By Agnieszka Flak and Sara Rossi
MILAN (Reuters) - Daniel Barenboim celebrated his final season premiere as musical director of La Scala on Sunday with a performance of "Fidelio", Ludwig van Beethoven's only opera, winning a 13-minute ovation on the opening night of a new modern-dress production.
The audience threw flowers onto the stage at the famous Milan opera house at the end of the two-act work, which also marks the first season opening for new artistic director Alexander Pereira, who replaces Stephane Lissner.
The two-act work tells the story of Leonore, played by German-born soprano Anja Kampe, who disguises as a prison guard to rescue her unjustly jailed husband.
Barenboim, who will leave La Scala at the end of this year, said Fidelio celebrates the love of "a woman who would do anything to free her husband", though the opera's British director Deborah Warner said the parallels between Fidelio and contemporary events in Ukraine and Syria could not be ignored.
"It's political because it shows that one person can make a big difference," she said. "And it's a woman, not a man, fighting her way to justice and truth, which is exciting."
Several hundred demonstrators jeered the wealthy guests attending the opening night, for which tickets can cost up to 2,000 euros ($2,457), clashing with police and throwing firecrackers and eggs.
Italy's recession has strained the finances at the country's most famous opera house, whose managers made several appeals to sponsors ahead of the opening.
Attending the first-night were Mario Monti, a former Italian prime minister, and IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, who said the production was "magnificent".
Audience members filing down La Scala's carpeted staircase said Warner's choice of a contemporary staging in an abandoned industrial site was surprising and fitting.
"I love it when people take risks and keep pushing all the time," British stylist John Richmond said amid the bow-tie and evening dress-clad crowd.
The show impressed even those who watch every show with a most critical eye from the top gallery of the theater: "This was one of the best Fidelios I have ever seen," said Gino Vezzini, president of the Amici del loggione association.
"Kampe lived the role, whether she sang or recited, she was a true heroine," he said.
Fidelio will be performed at La Scala until Dec. 23.
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(Editing by Jon Boyle)