- Associated Press - Friday, April 20, 2012

MILAN (AP) - Daniel Barenboim will conduct Wagner’s “Lohengrin” for La Scala’s gala season opening next December, as the famed Milanese opera house launches a yearlong musical celebration of the dual bicentennial of the births of composers Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner.

The season’s program announced Friday includes seven Verdi productions and six by Wagner, including the entire “Ring” cycle performed in the span of a week.

Teatro alla Scala was Verdi’s musical home, and the theater will honor his birth on Oct. 10, 1813 with productions of works including “Nabucco,” “Aida,” “Don Carlo,” “Falstaff.”

General manager Stephane Lissner also anticipated its 2013 gala premiere, announcing that Daniele Gatti will open the 2013-2014 season with Verdi’s “Traviata.”

As part of the celebrations, Barenboim will also conduct Verdi’s “Requiem” on August 27 _ anticipating the actual season premiere by several months in order to launch a tour of La Scala’s orchestra and chorus of the music festivals in Lucerne, Switzerland and Salzburg, Austria.

The prominent inclusion of Wagner, born May 22, 1813, in next year’s program shows the influence of Barenboim, who carries a deep appreciation of the German composer’s work. Barenboim last December was named music director, after five years in the less formal role of “Maestro of La Scala.”

The season-opener “Lohengrin” will feature German bass Rene Pape as King Heinrich and tenor Jonas Kaufmann as Lohengrin.

La Scala’s orchestra will also do a five-week tour in Asia, with stops in Japan and for the first time in Beijing.

Lissner announced next year’s program just days after the Italian government freed La Scala from financial and bureaucratic constraints that Lissner said would help the opera house confront the economic crisis.

“Italy and Europe are experiencing difficult times,” Lissner said. “But to celebrate Verdi, there’s a living La Scala theater, that never gives up and looks ahead.”

Lissner said La Scala’s campaign for autonomy dates back to Arturo Toscanini, who was musical director of La Scala at the turn of the last century. Lissner himself took up the fight four years ago.

The Culture Ministry’s decision to grant La Scala status as an “autonomous theater” gives it the long-sought freedom to negotiate contracts with its workers without having to wait for a national contract _ which ran out seven years ago _ and allowing it to determine wages on its own.

Strikes over the issue have disrupted performances in past years.

La Scala also will be free to offer long-term, open-ended contracts for musicians and singers. Lissner said being restricted to short-term contracts had impacted the theater’s musical quality.

Significantly, it also guarantees that the government’s funding to La Scala won’t drop below 14 percent of its total budget for the next three years.

La Scala, which has balanced its budget for the last seven years, this year expects to receive (EURO)30 million from the state, or 26 percent of its (EURO)116 million budget. Italy’s most self-sufficient theater, La Scala expects to generate (EURO)72 million on its own through ticket sales, sponsorships and licensing agreements. Box office for the first time is expected to exceed the government’s subsidy.

Lissner said La Scala would remain a public theater, and that the changes did not signal privatization.

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