Milan's famed La Scala opera house has opened its new season with a production which many are hoping will re-establish Italy's supremacy in the art of opera.
The production has been billed as the Aida of Aidas
Franco Zeffirelli, returning to La Scala after 14 years, directed the production of Verdi's Aida, which he says is the best ever seen at La Scala.
Tickets for all 11 performances this month sold out within 24 hours.
Among the VIP guests on Thursday were Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Also attending were fashion designer Donatella Versace, British actor Rupert Everett and French actress Fanny Ardant, who played opera star Maria Callas in the film Callas Forever - also directed by Zeffirelli.
The opening night of La Scala is still one of the highlights of the European social calendar.
And at $2,500 for the most expensive seat, it takes the measure of just who's who on the Milan social register.
And the glitterati have been flocking to see it.
Zeffirelli said they would be treated to the Aida of Aidas - Verdi's story of Radames, the Egyptian commander who must choose between his love for the slave Aida and his loyalty to the Pharaoh.
Some 200kg (440 pounds) of gold dust have gone into making Tutankhamen's mask, which dominates the stage, and a total of 400 costumes have been created for the cast - with over 100 musicians.
"It's a shocking effect to see," Zeffirelli said during a break in the performance. "Sweat, blood and tears."
Zeffirelli hopes his production will re-establish Italy's place in world opera, and certainly Italian opera is in need of a boost.
Three of the country's top opera houses admitted this year they were on the verge of bankruptcy.
La Scala has had to trim its budget in recent years.
But this, say those who have seen it, will bowl people over with its magnificence.
"We want to make La Scala the world capital for opera," Zeffirelli added.
And when the 11 performances are finished, the opera house claim they will be looking at a $2m profit.