La Scala makes last-minute maestro substitution

La Scala makes last-minute maestro substitution


norman lebrecht

March 26, 2016

There was panic at La Scala Friday night when, minutes before the curtain rose on I due Foscari, the conductor Michele Mariotti came down with a high fever and flu symptoms.

What to do?

The tenor Francesco Meli remembered that there was a young guy from Milan who had assisted in a Foscari he had sung with Antonio Pappano at Covent Garden. Someone found a phone number for Michele Gamba.

The audience was told the performance would start 15 minutes late.

Michele Gamba, 32, jumped into a taxi and raced for La Scala.

First reports say the performance was outstanding.

michele gamba

Michele’s c.v.: Michele Gamba was a member of the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme 2012–14 and was Jette Parker Associate Conductor for the 2014/15 Season. He made his Royal Opera House conducting debut with Bastien und Bastienne in Meet the Young Artists Week 2012 and subsequently conducted Berio’s Folk Songs in Meet the Young Artists Week 2013, two lunchtime concerts with Southbank Sinfonia and excerpts from Eugene Onegin and Così fan tutte (Act I) in the JPYAP summer performances. He also acted as assistant conductor on La Fille du régiment and joined The Royal Opera’s music staff for Siegfried, Götterdämmerung,La bohème, Eugene Onegin, Written on Skin, Simon Boccanegra, La rondine, Les Vêpres siciliennes, Parsifal, Carmen, La traviata, Tosca, Dialogues des Carmélites and Ariadne auf Naxos, Anna Nicole, I due Foscari, Tristan und Isolde, Andrea Chénier, Król Roger and Guillaume Tell.


  • Vittorio Parisi says:

    Personally I do not believe La Scala had not a conductor ready to jump in last minute.

  • Nigel Charman says:

    La Scala not ready for a disaster? Really?

  • Nigel says:

    Michele knows the piece,, he would have been fine!

  • Vittorio Parisi says:

    Mariotti was sick by days and La Scala has substitutes for every productions. This is the kind of news that magazines like so much. But if you prefer to believe fairy tales…

    • norman lebrecht says:

      If you think a senior official at La Scala communicates lies to Slipped Disc, then you are more naive than the ‘magazines’ you accuse.

    • anonymous says:

      I was there, and a gentleman came on stage and told exactly what the magazine is saying. The young conductor walked in in a hurry ready for any and everything and was very much applauded by the pubic the entire time. He seemed to be determined to grab this opportunity of a lifetime. The performance did start late. Nothing seemed to be a fake.

  • Vittorio Parisi says:

    I’m not accusing anybody Norman, but if you think senior officials tells always the truth you are the naive not me. It is just a nice story of a talented young conductor, but I do not believe it happened that way.

    • anna maria rossi says:

      I’m friends with michele gamba family, I know him since he was born , I experienced live what happened , michele gamba lives and works in Berlin , he happened to be in Milan for the Easter holidays and that night was having dinner when they called him. All the story is true, it is a pitty you do not believe the story, but it is clear that you will not believe it

      • Vittorio Parisi says:

        The only thing that is clear is that you do not read posts correctly. I did write that it was not possible that La Scala had not a substitute, not that your friend was cooking his pasta when he was called. And the truth is that the substitute was ready to conduct and already dressed when your friend has been called for whatever reason. I have spoken directly for 30 minutes with this man that has worked in La Scala for v30 years. Next time read carefully what other people writes please

        • anna says:

          io leggo bene, forse non scrivo altrettanto meglio, quindi scrivo in italiano visto che credo lei sia italiano
          io ho letto il suo ultimo post dove racconta la storia solo dopo aver inviato la mia risposta
          al suo primo commento dove metteva in dubbio la storia come riportata dal giornale, dalla sua risposta si evince che ancora dubita di qualcosa che però non vuole dire chiaramente
          la verità è che realmente gamba non aveva avuto alcun preavviso nè poteva immaginare nè è coinvolto in strane cose che lei lascia immaginare siano successe, forse se le sa sarebbe bene che ce le raccontasse apertamente, se per motivi suoi non può non dovrebbe neanche accennarle
          infine le chiederei di usare toni più gentili, o forse anche in questo caso non ho letto bene?

          • Vitttorio Parisi says:

            Writing Italian in an international newsletter is not correct. Yes, you don’t read well , may be better you’d scroll down the answers and check the all story like I have written it at the end with a testimony from inside the theatre. Besides this I have answered you in the same tone you have used, no reason to complain.

  • Gerald Martin says:

    Any relation to Piero Gamba?

  • Peter Freeman says:

    I was wondering the same, GM, but Mariotti”s official assistant is Leonardo Benazzi.

  • Jane Susanna ENNIS says:

    This was reported on the main news on Italian television. Can you imagine a similar story being reported on major networks in the UK?

  • Rosana Martins says:

    All it took was to Google his name and several articles popped up. They all tell te same story: he was cooking a sauce at 19:42hs when the tenor called him.

  • Ken Segar says:

    The “truth” is that it was a last-minute substitution. The great Scala orchestra, tenor and soprano were all clearly “thrown” at the outset, and certainly did not sound as though this was their eighth performance of the work. They took some time to reach their respective high levels of competence. But the miracle occurred. Bravi tutti, arcibravo Michele Gamba.

  • Vittorio Parisi says:

    I have now, the real, and in a certain way, sad, truth about this “last minute” substitution, living in Milano and knowing perfectly La Scala and how things work there. I took a little bit of time before answering again on this subject obtaining the authorization to write by one of the subjects involved. As I wrote immediately after the new spreaded, La Scala, like all other Opera Houses in Italy, is ready for such situations and has his substitutes. Nobody has ever thought to send the people in the audience back home or to the hotel. When Mariotti informed he was too ill to conduct that evening, the so-called “maestro rammentatore”, the maestro who follows all rehearsals and works in the performances reminding words and some notes to the singers on stage, was called and asked to conduct that performance. He is a my friend and colleague in the main Italian music school and a conductor himself and I am writing this rows with his authorization because he is really upset with La Scala. I will not write his name even if he perfectly knows that is not difficult to understand and know who had this job in that production. This man was already dessed for he performance when La Scala, probably pushed by a suggestion of the tenor, phoned to Gamba. The performance started with delay also because La Scala asked to the “maestro rammentatore” to explain to Gamba, act by act, tempoes, cuts and all other things, and he had to oblige. So at the end of the story it is true that Gamba was called last minute but is totally false that La Scala had not a substitute conductor for the performance, and I can absolutely understand the resentment of the “maestro rammentatore” . Maestro Mariotti himself told to this maestro that he was really sory for how the situation evolved and he had not any responsibility for this. That’s all.