Milan's La Scala heard Alban Berg's atonal opera Wozzeck for the first time last week and, somewhat to its own surprise, was impressed.
A few last-ditch Verdi-lovers turned out to express their disapproval, greeted the opening curtain with whistles, catcalls and shouts of "Vergogna, vergogna!" (Shame, shame!). But the ruckus was feeble compared with the uproar they raised over Gian-Carlo Menotti's Consul and Juan Jose Castro's Proserpina (TIME, Feb. 5, 1951; March 31, 1952).
Most of the audience listened with caution in Act I, but by Act II they were applauding enthusiastically. At the end, they gave Conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos and the cast ten curtain calls. Further, in a rare personal tribute, a crowd lingered outside to cheer the conductor again after the performance.
Mitropoulos and La Scala had worked hard to make Wozzeck a success. When Italian sopranos showed little interest in learning the exacting role of Wozzeck's faithless mistress Marie, Mitropoulos gave it to Soprano Dorothy Dow, of Galveston, Texas. The part of the plodding, unhappy Wozzeck went to Italian Baritone Tito Gobbi. Milan admired them both. Another successful touch was the scenery; instead of going in strong for realism, Designer Gianni Ratto made his sets shadowy and changeable, to keep the audience under the emotional spell of Berg's music.
Composer Berg's white-haired widow Helene sat in La Scala's royal box, approved : "Everything was right." Said Milan's Il Popolo: "This performance will remain in La Scala's history."