Milan gears up for La Scala opening night

La Scala opens season with Giovanna D'Arco.

The premiere of Verdi’s Joan of Arc at Teatro alla Scala will be screened live around the city, so that all milanesi and visitors – and even jail inmates – can enjoy the high point of Milan’s cultural calendar.

The opening, traditionally held on the feast day of Milan’s patron St Ambrose, 7 December, is invariably a catwalk for the fashionistas in Italy’s couture capital to show off their finest threads.

In the past, the threads have often been daubed by activists protesting the trade in furs, but this year security staff will have other activists on their minds after the recent outrage in Paris. For the first time, the elegant foyer to the world-famous opera-house across the square from city hall will see metal detectors installed.

Tickets for the opening night are always snapped up well in advance, but for a very select few of the nation’s leading dignitaries the invitations are personal and difficult to refuse. Nevertheless, probably with security in mind, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has not yet officially confirmed whether he will take his place in the VIP box.

And when word spread that President Sergio Mattarella would not be in the audience, there was consternation in the media, with one MP even setting up a website to collect signatures for an appeal for him to change his mind and set an example. It took La Scala’s artistic director Alexander Pereira to defuse the situation, confirming that the head of state had sent his regrets months ago – he will be attending the inauguration of Pope Francis’s holy jubilee year on the following morning.

Across the city special events are building up to Monday’s climax. Last week, Pereira – accompanied by star ballerina Carla Fracci – met inmates at Milan’s S. Vittore jail to tell them about the performance by Anna Netrebko they will be able to watch live on a giant screen on opening night. “But don’t worry,” he quipped, “it’s a very short opera. It lasts only two and a half hours.”

Arias from Joan of Arc are being broadcast in Milan’s central Vittorio Emanuele Gallery and in the entrances to Duomo and Cadorna metro stations, while on Saturday evening 5 December, conductor Riccardo Chailly and culture councillor Filippo Del Corno will hold a public discussion in Spazio Teatro 89 on La Scala rediscovering its traditions, 150 years on.

Up to 13 December, the Spazio Oberdan and MIC cinemas will be screening many of the films made about the Maid of Orleans over the past century, starring actresses like Ingrid Bergman and Milla Jovovic. And on Sunday 6 December in the Edison offices in Foro Bonaparte, American singer-songwriter Patty Smith will reveal her passion for opera in the presentation “Patty Smith vs. Joan of Arc: tales of women who are symbols of liberty”.

There are attractions for kids, too: the Teatro alla Scala Academy has prepared a show about the opera, called “A superheroine of the 100 years war”, at WOW Spazio Fumetti, while at MUBA Museo dei Bambini there are activities for young opera fans based on this year’s choice of Verdi’s first opera to be premiered in his adopted hometown of Milan in 1845.

For fans unable to find a seat for the opening night, city hall and the regional government have, for the fifth year running, organised together with energy company Edison for big screen live coverage at 21 halls and schools around the city. The full list is on the city website – note that one or two require prior booking, but all are free of charge.