Mr. Asagaroff said that bringing “Prima la Musica” to La Scala was Mr. Pereira’s longstanding ambition as artistic director. “Pereira likes this old stuff a lot, and he thinks it’s better to do it with ‘Schicchi,’ which is a very important piece and which has a large singing cast,” Mr. Asagaroff explained. He added that he would have liked to direct “Schicchi” himself, but that Mr. Allen’s production had already been selected.
Is it daunting to go up against the legendary filmmaker? “Yes, sure,” Mr. Asagaroff replied.
“It’s a challenge, because the piece is not as impressive or as known as ‘Schicchi,’” he added. “It doesn’t have an aria like ‘O Mio Babbino Caro,’ which is universally known even by people who know nothing about opera,” a reference to Puccini’s lyric showstopper in which Schicchi’s daughter persuades her father to win her a dowry so she can marry the man she loves.
“So it’s a challenge for me to make something out of this piece,” Mr. Asagaroff said, adding that his production would eschew realism for a fantastical set full of oversize instruments. “It has to make it funny and appealing — especially all the recitatives,” he said, referring to the rapid-fire dialogues set to harpsichord accompaniment between the arias.
“Mamma mia, the recitatives, always the recitatives!” cried Mr. Maestri, the Scala production’s star, backstage after a recent performance in Munich of “Il Trittico,” Puccini’s trilogy of one-act operas first performed at the Metropolitan Opera in 1918.
The title role in “Schicchi,” the trilogy’s comic third part, is one of the Italian baritone’s calling cards. That evening in Munich, however, he had also been singing the lead in “Il Tabarro,” the atmospheric tragedy at the start. Full performances of “Trittico” are rare, and “Schicchi,” a popular short work, is often paired with “Tabarro” or “Suor Angelica,” the trilogy’s second, tear-jerking installment.