Daniel Barenboim emerged triumphant from his last gala season opener as music director of La Scala on Sunday, bringing the entire orchestra on stage to bask in a standing ovation.
"I am deeply happy for this evening and for all of these years. An evening like this doesn't come out of nowhere," Barenboim said backstage.
"I feel that all we have done since 2005 had a guiding line and arrived at the point where we are today. Everyone — the singers, the soloists, the chorus, the orchestra — everyone was truly stupendous."
The gala mood inside for the season opener "Fidelio" contrasted with protests outside that turned violent as the curtain rose on one of the most glittering events on Europe's culture calendar, attended by leading figures of Italian industry, fashion and politics.
Demonstrators threw flares, eggs and vegetables at riot police, who prevented them from advancing on the theater. At least one police officer was reported injured.
The protests were in part aimed at recent labor market reforms that make it easier to fire workers, and the glitzy event is a regular target for the perception of lavish excess.
Italian Premier Matteo Renzi and President Giorgio Napolitano skipped the premiere this year, as protests against the government have sharpened.
Barenboim's departure after what he called "nine truly wonderful years" coincides with a change of management at La Scala and generalized disarray in opera houses in the country where the art form was born.
Conductors and artistic directors have recently announced their departures from opera houses in Turin, Genoa and Naples ,and most resonantly in Rome, where star conductor Riccardo Muti quit the strike-plagued Teatro dell'Opera.
Barenboim, the Argentinian-born Israeli conductor, leaves La Scala at the end of the year, putting his energy into a new academy for Middle Eastern musicians in Berlin, where he is also music director of the Staatsoper. He also acknowledged that a bureaucratic impediment that prevented him from programing next year's season-opener during the interim between general managers also contributed to his decision to hasten his departure from La Scala.
"Fidelio" stars German soprano Anja Kampe in the dual role as Fidelio/Leonore, who disguises herself as a man to rescue her husband, the unjustly imprisoned Florestan played by Klaus Florian Vogt. South Korean bass Kwangchul Youn as Rocco was loudly applauded during the curtain call.
Kampe, who has sung the role in dozens of performances, said she was gratified by the overwhelmingly warm reaction by the audience, which applauded for 12 minutes and showered the singers and orchestra with roses.
"I didn't expect such a welcoming for a German opera, which in any case is universal," Kampe said backstage.