Franco Zeffirelli Showered With Roses at La Scala's Opening Night

Classic Arts News   Franco Zeffirelli Showered With Roses at La Scala's Opening Night
So, was it the Aida of Aidas?

The people who saw it seemed to think so. 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.

It was an especially sweet triumph for the 83-year-old director. Though he is something of an Italian cultural institution, with a 53-year-long relationship with La Scala, he had not worked at the house in a dozen years. Zeffirelli was an increasingly strident and public opponent of Riccardo Muti over the course of the conductor's tumultuous 19-year reign as the house's music director; only now that both Muti and the top administrators who battled him are gone (after a messy and noisy battle last year) has Zeffirelli come back to La Scala.

(Administrator St_phane Lissner, former director of Paris's Th_ê¢tre du Chê¢telet and the Aix-en-Provence Festival, is the house's new artistic director; he has chosen to do without a music director but has named Daniel Barenboim, in effect, principal guest conductor.)

Zeffirelli's return inspired far more anticipation than the usual opening night: tickets for the entire run of this Aida (11 performances total through January 12) sold out in 24 hours.

The audience didn't even wait for the final curtain to cheer the production: according to Reuters and the Associated Press, there were plenty of bravos after Act II's famous Triumphal Scene (pictured below), which offered a 310-person stage extravaganza full of elaborate costumes, scenery and dance.

Excitement is running so high over this Aida that almost none of the media reports (in English, at least) have made mention of a major feature of La Scala opening night tradition — the protesters in the plaza in front of the opera house shouting at the high and mighty leaving their limousines.

Fortunately, Alan Riding of The New York Times and International Herald Tribune didn't forget about that part. There were "banners denouncing military spending and the war in Iraq," he writes, "and a labor union loudspeaker complaining that it was 'una vergogna nazionale' — 'a national shame' — that public money should be wasted on opera."

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