It is one of the most glittering evenings in Italy's social calendar – a chance for the birthplace of opera to celebrate the most refined of cultural events. But this week, as the great and the good turned out at La Scala opera house in Milan for the opening of a new version of Carmen, many wondered why the Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, was not in attendance.
Perhaps, they might have surmised, the stress of his recent travails kept him at home. Or possibly pressing matters of state required the 73-year-old's urgent attention. Whatever the likes of President Giorgio Napolitano and the writer Umberto Eco imagined, it is unlikely they would have hit upon the truth. It has now emerged that Mr Berlusconi stole away from Milan for a trip to a nearby multiplex, where he took in the high-octane effects-laden US blockbuster 2012.
At 9.30pm, as Italian and foreign dignitaries were thrilling to the Georgian mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili's take on Bizet, Mr Berlusconi was at the Warner Village Cinema 12 miles away, squeezing into a central row in screen 10 with his daughter Eleonora, whispering "sorry to bother you" to cinema-goers.
In the Hollywood blockbuster solar heating threatens the planet with huge earthquakes and tidal waves. And things soon get disastrously out of control, uncannily mirroring, wags noted yesterday, Mr Berlusconi's own past year, with its sex scandals, corruption charges, mafia accusations and now a messy divorce in the offing.
At the point in the screenplay in which the disaster movie's plucky Italian Prime Minister is seen waiting for the inevitable end in St Peter's Square, cheers erupted from the cinema audience.
It wasn't clear if the applause was meant for the fictional premier or his real-life counterpart. But Mr Berlusconi was in no doubt, and at roughly the same time that Rachvelishvili stood for her 14-minute ovation at the Scala, he rose and took a bow of his own, film-goers told La Repubblica.
Some observers suggested that the embattled premier had made the trip to the cinema in search of an ego boost, after reports last week that cinema-goers had cheered "Silvio, Silvio!", during his fictional alter ego's demise.
The German director of the film, Roland Emmerich, had previously told a press conference that the scene should not be seen as an allegory for Mr Berlusconi's political plight.
Celebrities at La Scala suggested that he had missed a fantastic Carmen. The tenor Placido Domingo said he loved it. America's Italophile potboiler specialist Dan Brown agreed. "I'm mesmerised by this," he gasped, adding that the venue might provide inspiration for future novels – and possibly, therefore, for spin-offs that Mr Berlusconi might eventually enjoy at the Warner Village.