Europa Riconosciuta, La Scala, Milan

Stars out for a night at restored home of opera
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The Independent Culture

That improbable septuagenarian, Sophia Loren, came in on the arm of Giorgio Armani; the heir to the (extinct) throne of Savoy, Emanuele Filiberto, was on hand to remind everyone where the original sponsorship came from; Silvio Berlusconi just made it in time, sharing his box with the prime ministers of Albania, Bulgaria and Croatia. And the former fascist Mirko Tremaglia, Mr Berlusconi's minister for Italians abroad, was just one of the ministers at La Scala.

That improbable septuagenarian, Sophia Loren, came in on the arm of Giorgio Armani; the heir to the (extinct) throne of Savoy, Emanuele Filiberto, was on hand to remind everyone where the original sponsorship came from; Silvio Berlusconi just made it in time, sharing his box with the prime ministers of Albania, Bulgaria and Croatia. And the former fascist Mirko Tremaglia, Mr Berlusconi's minister for Italians abroad, was just one of the ministers at La Scala.

Mr Tremaglia recently remarked (apropos the Buttiglione "homosexuality is a sin" brouhaha) that "in Europe, the buggers are in a majority".

The opera they all came to watch was called Europa Riconosciuta (Europe Recognised), but Mr Tremaglia's vulgar crack had no bearing on the evening's proceedings.

The Europa in question is the mythical daughter of Agenor, King of Phoenicia, who at an earlier point in her life was ravaged by Zeus in the form of a bull, and carried off to Crete by him to bear his children. The opera opens with an almighty storm and a shipwreck, from which only Europa and a handful of others survive. Subsequent adventures include earthquakes and large-scale battles.

The opera, whose premiere on 3 August 1778 was the first ever performance at La Scala, was designed to show off the new theatre's technical marvels; this latest production, an extremely rare revival of Antonio Salieri and Mattia Verazi's work under the direction of Riccardo Muti, was to remind people where the La Scala saga started.

The theatre's restoration, which saw its roof crowned with a huge new fly tower, was completed in a mere 30 months. The post-war concrete floor was ripped up and replaced with a sprung wooden floor resting on 12 different layers of marble, PVC and other materials, to produce acoustic perfection. The new acoustics were indeed splendid.

During the restoration the city's centre-right government fought off law suits from leftists and environmental campaigners claiming the restoration was an act of vandalism. The absence of opposition figures from the theatre last night suggests they decided to be bad losers ­ or perhaps they weren't invited. Either way it's a shame.

La Scala's resurrection should be considered a national achievement, not merely a rightist one: 40 per cent of Italians, according to an opinion poll, agreed that the reopening was "a historic occasion". Given the extravagance of the opera's events, the set and costume design are surprisingly cool and pared down, almost Teutonic, as if to chime with Diana Damrau, the German soprano who sang Europa with richness and precision. Perhaps those choices are an indication that La Scala is looking two ways at once: ahead and abroad in casting and design, to avoid seeming too mired in nostalgia; but back to the days of glory for its repertoire.

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