Don Giovanni meets austere Italy at La Scala opening

Wed Dec 7, 2011 6:34pm EST
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By Antonella Ciancio and Ilaria Polleschi

MILAN (Reuters) - Don Giovanni, opera's notorious libertine, opened the season at Milan's La Scala on Wednesday to an 11-minute ovation from an audience which also had a warm greeting for the president, under whom Italy faces its most austere era for decades.

Outside, hundreds of angry demonstrators packed the cordoned-off square, waving banners and jeering the wealthy, powerful and famous arriving to see Mozart's tale of arrogance, seduction and -- usually but not tonight -- retribution.

In the flower-decked hallways of the opera house, applause greeted President Giorgio Napolitano, mastermind of a political upheaval that has seen respected technocrat Mario Monti replace scandal-plagued Silvio Berlusconi as prime minister.

"This is my first 'first night' at a very unexpected moment of my life," said Corrado Passera, who quit as chief executive of the Italian bank Intesa SanPaolo to join Monti's cabinet of technocrats.

As Monti and his wife stood for the national anthem, protesters outside voiced their anger over the swingeing cuts to the arts and other areas of the economy in the 30 billion euro ($40 billion)austerity package Monti's government announced this week.

Under a fluttering banner reading: "WE WILL NOT PAY FOR YOUR CRISIS," a woman who gave her name as Antonietta said people had been shocked by the sudden change in the country's fortunes.

"Only a month ago we could not imagine having a new government and being so close to losing our jobs," she said.

European leaders are meeting this week to find a way out of a debt crisis that has engulfed Greece and forced Berlusconi to resign after 17 years at the helm of the euro zone's biggest debtor, with 1.9 trillion euros in outstanding bonds.   Continued...

<p>A general view is seen of La Scala opera house in Milan December 7, 2011. Mozart's "Don Giovanni", conducted by director Daniel Barenboim , will open for the 2011 opera season at the La Scala opera house. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo</p>