La Scala courts controversy with Wagner gala opening

Thu Dec 6, 2012 12:40pm EST
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By Silvia Aloisi

MILAN (Reuters) - Richard Wagner's "Lohengrin" kicks off La Scala's season on Friday with the renowned Milanese theatre under fire for choosing the German maestro over local hero Giuseppe Verdi on the biggest night of the year for the world of opera.

With opera lovers around the globe preparing to celebrate the 200th birthday of both composers, born a few months apart in 1813, La Scala has been accused of being unpatriotic at a time when Italy battles a recession some blame on austerity policies driven by Germany.

"La Scala puts Verdi in a corner, preferring the German," wrote il Giornale newspaper owned by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's family and known for its vitriolic attacks on German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Corriere della Sera said there was unease in the orchestra pit over the choice of Wagner in Verdi's musical home and talked of "a blow to national pride in a moment of crisis."

La Scala general manager Stephane Lissner, a Frenchman, has dismissed the controversy as ridiculous.

"There are more serious problems than this Wagner-Verdi derby," he told reporters this week, pointing out that the theatre will stage six works by Wagner against eight by Verdi in the 2012/13 season.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano was careful to clarify that he could not attend the gala opening because of pressing state business in Rome rather than deliver a deliberate snub. In a letter to the theatre, he called the row over Wagner "futile" and "pathetic".

Prime Minister Mario Monti, who replaced Berlusconi just over a year ago as Italy flirted with a Greek-style debt crisis, will be in attendance at one of the global social calendar's most glittering events along with five of his ministers.   Continued...

German tenor Jonas Kaufmann performs during a rehearsal at the La Scala opera theatre in Milan in this December 4, 2012 handout photo. REUTERS/Monika Rittershaus/La Scala press office/Handout