MILAN (AP) — The Milan opera house La Scala dedicated a minute of silence to honor Nelson Mandela before raising the curtain on its gala season opener Saturday.
The audience broke out in applause when conductor Daniele Gatti remembered Mandala, who died Thursday at 95. Everyone, including Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and European Commissioner Jose Manuel Barroso, rose for a minute to pay respects to the late South African president before the Italian national anthem played.
La Scala opens the 2013-2014 season with "La Traviata," marking the conclusion of the bicentennial celebrations of Giuseppe Verdi's birth.
Gatti, 52, of Milan, recently told an audience of opera enthusiasts that he hopes if he meets Verdi one day in the afterlife, "Verdi would take me aside and say, 'Bravo, you got it.'"
Fashion designer Giorgio Armani and Fiat Chairman John Elkann were among the VIPs attending one of the premier events of the European cultural calendar, frequented by leading industrial, political and cultural figures. The gala performance is often protested by austerity-minded activists — although the event has been greatly scaled back over the years with fewer ostentatious signs of wealth notwithstanding its exclusivity.
Although "La Traviata" is Verdi's most popular opera, it hasn't been performed at La Scala, which was long Verdi's musical home, in more than a decade.
Dmitri Tcherniakov directs the production, with German soprano Diana Damrau singing the role of heroine Violetta. Polish tenor Piotr Beczala sings the role of the young hero, Alfredo, while Serb baritone Zeljko Lucic plays his father, Giorgio.
"La Traviata" has endured as the most popular opera worldwide with 553 performance runs over the last five seasons, according to the Operabase online database of opera performances.
La Scala's 2013-14 season includes three operas by Verdi in honor of the bicentennial celebration of his birth on Oct. 10, 1813.