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Introduction: A Judgment from the Balconies

In December of 2000, Riccardo Muti, one of the most distinguished

Verdi interpreters of his generation, opened the new opera season at Milan’s

La Scala Opera House with a performance of Verdi’s Il Trovatore.1 The

opening night at La Scala is not only the most eagerly awaited musical event

in Italy; it is also one of the country’s most important social occasions.2 The

usual attendees include politicians, aristocrats, movie stars, and upwardly

mobile businesspeople, as well as the loggionisti, the diehard opera fans who

wait in line for hours for standing-room tickets at La Scala, and who “are

known for shouting out their candid appraisals of the singers from the upper

galleries.”3 Muti’s performance was important for another reason: it began a

yearlong celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of Verdi’s death,

featuring many performances of the beloved composer’s operas.4 Muti’s

Il Trovatore featured the thirty-two-year-old tenor Salvatore Licitra, whom

some critics had dubbed “the new Pavarotti.”5 (Licitra, blessed with the most

golden and powerful voice, was, sadly, to die eleven years later from injuries

sustained in a motor-scooter accident.)6

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