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Verdi's 'La Traviata' at La Scala premiere earns mixed reviews

MILAN--La Scala's gala season premiere Saturday opened with spontaneous applause for Nelson Mandela's memory and closed with mixed reviews for “La Traviata.”

The audience of VIPs for one of Europe's most prestigious cultural events of the year gave 11 minutes of appreciative applause for conductor Daniele Gatti and the main cast, led by German soprano Diana Damrau, who received a cascade of roses for her performance as Violet.

But the hard-to-please traditionalists who sit in the uppermost balcony booed the contemporary direction by Russian Dmitri Tcherniakov as the well-heeled crowd below cheered louder in an effort to drown them out.

“La Traviata” marks the conclusion of bicentennial celebrations of Giuseppe Verdi's birth, and was the last gala opener for general manager Stephane Lissner, who is leaving for the Paris Opera in August after nine seasons. He will be replaced by Alexander Pereira, an Austrian.

“I can't expect more,” Lissner said backstage. “That is the job of a public theater, to confront the great repertoire with the world today. This is a moment to look to the future, not to the past.”

Lissner's tenure has been marked by an emphasis on new talent and more experimental direction that hasn't always been warmly received, as well as periodic labor disputes. He also brought on Daniel Barenboim as musical director, who has announced his departure at the end of 2014, and opened the theater to younger audiences with events for young adults.

Gatti, who conducted his first La Scala premiere since “Don Carlo” in 2008 and his first “La Traviata” in eight years, said he was confident that some people who contested the production would repent upon reflection.

“This is theater at its best, when the audience expresses its opinion about what it hears,” Gatti said afterward. “The director brings his idea and I marry this idea because we are partners.”

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German soprano Diana Damrau, in the role of Violetta, front right in purple gown, performs during a rehearsal of Giuseppe Verdi's “La Traviata,” conducted by Daniele Gatti, in this undated picture provided by the La Scala press office on Saturday, Dec. 7.


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