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Opera House to be Renovated; Officials Look for Better Times

March 30, 1996

MILAN, Italy (AP) _ La Scala, Italy’s temple of opera, is planning to close for a two-year renovation and reopen in time to honor Giuseppe Verdi. It seems only fitting.

The 218-year-old opera house has recently come through some of its stormiest months, but these only seemed a reminder of the days when Verdi routinely railed at critics and even threatened to block the premiere of one of his works.

After a season that almost didn’t begin because of a threatened strike, management has just announced the start of a series of major changes certain to rub off on the entire Italian opera world.

From 1999 to 2001, the La Scala company will move out of its historic building across from the elegant arcade in the heart of this northern financial capital and into a 2,300-seat theater to be built in what was once a factory district.

Construction should begin in a year and last 20 months, allowing the company to move into the new house without losing any of its season.

``Milanese will be spared the experience of opera under a tent,″ Mayor Marco Formentini assured a news conference last week, referring to a recent fund-raising concert for the Venice opera house La Fenice, which was destroyed by fire Jan. 29.

La Scala will return to its home for its traditional season-opening gala on Dec. 7 _ the feast day of Milan’s patron St. Ambrose _ in 2001. That year is the 100th anniversary of Verdi’s death.

The main aim of the renovation is to build alternating stages that will allow the company to prepare the next scene while the performance is going on.

The capacity of 2,015 seats may also be increased, but the plush interior of a theater considered an acoustical gem will not be altered, insisted La Scala spokesman Carlo Torresani.

A new theater will also give Milan the needed space for other concerts _ popular music and some productions now put on at La Scala _ thus allowing the house to expand its opera repertoire.

The limited number of productions in Italian houses has long been a sore point given their high costs. It has also helped lead to massive ticket scalping, putting opera out of the reach of young people, which in the long run threatens an Italian art form.

In the meantime, La Scala is transforming itself from a government-supervised institution into a foundation under a government decree designed to lessen political interference and give the companies more power in dealing with unions. This could be a model for Italy’s 12 other major houses.

Strikes forced La Scala to cancel five pre-season performances and almost to miss its opening night for the first time since the theater was inaugurated in 1778.