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La Scala subs closed gala concert for traditional opener

Milan’s famed La Scala opera house announced Wednesday that it will broadcast a gala event featuring stars including Placido Domingo, Roberto Alagna and Jonas Kaufmann on the night of its traditional Dec. 7 season-opener, instead of the planned staging of Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor,” in keeping with restrictions imposed to stop the coronavirus' deadly spread.

General manager Dominique Meyer promised “a very special evening,’’ that aims to transmit “a message of hope” during the pandemic, which again during the fall resurgence has shut down classical music in Italy and much of the world, along with travel and large swaths of economic activity.

The event will be broadcast on RAI state television in Italy and across Europe on the German-French channel ARTE.

La Scala's season premier, until now, has always been a fully staged opera, and it is a highlight of the European cultural calendar.

Some opera houses in Italy have staged full operas to empty theaters for television or onine broadcast, but Meyer said La Scala chose to renounce staging of ”Lucia di Lammermoor,” even to a closed theater, out of concern for the health of the cast, chorus and orchestra.

He noted that the chorus had been the center of an outbreak of the virus, with 43 members testing positive, saying that even though they had followed rules on distancing “maybe the rules weren’t strong enough.” A further 18 member of the orchestra also tested positive last month.

“We cannot stage an opera putting at risk our employees,” Meyer told a streamed press conference. “We are on another path. We did this out of necessity, and we are trying to do something that has never been done before. It will be extraordinary.”

The gala event conducted by La Scala musical director Riccardo Chailly will feature the theater’s orchestra, chorus and ballet corps, and will be stage directed by Davide Livermore, who directed recent Dec. 7 season-openers. Costumes will be designed by Milan fashion designers who have not yet been publicly identified, and actors will add narration.

Chailly said the evening was being constructed to take a journey from the curse of Verdi’s “Rigoletto” to more optimistic musical movements.

“From an initial tragedy, we want to arrive at a moment of catharsis. We want to arrive at a moment in which the joy of reconquered freedom can give a a sense of what music can represent, to show that the sun can return to shine on nature,” Chailly said.