MILAN — Daniel Barenboim conducts Bizet's "Carmen" in La Scala's highly anticipated season premiere.
The gala season opener Monday evening stars German tenor Jonas Kaufmann as Don Jose and 25-year-old Georgian mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili, just a year out of La Scala's academy, in the title role as Carmen.
"Carmen" was previewed Friday to an under-30 audience, which gave the production warm applause.
Kaufmann, however, was unable to sing in the preview due to a slight fever, leaving the role to understudy Riccardo Massi, who coincidentally is Rachvelishvili's boyfriend. La Scala management has assured the public that Kaufmann, 40, will be ready for the season opener, one of the most highly anticipated cultural events of the season in Europe, often attended by foreign dignitaries, captains of industry and cultural icons.
By tradition, La Scala opens it season on Dec. 7, the day honoring Milan's patron saint Ambrose. In contrast with recent years when labor disputes and tenor drama threatened to overshadow the event, this year's premiere seems to be all about the music.
Rachvelishvili makes her debut on La Scala's stage as the feisty, independent Carmen. Born in Tblisi, Rachvelishvili has told Italian media that her musical preferences ran toward rock music, and that she had to be pushed toward classical.
Barenboim said recently that she was being auditioned for a lesser role when he realized: "Why Mercedes? She is our Carmen."
The conductor said she still had to prove she was up for the role.
"She studied with a super fanaticism and great discipline, demonstrating she doesn't have just the voice and temperament, but also the seriousness," Barenboim told students at Milan's Catholic University last month.
He also praised Kaufmann for his intelligence and linguistic ability.
"We have the fortune to have in Kaufmann a person of great intelligence. He speaks a lot of languages, speaks them very well. Germans are not known for their great facility with other languages, but he, on the other hand, speaks French nearly without accent and Italian without an accent."
"Carmen" is being performed in French, according to the Bizet score. The production is being directed by Sicilian-born Emma Dante, known in Italy for her avant-garde stage productions.
Uruguayan baritone Erwin Schrott will perform Escamillo and soprano Adriana Damato sings the role of Micaela.
Musicians have announced they will stand for a moment of silence before the performance in honor of those who have lost their jobs due to the world economic crisis.