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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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COVID-19

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

As the infection rate rises sharply across the country, Italian virologists are calling for concerts and festivals to be rescheduled.

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

Italy has seen a large increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in recent days, so much so that a number of virologists across the country are now urging the government to postpone major live events in a bid to curb infections. 

According to a new report by Italy’s independent health watchdog, the Gimbe Foundation, 595,349 new cases were recorded in the week from June 29th to July 5th; a worrying 55 percent increase on the previous week. 

In the same time span, the country also registered a 32.8 percent rise in the number of hospitalised patients, which went from 6,035 to 8,003.  

The latest Covid wave, which is being driven by the highly contagious Omicron 5 variant, is a “real cause for concern”, especially in terms of a “potential patient overload”, said Nino Cartabellotta, president of the Gimbe Foundation. 

As Italian cities prepare to host a packed calendar of concerts and festivals this summer, health experts are questioning whether such events should actually take place given the high risk of transmission associated with mass gatherings.

READ ALSO: What tourists in Italy need to know if they get Covid-19

“Rescheduling these types of events would be the best thing to do right now,” said Massimo Ciccozzi, Director of Epidemiology at Campus Bio-Medico University of Rome. 

The summer wave is expected to peak in mid-July but, Ciccozzi warns, the upcoming live events might “delay [the peak] until the end of July or even beyond” and extend the infection curve.

Antonello Maruotti, Professor of Statistics at LUMSA University of Rome, recently shared Ciccozzi’s concerns, saying that live events as big as Maneskin’s scheduled Rome concert are “definitely not a good idea”. 

The Italian rock band are slated to perform at the Circus Maximus on Saturday, July 9th but the expected turnout – over 70,000 fans are set to attend the event – has raised objections from an array of Italian doctors, with some warning that the concert might cause as many as 20,000 new cases.

If it were to materialise, the prospected scenario would significantly aggravate Lazio’s present medical predicament as there are currently over 186,000 Covid cases in the region (nearly 800 patients are receiving treatment in local hospitals). 

Italian rock band Maneskin performing in Turin

Italian rock band Maneskin are expected to perform at the Circus Maximus in Rome on Saturday, July 9th. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

But, despite pleas to postpone the event, it is likely that Maneskin’s concert will take place as scheduled.

Alessandro Onorato, Rome’s Tourism Councillor, said that rescheduling is “out of question” and that “all recommendations from the local medical authorities will be adopted” with the help of the event’s organisers and staff on the ground.

At the time of writing, there is also no indication that the Italian government will consider postponing other major live events scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, though the situation is evolving rapidly and a U-turn on previous dispositions can’t be ruled out.

READ ALSO: At a glance: What are the Covid-19 rules in Italy now?

On this note, it is worth mentioning that Italy has now scrapped all of its former Covid measures except the requirement to wear FFP2 face masks on public transport (though not on planes) and in healthcare settings.

The use of face coverings is, however, still recommended in all crowded areas, including outdoors – exactly the point that leading Italian doctors are stressing in the hope that live events will not lead to large-scale infection.

Antonio Magi, President of Rome’s OMCEO (College of Doctors, Surgeons and Dentists), said: “Our advice is to wear FFP2 masks […] in high-risk situations.”

“I hope that young people will heed our recommendations and think about the health risks that their parents or grandparents might be exposed to after the event [they attend].”

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