(Photo: Benjamin Ealovega)
Ashutosh Khandekar - Editor
From the current issue of Opera Now
We may be embarking on a New Year in the calendar sense (and I hope it will be a very happy one for all our readers), but in operatic terms, we’re right in the middle of the annual season. One of the last big opera houses to celebrate its ‘new year’ is La Scala, held according to tradition on 7 December, the feast day of St Ambrose, patron saint of Milan.
The usual scenario at La Scala’s opening night is the arrival of a fleet of chauffer-driven politicos and celebrities, sharply suited and in the latest Milan fashions, confronting revolutionaries and anti-government protestors on the streets. In the theatre itself, the feared mob of heckling loggionisti sit sharpening their tongues waiting for their moment to hurl abuse at whoever has caused them displeasure in the cast (there’s always someone who takes the brunt of it). The atmosphere is tense and full of in-fighting.
This year’s season opener was different. The presence of armed military personnel on the streets around the theatre and the sight of sharpshooters on the rooftops isn’t something you’d normally associate with a night at the opera. However, events in Paris a few weeks earlier meant that Italy was on its guard. The result: opening night at La Scala was an opportunity for a communal show of solidarity, compassion and unity across the political and cultural divide in the face of threat.
As coincidence would have it, the work being performed was Giovanni d’Arco, Verdi’s account of the life of Joan of Arc, the saint who, for the French, embodies ideas of valour, resilience and national pride. So, here we had one of Italy’s national heroes (Giuseppe Verdi) extolling the achievements of France’s national heroine, St Joan, before an audience of the great and good across the political spectrum.
At the end of the performance, and almost unheard of at La Scala’s annual opening, there was the most extraordinary roar of approval from the audience’s warring factions. The arts are often said to have a transcendent role in society: at La Scala, on the Feast of St Ambrose, we witnessed a prime example of this.
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