Boos Drive Opera Singer Off of La Scala's Stage

Top tenor Roberto Alagna has become the first singer in memory to walk off the stage of Milan's La Scala opera house in mid-performance. He stormed out after being booed by the audience in the middle of a performance of Verdi's Aida.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

In the world of opera, one of the most demanding audiences occupies the seats of La Scala, the celebrated Milan opera house. This week, the first singer in memory, stormed off La Scala's stage.

NPR's Sylvia Poggioli has the story.

(Soundbite of music)

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: La Scala season began last Thursday with a gala opening night performance of Verdi's “Aida.”

(Soundbite of applause and cheering)

SPELLINGS: It was an extravagant, glitter-heavy production by director Franco Zeffirelli and the celebrity-studded audience gave it a 15-minute standing ovation. But the real test came Sunday with the most demanding opera-goers, the notorious diehard La Scala ficionados, who stand in line overnight for the cheapest seats.

They did not spare tenor Roberto Alagna in the role of Radamès. He later said he heard a boo as soon as he walked on stage, even before he began the opening aria “Celestia Aida.” And after what the critic of La Stampa termed, a rather labored B-flat, howls of protest erupted from the opera balconies. The tenor raised his fist defiantly at the booing, whistling audience and stormed off stage, leaving the stunned mezzo-soprano, Ildiko Komlosi as Amneris, to sing the next duet on her own. The disheveled understudy, Antonello Palombi, was rushed on stage without time to change out of his jeans and black shirt.

Alagna later said, I had to quit. To sing with whistles and boos, you risk singing off key. La Scala management was not amused. General manager Stéphane Lissner apologized to the audience, which forks out up to $2,600 for a ticket.

The incident revived memories of other melodramatic opera exits. Perhaps the most notorious was in 1958, when the divine Maria Callas abandoned the Rome Opera House after the first act of “Norma,” because of poor audience reception. It came to be known as the Rome walkout.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.

INSKEEP: And for those who want to know what they missed, we have tape of Roberto Alagna performing “La Traviata” at La Scala in 1992.

(Soundbite of “La Traviata” performed by Roberto Alagna)

INSKEEP: Better than my voice today. It's NPR News.

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