Postcard from... Milan

 

It's been a long wait. Ever since he stormed out of La Scala in a huff 26 years ago, the great opera house and its devotees have been expecting or hoping for the return of Claudio Abbado to conduct the philharmonic orchestra.

The eyes of music fans moistened at the great man's return on Tuesday night – with tear-ducts nudged further by the appearance of Daniel Barenboim at the piano on his 70th birthday. Even the passing Vips and La Scala's high society regulars realised the evening's renditions of Chopin and Mahler were probably worth concentrating on.

And it was "auguri" all round before the show, as the philarmonia gave Mr Abbado a sculpture by Arnaldo Pomodoro to celebrate its 30th year; the orchestra was formed by the conductor during his reign as musical director.

A few years ago Mr Abbado, 79, who has also held top jobs in the London Symphony Orchestra and the Vienna State Opera, promised to return to La Scala, where he held the podium from 1966 to 1986. But that deal fell through, despite attempts by Milan's town hall to tempt him back to the polluted city with talk of making the city greener by planting thousands of trees.

Even in his eighth decade, the left-leaning Abbado is in tune with green issues and the zeitgeist. He was famed for introducing contemporary opera to Milan during his 18-year reign.

For those who couldn't get tickets for the one-off performance, a special tram ran outside in Via Manzoni playing Chopin piped directly from the opera house, while fans gave out balloons and leaflets that read: "Welcome home, Master. See you soon."

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