MILAN (Reuters) - Opera's most famously reckless and doomed libertine opens the season at Milan's opulent La Scala theatre on Wednesday only weeks after flamboyant former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi exited the political stage pursued by scandal.
The first night at La Scala is not only the top calendar event for opera lovers. Politicians, members of the government and high-profile businessmen are regular guests of the theatre's chandeliered rooms.
This year, the traditional opening night will raise the curtain on one of the most crucial weeks for the euro zone, with European leaders carving out a solution for a debt crisis that has already seen the removal of Berlusconi in favor of a sobering and well-respected economist.
Berlusconi resigned in November, facing trials on charges ranging from tax fraud to paying for sex with an under-aged prostitute. He had been under pressure to step down as the European market crisis threatened to spin out of control.
"Don Giovanni is the biggest opera ever created. He reminds us that we are responsible for our own desires," director Robert Carsen told reporters this week. "It's a mystery that nobody can explain, a game with no rules," he said.
Italy's new Prime Minister Mario Monti and members of his government will be the most sought after guests at La Scala's opening, which will also play host to a union protest against sweeping austerity measures announced by Monti on Monday.
On the financial markets, however, investors have cheered Monti's 30-billion-euro plan by slashing Italy's borrowing costs, sending yields on Italian 10-year bonds below 6 percent for the first time since October 28.
Just last month, Italy - the euro zone's biggest debtor with 1.9 trillion euros in outstanding bonds - appeared headed for disaster after the interest rate demanded by lenders soared above 7 percent, a level at which other countries have required bailouts.
La Scala general manager Stephane Lissner called for more public funds this week after Monti's measures were unveiled.
"We cannot go on like this," the Frenchman said.
Last year, Argentinean-born music director Daniel Barenboim delivered a strident speech in support of the arts just before the opera began, while artists and unions demonstrated outside against government cuts to the arts.
BEHIND THE GLITTER
The 233-year-old institution has increasingly tapped private investors to survive its own economic crises, with public funds now only covering 40 percent of its budget.
However, Lissner has warned the future of La Scala could be at risk over the next two or three years if a global recession takes hold. La Scala has barely managed to break even this year.
The theatre is betting on the appeal of "Don Giovanni" to seduce an audience of more than a million people with a performance that will be broadcast live on television and in cinemas across Europe, the United States and Russia.
"Don Giovanni is a whirlwind of energy," Canadian-born Carsen said of his first production of the opera for La Scala, a work that has taken five years to complete. "He goes on as if he were never going to die," he said.
First performed in Prague in 1787, Mozart's Don Giovanni is one of the world's most-performed operas. The Italian libretto centers its two acts around the charismatic and unfaithful libertine who is finally dragged to hell by the dead father of a girl he seduced.
Source: Reuters Life! Online Report