ROME (Reuters) - Rome's opera house has called on the star power of Hollywood and high fashion for a new production that is already racking up record ticket sales for an institution that until two years ago was grappling with debt and labor disputes.
Stars of stage and screen, including reality TV celebrity Kim Kardashian and her rapper husband Kanye West, converged on Rome on Sunday for a gala dress rehearsal of Giuseppe Verdi's "La Traviata", which tells the tragic story of a self-sacrificing courtesan in 19th-century Paris.
Veteran designer Valentino Garavani produced this version of "La Traviata", which opens on May 24 and runs till June 30, through his foundation. He drafted in Academy Award winner Sofia Coppola to direct it and shared the costume design with the duo who took over creative direction of the label he founded.
"I thought it was absolutely beautiful," said Kardashian, clad in an asymmetric white gown, singling out a masquerade ball scene complete with dancing matadors for particular praise.
Her husband had just one word for the production: "Awesome".
Even before the first public performance, this 'Traviata' has broken the box office record at the theater, which has long played second fiddle to La Scala in Milan and made losses for years before finally returning to break-even in 2015.
The production has cost 1.8 million euros ($2.02 million) and ticket sales have already hit 1.2 million euros, theater director Carlo Fuortes said.
Coppola told a news conference the prospect of directing her first ever opera had been "scary" but Garavani and his business partner Giancarlo Giammetti had helped to motivate her.
Garavani said he hoped to make opera, which a 2013 European Union study found was Europe's least popular cultural activity along with dance shows, less intimidating.
"Sadly both in Italy and abroad, opera has great successes but has passed somewhat into a second category," he said. "There is such romance, such skill in the singing and staging (of an opera) that is much more powerful than a rock concert."
British production designer Nathan Crowley, whose recent work includes the "Dark Knight" Batman films, worked on the set.
Maria Grazia Chiuri, who designs for the Valentino label alongside Pierpaolo Piccioli, said she hoped a new generation would be won over to opera.
"It can be difficult to approach a world that seems not to belong to you," Chiuri said. "This is a way to bring young people to opera - get their attention with fashion and cinema."
Reporting by Isla Binnie; Editing by Gareth Jones