Woody Allen makes La Scala debut directing comic opera

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Director Woody Allen attends a press conference at La Scala opera house, in Milan, Italy, Tuesday, July 2, 2019. Woody Allen is directing Puccini’s ‘Gianni Schicchi’ opera, which opens Saturday in Milan. The opera premiered in Los Angeles and it’s making its debut at La Scala. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

MILAN (AP) — Woody Allen said Tuesday as he prepared for his directing debut at Milan’s La Scala opera house that he has “always had a warm and affectionate following in Europe.”

Allen was greeted with applause at a news conference ahead of the weekend premiere at La Scala of Puccini’s comic one-act opera “Gianni Schicchi” with the prolific filmmaker as director.

Unlike in Hollywood, the 83-year-old Allen’s acceptance in Europe appears largely untouched by allegations of sexual misconduct that have been revisited in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

In the United States, Amazon Studios terminated an agreement to distribute his latest film, “A Rainy Day in New York.” The film will be released in the fall across Europe. Two of the film’s stars have said they would donate their salaries to charities fighting sexual abuse.

Alongside the La Scala production, a cinema museum in Milan is showing a retrospective of 28 Allen films. After Saturday’s “Gianni Schicchi” premiere, Allen said he plans to travel to San Sebastian, Spain to work on his next film. The cast includes Christoph Waltz.

Allen said that his work “resonates with Europeans in a way that they relate to.”

“I know when I started making movies 50 years ago or almost 50 years ago, for whatever reason I always had a very warm and affectionate following in Europe,” he said. “And even when films of mine were not as well received in the United States, always in Italy, France and Germany, all over Europe, they received my films well.”

He continued: “Maybe when I grew up, I was an addict for European films, I watched them all the time. Maybe through some process of osmosis my films resonate with Europeans. “Allen’s “Gianni Schicchi,” which he first staged in Los Angeles, is being performed alongside Salieri’s “First the Music, Then the Words” directed by Grischa Asagaroff. Most of the performers are students from La Scala’s academy.

Allen said he was persuaded by Placido Domingo to direct opera – but it took him a long time to come around.

“I didn’t know if I had any ability to do this sort of thing. I had done cinema and not even that much stage work. I found it to be a very enjoyable experience,” Allen said.

The director said he long enjoyed listening to opera, but usually sees only the first two acts of a production due to early-morning filming schedules.

“What I always wanted was an evening of just third acts, so I could see all the third acts I missed over the years,” he said.

Allen’s said he staged “Gianni Schicchi” in the neorealist style of 1950s directors like Vittorio De Sica and Federico Fellini — after ideas to make Schicchi a rat among mice or a cigarette among organic produce were rejected.

He said he would have preferred a different ending for the opera, based on an incident in Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” which sees the title character condemned to hell for profiting from a ruse.

“I have a weakness for people who live on the margins of society and slightly outside of the law, so have I have great affection for Gianni Schicchi,” Allen said. “I would not put him in hell at the end of the movie. I would retire him with a good pension and let him go off and lead a very happy life in the country. “

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