La Scala kicked off its season last week with a triumphant, new production of Verdi's Aida, directed by Franco Zeffirelli. The season opened on December 7, as it does each year, on the Day of St. Ambroise, the city's patron saint. Thanks to the pre-show buzz, tickets sold out in hours and the production drew an audience of celebrities and dignitaries from designer Donatella Versace and actor Rupert Everett to Italy's prime minister Romano Prodi and German chancellor Angela Merkel. The audience showed its appreciation.
Playbill remarked that “La Scala's audience — famously demanding and notoriously ready to boo anything and anyone it doesn't like — gave Franco Zeffirelli's new production a 13-minute cheering ovation and showered the director with roses after the final curtain of the legendary Milan opera house's season-opening performance last night.”
The New York Times also chimed in, “…how else could the audience respond but by cheering the singers, the orchestra, the director, La Scala — and themselves for being there?”
Zeffirelli presented his first Aida at La Scala in 1963. The opera house has presented others, but none since 1984. Zeffirelli said his new production would be the “Aida of all Aidas.” If the audience’s response is any indication, he may have succeeded.
With Lithuanian mezzo-soprano Violeta Urmana as Aida and tenor Roberto Alagana as Radames, the extravagant production featured more than 300 performers, including ballet dancers, against larger-than-life sets displaying gleaming temples, Egyptian reliefs, columns and statues.
La Scala’s successful season opener and other recent events may signal its resurgence as the world’s opera capital. After years of management problems, music director Riccardo Muti resigned in 2005. Daniel Barenboim took over as principal conductor last spring. The new artistic director, Stéphane Lissner, has brought back harmony and is refocusing attention on the future. In fact, Lissner has already announced next year's season opener, Wagner's Tristan und Isolde and, the 2008 opener, Verdi's Don Carlo.
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