Scene but not heard

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The Independent Culture

Promenaders at the Albert Hall last night might have spared a thought for their Milanese counterparts, the loggionisti of La Scala. The loggione is considered by many to be real soul of the opera house. The standing-room-only space, near the stage, has for centuries housed the most competent and merciless opera aficionados. Be they account clerks, bond dealers or music professors, they live and breathe every note. The loggionisti, who pay a token entrance fee of L10,000 (£3), can determine the success or failure of a performance, humiliate famous singers and reduce nervous debutantes to jittering wrecks. Pavarotti will never forget the wolf whistles after his false note in Don Carlos in 1992.

Promenaders at the Albert Hall last night might have spared a thought for their Milanese counterparts, the loggionisti of La Scala. The loggione is considered by many to be real soul of the opera house. The standing-room-only space, near the stage, has for centuries housed the most competent and merciless opera aficionados. Be they account clerks, bond dealers or music professors, they live and breathe every note. The loggionisti, who pay a token entrance fee of L10,000 (£3), can determine the success or failure of a performance, humiliate famous singers and reduce nervous debutantes to jittering wrecks. Pavarotti will never forget the wolf whistles after his false note in Don Carlos in 1992.

But when the curtain goes up on Puccini's La Bohÿme on Tuesday, the loggione will be empty. New safety regulations imposed by the city authorities have forced the closure of the hallowed space. The loggione apparently failed to meet fire safety regulations and La Scala was told to bring itself up to scratch. The loggionisti have protested and hung banners outside the opera house and appealed to Milanese intellectuals to back them in finding an alternative solution.

La Scala's artistic director, Riccardo Muti, said he was saddened as every reduction in numbers was an economic loss for the theatre but said they couldn't risk defying the law because "if all hell breaks loose out there, we'll end up in jail". Music critics tend almost unconsciously to look towards the loggione at the end of a performance to assess the reaction. They will no longer have such a visible barometer of audience response.

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