December 7th is an important day in Milan. Not only is it a Bank Holiday (Saint Ambrogio’s Day, the patron saint of Milan), but also traditionally the opening of the season for the Teatro Alla Scala. It’s an occasion of great importance for the theatre, given its position as a cultural actor in the continuing rekindling of the vast Italian repertoire.
For the 2015/2016 season, Verdi’s lyric opera Joan of Arc returns to the stage after 150 years. Here some interesting facts about la prima (the premiere).
1. The conductor Riccardo Chailly dedicated the season première to the Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi with this piece that is an homage to France. The original production of Joan of Arc was first performed at La Scala in 1845 and ran until 1865. It is a work of the utmost musical quality and Chailly defined it as a staging point which lead the great Italian composer towards their major works.
2. In 1845 the audience loved the performance, but Verdi was not happy with the orchestra and the settings. This is why he decided not to perform at La Scala for many years, even though he had a strong relationship with the theatre.
3. At this time, the theatre was quite a gastronomic affair. They used to organize dinners backstage where chefs would prepare the quantities of food and the staff would gamble while sitting around the tables.
4. There was a high alert at La Scala for the premiere, following Paris terror attacks, with the Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi joined the premiere with his wife. The nearly 700 police officers surrounding the building juxtaposed the anti-austerity protesters, who grabbed the headline when, at the end of the performance, a prostitute fell into the orchestra hole, showing a poster reading: ‘Let’s legalize prostitution for a fairer and richer Italy’.
5. The fact that the protagonist, Joan, is French, was not related to Paris attacks, it is just a coincidence. The heroine fights English people for the unity of France. Directors Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier explain that opera can be a way to understand what is happening in the world and Paris attacks proved that fighting in the name of a God is dangerous.
6. The première is, like many such events, an opportunity for many celebrities and glamourous people to showcase their outfits. This year Italian entrepreneur and politician Daniela Santanchè showed up with a bow tie, a fur and a long skirt, all green.
7. On this point, it seems that this year’s edition has left good taste and subtlety in the past, at least so far as the outfits are concerned. In the past, women had to avoid red, as the seats are this colour, and purple, which is considered an omen of bad luck by artists in Italy.
8. The evening of December 7th has always been a big moment for rich milanesi families. A famous saying goes saying goes ‘banco in chiesa, palco alla Scala, tomba al Monumentale‘, which means ‘bench in the church, box at the Scala, grave at Monumentale cemetery’, showing us what was considered important for the élite at that time.