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OPERA

Milan’s La Scala opera house to reopen to public after six months

Emotions are running high in Milan as the city’s famed La Scala opera house prepares to reopen to a smaller-than-usual audience on Monday evening.

Milan's La Scala opera house to reopen to public after six months
Milan's La Scala Opera House ahead of its reopening on May 10th, 2021, to a limited audience. Photo: MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP

Arias are set to reverberate once again throughout Milan’s La Scala later on Monday when the mythical Italian opera house reopens to the public after six months of silence amid the pandemic.

The performance comes a day before the 75th anniversary of a historic concert in 1946 that celebrated the postwar reopening of La Scala, which had been bombed three years earlier and rebuilt.

“It’s a double rebirth: (conductor Arturo) Toscanini opened La Scala after the war and we are trying to revive it after the pandemic, there is the same will to survive,” Stefano Cardo, a bass clarinettist in the La Scala orchestra, told AFP on his way to rehearsals.

READ ALSO: Schools, restaurants, gyms, travel: Here’s Italy’s timetable for reopening

The storied opera house in Italy’s financial capital has felt the impact of the pandemic, with a total of 144 cases of Covid-19, including 64 in the chorus, according to its management.

Renowned for its exceptional acoustics and red velvet-draped boxes, technicians have been busily getting the ornate opera house ready to reopen on Monday evening.

La Scala. Photo: MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP

To respect social distancing, musicians will take over the ground-floor seating area, with the audience confined to the balconies.

Only 500 spectators are admitted per performance – a quarter of La Scala’s normal capacity of 2,000.

But with no intermission and the bars closed, one sound that will be missing is the usual clinking of champagne flutes.

Instead, guests will be using hand sanitizing gel, wearing masks and undergoing temperature checks.

READ MORE: What will Italy’s coronavirus rules be for summer 2021?

Cardo admitted to being “a little nervous” before the concert on Monday evening, which begins with the majestic “Patria Oppressa” (“Oppressed Fatherland”) from Giuseppe Verdi’s “Macbeth”.

Performed by the La Scala Chorus, it will be led by musical director Riccardo Chailly. 

“We have recorded many concerts in streaming, but it was virtual, here it’s different, with the public it’s an intense moment of emotion that we share, as the final applause that we missed,” Cardo said.

“We have all listened to recorded concerts from our armchairs, but this has nothing to do with the emotion of live music, the quality and beauty of natural sound,” said Dominique Meyer, La Scala’s director since 2020.

Director of La Scala Dominique Meyer. Photo: MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP

“I am sure that with the return of the spectators to La Scala, there will be tears of joy,” the Frenchman, who previously headed the Vienna Opera for a decade, said.

Making her La Scala debut on Monday will be Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen, interpreting arias from Wagner’s “Tannhaeuser”, Richard Strauss’ “Ariadne auf Naxos” and Tchaikovsky’s “Queen of Spades”.

 The concert ends with the famous chorus of slaves, “Va, pensiero”, from Verdi’s “Nabucco”, the ode to freedom also sung during Toscanini’s concert in 1946.

‘Signalling Italy’s revival’ 

La Scala’s reopening was preceded by Italian conductor Riccardo Muti leading the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra for the first time in more than five months on Sunday in the northern Italian city of Ravenna.

 And Muti returns to La Scala on Tuesday for the 75th anniversary.

“La Scala has always been a symbol for the Milanese and for Italy, it is the second Italian brand in terms of reputation, behind Ferrari,” said Meyer.

“Paradoxically, it is La Scala giving the signal for the revival of an entire country, whereas at the beginning of the health crisis, it was said that culture was not an essential activity,” he added, noting the extended closures of theatres.

Despite having performed virtually, musicians and singers said it was no substitute for the thrill of a concert.

“It was sad to stay closed for so long. The passion was missing, preparing a concert is part of a musician’s life, his identity,” said Damiano Cottalasso, a 54 year-old violinist in the orchestra.

By AFP’s Brigitte Hagemann

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CULTURE

Why Friday the 13th isn’t an unlucky date in Italy

Unlucky for some, but not for Italians. Here's why today's date isn't a cause for concern in Italy - but Friday the 17th is.

Why Friday the 13th isn't an unlucky date in Italy

When Friday the 13th rolls around, many of us from English-speaking countries might reconsider any risky plans. And it’s not exactly a popular date for weddings in much of the western world.

But if you’re in Italy, you don’t need to worry about it.

There’s no shortage of strongly-held superstitions in Italian culture, particularly in the south. But the idea of Friday the 13th being an inauspicious date is not among them.

Though the ‘unlucky 13’ concept is not unknown in Italy – likely thanks to the influence of American film and TV – here the number is in fact usually seen as good luck, if anything.

The number 17, however, is viewed with suspicion and Friday the 17th instead is seen as the unlucky date to beware of.

Just as some Western airlines avoid including the 13th row on planes, you might find number 17 omitted on Italian planes, street numbering, hotel floors, and so on – so even if you’re not the superstitious type, it’s handy to be aware of.

The reason for this is thought to be because in Roman numerals the number 17 (XVII) is an anagram of the Latin word VIXI, meaning ‘I have lived’: the use of the past tense apparently suggests death, and therefore bad luck. It’s less clear what’s so inauspicious about Friday.

So don’t be surprised if, next time Friday 17th rolls around, you notice some Italian shops and offices closed per scaramanzia’.

But why then does 13 often have a positive connotation in Italy instead?

You may not be too surprised to learn that it’s because of football.

Ever heard of Totocalcio? It’s a football pools betting system in which players long tried to predict the results of 13 different matches.

There were triumphant calls of ho fatto tredici! – ‘I’ve done thirteen’ – among those who got them all right. The popular expression soon became used in other contexts to mean ‘I hit the jackpot’ or ‘that was a stroke of luck!’

From 2004, the number of games included in Totocalcio rose to 14, but you may still hear winners shout ‘ho fatto tredici’ regardless.

Other common Italian superstitions include touching iron (not wood) for good luck, not toasting with water, and never pouring wine with your left hand.

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