Masked Milanese fill La Scala for gala premiere of 'Macbeth'

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Italian esthetic surgeon Dvora Ancona arrives for the premiere of Verdi's Macbeth at La Scala opera house in Milan, Italy, Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021. The Macbeth opens the 2021/2021 lyric season of one of the most storied opera house in the world. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

MILAN – Milanese turned out in all their finery for La Scala's gala season opener of Verdi's “Macbeth” in a fully seated theater, a welcome return after the pandemic made last year's premiere a televised-only affair and as many European theaters remain closed.

Masked guests packed the opera house to capacity, including Italian President Sergio Mattarella in the royal box festooned with pink and red roses. Fashion stalwart Giorgio Armani, senator-for-life Liliana Segre and La Scala's own, principal dancer Roberto Bolle, also attended Tuesday's gala.

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The appreciative crowd showered flowers from the La Scala's tiered balconies on the opera's stars, baritone Luca Salsi, who sang the title role, Russian soprano Anna Netrebko as the conniving Lady Macbeth, Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov as Banquo and Italian tenor Francesco Meli as Macduff.

But La Scala’s strictly traditionalist upper tiers gave mixed reviews of the modern staging by director Davide Livermore, who received a smattering of boos in the 11-minutes of curtain calls for the cast and orchestra.

“Macbeth” completes La Scala music director Riccardo Chailly’s trilogy of young Verdi opera’s after “Giovanna d’Arca” in 2015 and “Attila” in 2018.

Livermore, in his fourth consecutive La Scala premiere, set the Shakespearean tragedy in a contemporary city of skyscrapers. Video images projected the city's dystopian fate as it falls to Macbeth’s tyranny, with buildings falling in on each other.

The complex choreography wove together the chorus and a mime troupe in largely horizontal movements, while the stars were conveyed on and off the stage vertically, often in a caged elevator.

Netrebko, who stunned with a dreamlike ballet performance in the final act that featured her commanding a troupe of mimes, was the first to defend the staging.

“I think this production is absolutely amazing, stunning, modern, new,″ she said. “It’s a new world in the opera, and we love it,″ Netrebko said.

Both she and Salsi said they saw the modern interpretation as the future of opera.

“If we want to continue to watch operas with painted scenery and singers who stand still, maybe we can stay at home and listen to records, which is better,″ Salsi said backstage. “We worked to make a show that I think is beautiful, grand, new and modern, that brings opera into the future.”

Speaking ahead of the premiere, Livermore said he also designed the production to involve a TV audience, which was growing even before the pandemic.

La Scala resumed performances at full capacity in September, with precautions in effect for the pandemic: To comply with new Italian government regulations launched this week for the holiday season, attendees had to show a health pass verifying they were vaccinated against the coronavirus or recently recovered from COVID-19, Travel restrictions meant there were fewer international guests than usual.

Following last year’s televised season opener from an empty theater, the in-person version Tuesday season opener was a positive signal for one of the world’s top opera houses, even as live performances elsewhere continue to suffer as the virus makes a winter resurgence.

“When you see so many great theaters closed - my former theater (the Vienna State Opera), Dresden closed, Leipzig closed, etc., etc., a long list - I have to say we are lucky to arrive at the premiere,” La Scala’ General Manager Dominique Meyer said.

Italy's president received five minutes of enthusiastic applause upon his arrival in the royal box at the opera house, a sign of appreciation from the crowd of figures from industry, fashion and the arts as Mattarella nears the end of his term next year.

After the last curtain call, the VIP crowd in its glittering gowns and dark suits melted into Milan’s cityscape. In a sign of the pandemic's continued grip, no gala dinner was held to celebrate the triumph of a full house on opening night.

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