December 1, 2011 / 10:42 AM / 8 years ago

La Scala seduces crisis-hit Italy with "Don Giovanni"

MILAN (Reuters) - Milan’s opulent La Scala theatre is hoping the seductive powers of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” can momentarily drown out the chorus of economic doomsayers in Europe when it opens its opera season next week.

Daniel Barenboim, musical director of Milan's La Scala opera house, gestures during his visit to the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow November 12, 2011. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

Opening night at La Scala is not only the top calendar event for opera lovers. Politicians, members of the government and top-rank businessmen are regular guests of the glitzy night, and hounded by reporters across the theatre’s chandeliered rooms for comments on the latest political drama.

This year, the traditional opening night on December 7 will raise the curtain during a delicate moment for Italy, where the political elite have come under fire for the country’s precarious position in a euro zone debt crisis that has already swept former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi from power.

“We have put together the best performers for one of the world’s most difficult operas and we are already sold-out,” La Scala artistic director and general manager Stephane Lissner said on Wednesday at a news conference packed with sponsors.

This year, members of the new technocrat government led by former European commissioner Mario Monti will be the most sought after guests at La Scala’s opening, which also often plays host to protesters seeking anything from rights for workers to the banning of the fur trade.

Last year, demonstrations by artists and unions against government cuts to the arts sparked small outbreaks of violence which were quickly snuffed out by police.

“We know well that the next two, three years will be difficult years because of the global crisis,” Lissner said. “But this is an important night, a symbol of Italian culture,” the Frenchman said.

THE SHOW MUST GO ON

The 233-year-old institution has not been immune to its own economic crises, and has increasingly tapped private investors to shore up its accounts. Sponsorships now account for 60 percent of its budget, with public funds covering the rest.

Last year, Lissner warned the future of La Scala was at risk because of the planned government cuts. Argentinian-born conductor Daniel Barenboim made a vibrant, unusual speech in support of the opera house just before the opera began.

However, La Scala is expected to break even this year, Lissner said, adding that new cash had been injected by the local administration and Spanish telecom firm Telefonica (TEF.MC), one of its sponsors.

Asked about his expectations for the years ahead, Lissner said he would do his best to continue to run the business without losses.

“The show must go on,” he said.

La Scala can now boast a 7 percent increase in subscriptions for the 2012 season and is betting on an audience of more than a million people watching its opening performance of Don Giovanni in the theatre and on live broadcasts for television and in cinemas across Europe, the United States and Russia.

First performed in Prague in 1787, Mozart’s Don Giovanni is one of the world’s most-performed operas. The Italian libretto centres its two acts around the legendary and unfaithful libertine Don Giovanni, who is finally dragged to hell by the dead father of a girl he seduced.

Director Robert Carsen is signing his first production of Don Giovanni for La Scala, a work that has taken five years to complete. The top-class cast features Mozart specialist Peter Mattei as Don Giovanni and star soprano Anna Netrebko as Donna Anna, one of her most celebrated roles.

Additional reporting by Ilaria Polleschi, editing by Paul Casciato

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