge to create something new.
Each concert has an extraordinary atmosphere. Here, we know that we are ambassadors for our country, which is an even bigger responsibility for each of us. You selected highlights from the opera repertoire: set pieces by Verdi, Puccini and Mascagni.
The programme is the epitome of our core repertoire. Each aria and each overture is a meaningful gem of the world’s musical heritage. From La Bohème to La Forza del Destino, through Cavalleria Rusticana and Traviata, we take our audience for a trip to the heart of musical culture.
First of all, they are indeed great artistes, not just technically but also expressively. They always bring something new and fresh to each performance.
In 2021, when the pandemic was still ongoing, I was invited by the Teatro La Fenice in Venice to conduct the concert for COP26. Later, I was so happy to hear that La Scala was invited to represent Italy at this important summit in Dubai. Now I am honoured to be a part of this event again.
No doubt about it. Nature has always been an inspiration for any form of art. Music has something even more special: it does not paint pictures or write words. It evokes landscapes and feelings as soon as the first note vibrates in the air.
Yes, the gesture of a conductor is the physical representation of breathing. To produce a sound, any instrumentalist needs to breathe. And the conductor must help to inhale and exhale.
These are music gods. No one can even think of reaching those peaks. They have all left a big, lasting impact on the orchestra: the sound and the texture of La Scala are unique.
My roots are at the piano; that’s where I come from and where I always go back. Whether I am studying a new score or preparing for a chamber music concert, the piano remains my environment. Musically, I am voracious and very curious about new languages.
The relationships with the orchestras have changed enormously over the last few decades. Today, the level of the instrumentalists is incomparably higher, and now the actual job has become more of mutual enrichment. Conducting an orchestra is now more of an osmotic exchange between peers, each of us is very aware of our role.
Indeed, contemporary music plays a crucial role in my musical approach. The difficulty of some scores requires extra effort from everyone involved. Part of my job is helping my colleagues remember that we need to enjoy the actual process of making music as part of a communicative relationship between us and the audience. That applies to new music as much as more classical repertoire.
I had my Oman debut last September with the Rai Symphony Orchestra. We played Rossini and were very happy to share the sheer joy emanating from this great composer’s music with the Omani audience. We hope for more opportunities to come.
La Scala, again! A new production of Cherubini’s Médée on the centenary of Maria Callas’s birth and a contemporary piece by Fabio Vacchi, an exciting melting pot of opera and ballet.