MILAN (AP) — The dual bicentennial of the births of composers Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner is turning into a dueling bicentennial.
La Scala general manager Stephane Lissner on Monday dismissed as "ridiculous" criticism by the national media of the decision by the Milan opera house that was once Italian musical hero Verdi's musical home to open the celebratory season with "Lohengrin" — by German opera icon Wagner.
"This is an attack on the institution of La Scala, which is a unique in the world, and should be defended because it is a pride of Italy," said Lissner, a Frenchman who will leave La Scala in 2015 to join the Paris Opera.
No less than Italy's respected President Giorgio Napolitano has entered the fray — although only to appeal for harmony.
He wrote a letter to musical director Daniel Barenboim over the weekend rejecting press rumors that his decision to miss the gala season opener on Friday was a deliberate snub. Napolitano said he has state business to attend to in Rome, and called polemics over the staging of a Wagner opera "futile" and "pathetic."
"Those two musical greats of the 19th Century belong to the history of the culture and creativity of Europe — and cannot be missing from a place of honor in the season programs of the biggest Italian opera houses," Napolitano wrote. He recalled attending a 1981 performance of "Lohengrin" at La Scala and welcomed its return after more than 30 years.
The Milan daily Corriere della Sera launched an opening salvo in the Verdi-Wagner debate, publishing a piece last month asking whether "the Germans would have inaugurated a Wagner year with a Verdi opera."
The piece, headlined "Milan and the curse of Lohengrin," elicited a lively response from readers who both welcomed and lamented the Wagner season premiere.