May 18, 1:51 PM EDT

La Scala's 2016-17 brings back Puccini, Muti.


AP Photo
AP Photo/Luca Bruno

MILAN (AP) -- La Scala's 2016-17 season is a lot about healing old wounds.

It opens with a once-contested version of Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" and continues with the long-awaited return of its former musical director who left abruptly in 2005 amid open hostility from opera house employees.

The program for the storied opera house announced Wednesday emphasizes the Italian repertoire to match the vision of principal conductor Riccardo Chailly, who will become musical director in January.

Nine of next season's 15 operas are by Italian composers, including four by Verdi and two by Puccini. German-language works make up the rest.

Chailly will conduct the traditional Dec. 7 gala season-opener with a production that was so hotly contested on its 1904 world premiere at La Scala that it hasn't been staged there since.

"The time wasn't right for an opera in which a woman killed herself in front of the audience," general manager Alexander Pereira said of the original production. "I think it is necessary for the first time since 1904 to present this masterpiece in the version as Puccini wanted it."

The title role will be sung by Uruguayan soprano Maria Jose Siri in her first Puccini role.

"I'm honored and excited," Siri said in a statement. "I'm also happy to be singing the critical edition of the opera, becoming part of Chailly's project for La Scala, who intends to present Puccini's operas in their original versions."

Pereira said he was very happy to have persuaded Riccardo Muti, who was La Scala's musical director for 19 years, to conduct two concerts in January with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, where he is currently musical director. It will be his first time at the La Scala podium since 2005.

Pereira worked closely with Muti at his previous post at the Salzburg Festival, and said he has been long been trying to persuade Muti to return to La Scala.

"I began the discussion: 'Riccardo, you need to return. We need to overcome this old wound,'" Pereira said.

Muti originally wanted to make his first return conducting La Scala's orchestra, not with a guest orchestra. But when that didn't work out, Pereira said pushed to make it on the CSO's next European tour in 2017, an opportunity that wouldn't arise for another three years.

The general manager didn't rule out Muti's eventual return to conduct the La Scala orchestra, saying "I want Riccardo Muti to have a home at La Scala."

The ambitious season also includes seven ballets and a series of philharmonic concerts, as well as a children's program initiated by Pereira that is expected to bring 50,000 children to La Scala - 15,000 more than last year.

The program was approved over objections from the Lombard region, which cast the lone dissenting vote on the six-member board, objecting to the program's heft with 15 operas and the cost of buying some of the productions from other theaters.

Pereira downplayed the kerfuffle, noting that one-third of La Scala's funding is private. That includes 10.8 million euros in new private donations that he brought in last year from his well-developed network. He expects the level of private donations to remain steady this year.

"The only chance to arrive at the level of quality that La Scala should have is to find private sponsors," he said.

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