The Italian Almanac


Italian News - December 7

Milan's famed La Scala opera house opens its new season tonight with a production of Verdi's Aida that director Franco Zeffirelli hopes will re-establish Italy's supremacy in the art of opera. Zeffirelli is calling his fifth version of the grandiose Nile opera the "Aida of Aidas" and has promised that it will go down in the history of the opera house where it had its Italian premiere in 1872.

Media reports excitedly note that 480 rich costumes have been stitched together and some 200 kilos of gold dust were used to create the splendid mask of Tutenkhamun which dominates the stage throughout. "It will be a wonderful spectacle, produced with Italian pride," the 83-year-old veteran director of stage, opera and film said.

The melodramatic and exotic Aida story offers an ideal vehicle for this mission. Aida, an Ethiopian princess, is captured and brought into slavery in Egypt. A military commander, Radames, struggles to choose between his love for her and his loyalty to the Pharaoh. In the end Radames and Aida are buried alive, a fate they accept willingly.

In terms of blockbuster grandeur, the triumphant return of the hero Radames at the end of the second act is expected to be a highlight. There will be about 350 singers, choir members, dancers and extras on stage together. Thanks to Zeffirelli, eight trumpet players will be lowered from the sky to blast the notes of the triumphant victory march from midair.

Orchestra conductor Riccardo Chailly, referring to the production's lavishness as well as some of the more surreal scenes, has said it will be "a dream". Aida, which is usually seen as Giuseppe Verdi's greatest opera, has not been seen at La Scala for 21 years. This fact, along with curiosity to see what Zeffirelli has done with it, means tickets are almost impossible to obtain.