Curtain rises at Milan’s state-of-the-art La Scala after lengthy renovation

It was August 3, 1778, when the curtain first rose at Teatro Alla Scala in Milan. One of the foremost members of the audience was Empress Maria Teresa of Austria, there for a performance of the opera «Europa Riconosciuta,» by Antonio Salieri, the leading musician at the Hapsburg court in Vienna. The fact that the opera was never performed again did not stop the famous conductor Riccardo Muti, who has been musical director at La Scala since 1986, from choosing it as the premiere to mark the theater’s three-year renovation, during which time not only the Milanese but opera lovers the world over waited anxiously to see the result. Last Tuesday, the theater reopened to an audience that included Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, the writer Umberto Eco and film star Sophia Loren. The curtain rose on the brand-new, state-of-the-art stage, before a brilliant, luxurious amphitheater, where the libretto was shown on screens on the back of the seats. Muti brought the opera literally out of storage because he wanted the theater to be the star of the premiere, not the music, the libretto or the singers. The parts once played by the famous castrati were given to women, the soprano Genia Kuhmeier and mezzo-soprano Daniella Barcelona, as well as the sopranos Diana Damrau (Europa) and Desiree Rancatore (Semeli) who stay on stage for almost the entire performance. The orchestra played with «verve and finesse,» according to the International Herald Tribune’s Harvey Sachs, one of the fortunate members of the audience, in his review on December 9. The architect Mario Botta has created excellent acoustics, so that the music is audible in every corner of the theater. Helbi will be able to give a first-hand account of a La Scala performance and her impressions of the theater on her return from Milan, a city that has once more opened the doors to a Europe that, yet one more time, recognizes its majesty.