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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. 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. The usual attendees include politicians, aristocrats, movie stars, and upwardly mobile businesspeople, as well as the loggionisti, the diehard opera fans whowait 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.” 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. Muti’s Il Trovatore featured the thirty-two-year-old tenor Salvatore Licitra, whom some critics had dubbed “the new Pavarotti.” (Licitra, blessed with the most golden and powerful voice, was, sadly, to die eleven years later from injuries sustained in a motor-scooter accident.

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