Ringing Israeli bells

For an Israeli seeking refuge from Islamic Jihad rockets or the craziness of domestic politics, there is nothing like a long weekend in Milan. There, one finds delicious pasta at the Crispi restaurant, pleasantly smiling ice-cream sellers at the Grom gelateria - and, if one is an opera buff, the shrine of La Scala offers a perfect battery-charging for the weary.

A night at La Scala is a mind-boggling experience. In the foyer, on your way in to see "Aida," the busts of Rossini and Bellini greet you, seemingly grunting to each other: "See, another Verdi lover. But we were here first!" Then the old, red, breathtaking glamour of the hall sends you into a reverent mood. This is where history was made. Here the great soprano Renata Tebaldi reigned in the 1950s as the unsurpassed Aida, while in the wings a young and chubby understudy was waiting for her turn: Maria Callas.

On this very stage the greatest conductor of this house, Arturo Toscanini, refused to let the orchestra play the "Giovinezza," hymn of the Italian National Fascist Party, in 1922. The musicians, obviously fearing the Maestro more than the Duce, obeyed. By contrast, in 2005 another great conductor, Riccardo Muti, faced a mutiny by a new generation of La Scala musicians - and left the house with a bang, never looking back. Nothing is more Italian than this place.

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