'Don Carlo' beamed to 5 million viewers

Raucous booing is nothing new at Italy’s La Scala opera house. Not even on super-glitzy Gala Night when the great and the good — or at the least the glamorous — gather in Milan to see the season’s curtain-raiser.

The great Pavarotti was famously whistled offstage following a lackluster “Don Carlo” in 1992.  And Milan’s fickle beau-monde thought nothing of treating this year’s performers to loud catcalls when they took their final bows after interpreting the very same opera Dec. 7.

Most in the aud were miffed about the last-second substitution of local star Giuseppe Filianoti with American tenor Stuart Neill. Filianoti added some classic Scala intrigue, declaring that he’d been “stabbed in the back at the last minute.” La Scala supremo Stephane Lissner said Filianoti had been too wobbly during the dress rehearsal.

Neill, however performed solidly. And just as well, because he wasn’t singing only for the local bigwigs. A record 5 million viewers enjoyed the spectacle in live cinema broadcasts around the world.

The shows in the U.S. were sold out, and there are plans to expand coverage again next season. Most pundits gave performers the thumbs up. The main problem, swiftly identified by Milan’s style mafia, wasn’t the way the production sounded but the way it was presented. “The music was great, but it looked like a cemetery,” said D&G’s Stefano Gabbana of the dreary set.

It seems even opera buffs need a little eye candy during four-hour shows. And that might be something for La Scala to bear in mind as it goes global.

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