— La Scala, one of the world's most celebrated opera theaters, reopened to the public and to music this week after nearly three years of
renovation. "We achieved some sort of miracle by finishing work within the deadline. It's something that all Milanese must be proud of," said Milan deputy mayor Riccardo De Corato as the city celebrated the return of the Milan company. La Scala performances were held in Milan's modern Arcimboldi theater after renovation began in 2002. Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi was expected to host several European leaders in the royal box for the gala evening, including Switzerland's President Joseph Diess and the prime ministers of Croatia, Bulgaria and Albania. Italian glitteratifrom industrialists tobig names in fashion andentertainment filled theorchestra seats and firsttier loges. Milan's fashionking Giorgio Armani invitedactress Sophia Loren tobe his escort for the evening.Thearea around the theater, astone’s throw from Milan’sGothic-style cathedral,was blocked off to trafficwith more than 1,000 riotpolice guarding it againstpossible disturbances fromanti-fur and other protesters.The theater's glamorousopenings, with notablesin top drawer attire -including sumptuous furs- has long been a forum forsocial protest. The inauguration of the renewed La Scala comes on the feast of Milan’s patron saint, Ambrose, traditionally reserved for opening night, known here as "la prima." Thee holiday offered downtown Christmas shoppers a look at the theater's newly painted facade, decorated for the occasion with red roses and green foliage.The 18th-centuryItheater was commissionedin 1773 by Empress MariaTheresa of Austria, thenruler of Milan.Large video screenswere set up in Milan’selegant passageway, the Galleria,opposite La Scalaand inside the city's SanVittore prison as well asother places around town.Maestro Riccardo Muti, who expressed enthusiasm about the new acoustics following a rehearsal Sunday for theater workers, chose Antonio Salieri's "Europa Riconosciuta" for the gala performance. The long-forgotten work by Mozart’s nemesis inaugurated the first opening night at La Scala in 1778.