Argentine presidential candidate Milei goes to the opera — and meets both jeers and cheers

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Presidential candidate Javier Milei arrives at the Teatro Coln opera house with his girlfriend, Fatima Florez, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Friday, Nov. 17, 2023. Milei will face Economy Minister Sergio Massa in a runoff election on Nov. 19.(AP Photo/Ramiro Souto)

BUENOS AIRES – Both jeers and cheers for Argentina’s right-wing presidential candidate resounded with acoustic perfection inside the country’s legendary Colón Theater, laying bare the country's polarization on the eve of Sunday’s runoff.

The audience had gathered Friday evening in Latin America’s premier opera house that is world-renowned for its acoustics to watch a performance of “Madama Butterfly” — but Javier Milei soon became the main event. A group began insulting him as he sat in the front row of a box alongside his girlfriend.

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“Milei, trash, you are the dictatorship!” some attendees can be heard chanting at the candidate in videos on social media. He has downplayed Argentina’s bloody 1976-1983 military rule, saying the number of its victims is far below what human rights organizations have long claimed, among other controversial positions.

Some videos on social media also showed a few orchestra musicians playing the “Peronist March,” an anthem of the political party of Economy Minister Sergio Massa — Milei's opponent in the runoff.

Videos that Milei reposted on X, formerly Twitter, showed other attendees at the more than century-old theater applauding him and asking for photos.

“I’ve never seen the Colón like this,” journalist Luis Novaresio, who was in the theater, said in a television interview afterward. Novaresio dismissed earlier reports that Milei had been asked to leave, saying he stayed until the end of Giacomo Puccini’s three-act opera.

Milei, an open admirer of former U.S. President Donald Trump, has blasted what he depicts as a corrupt political class. He proposes to slash the size of the state and rein in inflation that has soared to the triple digits on Massa's watch.

He has awakened passionate opposition in several corners of society, with many characterizing him as a threat to democracy, and Massa has warned voters that electing Milei would mean an end to public education, health care, consumer subsidies and welfare programs. Milei has denied this.

Both candidates entered a blackout period Friday morning, meaning they are no longer allowed to campaign until after Sunday’s vote. Whether canny, cunning or coincidence, Milei's appearance at Colón Theater thrust him into the spotlight on a grand stage before a crowd, many of whom posted videos of it to social media.

“What a beautiful work Madama Butterfly," Milei wrote on X early Saturday, followed by the letters “XD” that represent laughter.

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