MILAN Georges Bizet's "Carmen," a tale of love, jealousy and murder, opened the season on Monday at Milan's La Scala to applause for the singers but boos for the creator of its sparse staging, Emma Dante.
The glamorous first-night crowd included "Da Vinci Code" author Dan Brown, who described the performance as "spectacular" and said he could imagine setting some scenes for his next Robert Langdon novel in the 18th century opera house.
"There's quite a few good characters for novels walking around the foyer," Brown said.
But Dante's stark settings -- looming warehouses and walls for the bullring -- did not please everyone.
Conductor Daniel Barenboim -- who said the production would become a legend -- gave Dante one of many roses thrown to the singers and musicians as the two stood alone being booed in front of the red curtain after more than 10 minutes of applause for the cast.
Barenboim had promised that his "Carmen" would have "a knife at her throat all the time" during the performance, which marks the start of La Scala's 2009-2010 season.
The opera kept the tension high right up to the final scene when Carmen's former lover, Don Jose, cuts her throat as the crowd cheers for the matador who has killed the bull.
Barenboim had chosen recent La Scala academy graduate and mezzo soprano Anita Rachvelishvili to play the defiant gypsy Carmen after she tried out for a more minor part.
"I came to audition for the role of Frasquita, and he promoted me to Carmen," she said in remarks published on Corriere della Sera newspaper's website.
"Maybe it's just a dream. Maybe I will wake up and find that none of this exists. But all the same ... I feel like I'm flying," the Georgian-born Rachvelishvili said.
The audience liked her but reserved its loudest applause for Jonas Kaufmann, the tenor who played her lover and eventual murderer, Don Jose.
Barenboim, principal guest conductor at La Scala, has said he thought Dante captured the opera's tragedy and comedy in her sets, which had a heavy helping of Christian symbolism to stress the tension between Catholic Spain and the liberated Carmen.
"Being Carmen means breaking the rules, being far from moralism and the hypocrisy of certain ... classes where there is horror, but it is kept well out of sight," Dante told a newspaper.
The performance lasted nearly four hours and tickets for the first night cost as much as 1,680 euros ($2,500). All seven performances are sold out with only a few standing places available on the day.
The opening night was shown live in cinemas across Europe and the United States. The Classica channel broadcast live coverage.
(Editing by Michael Roddy)