The theatre, which has proudly begun almost every performance since the war bang on time at 20.00 (a typical audience comment being that it is the only thing that is on time in Italy), was instructed by Pereira to delay the start to avoid patrons who had paid vast sums for their seat being locked out until an interval, even if they were a minute late. He had said that the ushers were often verbally attacked by angry latecomers.
The Guardian took up the story last Wednesday, saying,
So well known was the rule against tardiness that the only documented exception was made in 1972, when Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton arrived 10 minutes late for the opening night of Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball) by Giuseppe Verdi, swarmed by paparazzi. The then head of the opera, Paolo Grassi, was incensed by the delay.
“Late arrivals at La Scala are not allowed,” he said at the time.
However, after audience protests – by those who were on time at any rate – he has changed his tune. Before a performance of Fidelio there was five minutes of slow clapping, from 20.00 until 20.05, and before the opening of the ballet season with The Nutcracker there were continuous calls of “vergogna!” (shame on you) from the gods. The orchestra who are required to be ready in the pit by eight o’clock, joined in the slow handclap as they, like the ontime patrons, were obliged to twiddle their thumbs for five minutes.
So Grassi’s rule holds, though, of course, late arrivals are allowed… just not in the auditorium.