Page last updated at 12:03 GMT, Monday, 8 December 2008

Understudy steps in at La Scala

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Inside the famous Italian opera house

A US understudy performed the lead role at La Scala's season-opening premiere in Milan after its conductor decided an Italian tenor was not up to scratch.

Giuseppe Filianoti was removed from Sunday's performance of Verdi's Don Carlo after making mistakes during a dress rehearsal last week.

American tenor Stuart Neill stepped in, earning applause and some boos from the famously demanding Milanese audience.

Filianoti, 34, has since complained of being "stabbed in the back".

"As it was a dress rehearsal, I wasn't expected to make the maximum vocal performance," he told the newspaper Corriere della Sera.

"I wanted to save myself," he continued, claiming that the famous opera house had asked him to say he was too sick to perform.

'Tough crowd'

However, a La Scala spokesman said its musical director had full discretion to substitute cast members at any time.

"Neill seemed to be in better shape than Filianoti," said Carlo Maria Cella.

Stuart Neill and Giuseppe Filianoti
Neill (l) was called in to replace Filianoti(r) over the weekend
The US tenor, 43, admitted he had performed before a "tough crowd" but said he had not been nervous.

Filanoti was in the audience at Sunday's premiere, though he reportedly left after the first act.

The presidents of Rwanda and Togo were also present at what is one of Europe's most highly anticipated cultural events.

La Scala's audience is a notoriously discerning one, even booing the late Luciano Pavarotti when he performed in the same opera in 1982.

In 2006 tenor Roberto Alagna walked off stage during a performance of Aida when he was booed during the opening aria.

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