Milan's La Scala opera season opened with its usual tumultuousness last December 7, with a production of Verdi's Il Trovatore that unleashed paparazzi, animal rights activists (called "animalisti") who shrieked at fur-wearing operagoers, and even hecklers. Kicking off Verdi year, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the great composer's death, conductor Riccardo Muti, ever a purist, instructed his tenor to omit a traditional—but unwritten—high C at the end of an aria; protesters in the higher balconies heartily booed and yelled "Shame!" Muti quickly lectured the crowd about "not turning the opening of Verdi year into a circus," and the waters were calmed.
The program continues with 11 more Verdi works, seven of them conducted by Muti, a master of the genre (EMI has recently released a 30-CD set of his passionate Verdi recordings). Trovatore, La Traviata, and Rigoletto will be staged simultaneously, seen together for the first time since Mussolini's era. La Scala artistic director Paolo Arcà looks forward to the next major new production, of the dazzling Un Ballo in Maschera (May 13-31), starring the Odessa-born soprano Maria Guleghina, resonant baritone Bruno Caproni, and up-and-coming Sicilian tenor Salvatore Licitra, whose non-high C sparked the Trovatore fuss. "Knowing maestro Muti's approach to Verdian style," Arcà says, "he will express all the grace and humor, as well as the brilliant orchestral color, of Ballo in Maschera." As a theater composer himself, Arcà is a fan of Guleghina's "quite flexible voice, with soft high notes, but also with the skill for drama." Get your seats now—this kind of drama may be scarce after La Scala closes its doors in January for two years for much-needed restoration work. 39-02-7200-3744; fax 39-02-861-768; www.teatroallascala.org.