The opening of an opera season is an important event at any opera house, but at La Scala it is indeed something special. It is always on 7 December, Milan's saint's day. St Ambrose was the bishop of Milan in the 4th century, highly influential, and became one of the four fathers of the Catholic Church together with Saint Gregory the Great, Saint Augustine, and Saint Jerome. He built one of the most ancient churches in Milan, the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio, which is one of the most important items on the tourist itinerary.
The opening at La Scala is attended by presidents and prime ministers, movie stars and, hopefully, a few opera fans too – not that movie stars and presidents cannot also be opera lovers, of course. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Grace Kelly, Aristotle Onassis, and Claudette Colbert have all graced the famous auditorium which is decked out with extraordinary floral decorations for the opening.
Furs, such as Taylor wore, are no longer seen, though a few egg-throwing years were needed to change that. Also, the diamonds are scarcer in keeping with the current economic climate. That won't stop the usual protests which use the event as a useful platform to publicise discontent.
There may be less discontent among the public this year as Alvis Hermanis's Madama Butterfly is unlikely to ruffle many feathers with its seemingly ‘traditional' approach. Boos and whistles have greeted many recent openings, such as Emma Dante's Carmen in 2009 and the 2013 La Traviata by Dmitri Tcherniakov. Certainly, these photos are mouth-wateringly beautiful. Alvis Hermanis designed the sets together with Leila Fteita, and the costumes are by Kristine Jurjane.
4 December, sees a preview performance for Under-30s, and performances start on 7 December.
All photos Madama Butterfly Dress Rehearsal © Brescia & Amisano, Teatro alla Scala 2016
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.