'Tears of joy': Milan's La Scala opera house to reopen to public

By: AFP      Published: 06:09 PM, 10 May, 2021
'Tears of joy': Milan's La Scala opera house to reopen to public

Arias are set to reverberate once again throughout Milan's La Scala later on Monday when the mythical Italian opera house reopens to the public after six months of silence imposed by the coronavirus.

The performance comes a day before the 75th anniversary of a historic concert in 1946 that celebrated the postwar reopening of La Scala which had been bombed three years earlier and rebuilt.

"It's a double rebirth: (conductor Arturo) Toscanini opened La Scala after the war and we are trying to revive it after the pandemic, there is the same will to survive," Stefano Cardo, a bass clarinettist in the La Scala orchestra since 2007, told AFP on his way to rehearsals.

More than 122,000 people have died during the pandemic in Italy, which reopened its cinemas and theatres on April 26.

The storied opera house in Italy's financial capital has not been spared, with a total of 144 cases of Covid-19, including 64 in the chorus, according to its management.

Renowned for its exceptional acoustics and red velvet-draped boxes, technicians have been busily getting the ornate opera house ready to reopen.

To respect social distancing, musicians will take over the ground-floor seating area, with the audience confined to the balconies. 

Only 500 spectators are admitted per performance -- a fraction of La Scala's normal capacity of 2,000.

But with no intermission and the bars closed, one sound that will be missing is the usual clinking of champagne flutes.

Instead, guests will be treated to hydro-alcohol gel, as well as temperature checks and masks.

Cardo admitted to being "a little nervous" before the concert on Monday evening, which begins with the majestic "Patria Oppressa" ("Oppressed Fatherland") from Giuseppe Verdi's "Macbeth".

Performed by the La Scala Chorus, it will be led by musical director Riccardo Chailly.  

"We have recorded many concerts in streaming, but it was virtual, here it's different, with the public it's an intense moment of emotion that we share, as the final applause that we missed," Cardo said. 

Tears of joy

Emotions are expected to run high.

"We have all listened to recorded concerts from our armchairs, but this has nothing to do with the emotion of live music, the quality and beauty of natural sound," said Dominique Meyer, La Scala's director since 2020.

"I am sure that with the return of the spectators to La Scala, there will be tears of joy," the Frenchman, who previously headed the Vienna Opera for a decade, said. 

Making her La Scala debut on Monday will be Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen, interpreting arias from Wagner's "Tannhaeuser", Richard Strauss' "Ariadne auf Naxos" and Tchaikovsky's "Queen of Spades". 

The concert ends with the famous chorus of slaves, "Va, pensiero", from Verdi's "Nabucco", the ode to freedom also sung during Toscanini's concert in 1946.

Signalling Italy's revival

La Scala's reopening was preceded by Italian conductor Riccardo Muti leading the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra for the first time in more than five months on Sunday in the northern Italian city of Ravenna.

And Muti returns to La Scala on Tuesday for the 75th anniversary.

"La Scala has always been a symbol for the Milanese and for Italy, it is the second Italian brand in terms of reputation, behind Ferrari," said Meyer, an economist by training.

"Paradoxically, it is La Scala giving the signal for the revival of an entire country, whereas at the beginning of the health crisis, it was said that culture was not an essential activity," he added, noting the extended closures of theatres.

Despite having performed virtually, musicians and singers said it was no substitute for the thrill of a concert.

"It was sad to stay closed for so long. The passion was missing, preparing a concert is part of a musician's life, his identity," said Damiano Cottalasso, a 54 year-old violinist in the orchestra.

"We are in the centre of the hall, protagonists of a renaissance of theatre and music in general," he added. 

"When we play for ourselves, we are like plants that wither."