Butterfly in Milan

1997-2006
Teatro alla Scala, Milan, Italy*

My mother put the passion for opera in me. Ever since I can remember, our home was always full of music and lyrics floating in a language that always seemed sweet and beautiful to me. And a night in early December was always something very special in our family.

The table was set with our finest dinnerware and the dishes of sashimi, sushi, ramen, udon, soba and all the rice you could eat kept coming from the kitchen. So too did the saké flow. The music and song of an opera fluttered through the house. Verdi and Rossini were mamsan’s favourites, The Barber of Seville most of all. I wondered why.

We were the only Japanese family that celebrated the season-opening night at La Scala. So, now you know why my relatives felt little surprise when I started singing lessons and became an opera singer. Nor did they bat an eyelid when I decided to depart for Milan to study voice at 18. When I first arrived, everyone always smiled coyly when they met me. I wondered why. Kaori’s a common name in Japan. No mystery there. The revelation came later. They told me a young actress then appearing in a TV commercial for a well-known brand of cream cheese had the very same name.

My years in Milan have been very happy ones. I learned the language and became a professional soprano. The city and its landmarks are mine now too, part of me. I married an Italian and we have two children. Yet there was one thing I’d never done until recently - enter La Scala. You probably think it’s crazy. But it is so. La Scala’s like a temple to me. Something sacred, requiring reverence and meditation before approaching it. And even then... Just think, I’ve performed in every opera house in Italy but never set foot in La Scala.

Then one day, passing by the square the opera house stands on, I saw a construction crew dismantling some scaffolding. Curious, without thinking twice, I walked over to read a big sign next to the building. It transpired that one of the main suppliers engaged in renovating and restoring Teatro alla Scala had a name pronounced just like a Manga character’s - Mapei.

I soon learned that Mapei is very Italian and very international. And that it’s very important. And that, incredibly, 40 of Mapei’s solutions were needed to complete such extensive, complex work. It seemed like the sign of fate. A serendipitous link to my life in Japan.

Then it dawned on me. I suddenly realized what day it was. I ran home, made a few phone calls, and a close friend with connections in high places got me a ticket.

There I was, walking into La Scala on opening night. Mapei did a magnificent job. I called my mother in Japan later. It was early morning there but she was already up cleaning the kitchen after her La Scala dinner the night before. It was wonderful, she said, just like every year.

* The ties binding opera and Mapei are in the company’s DNA. Founder Rodolfo Squinzi was a true music lover. Today the company is a founder and permanent member of La Scala subscribers and current head Giorgio Squinzi sits on its Board of Directors. The family tradition is a work in progress as every year Mapei invites friends, customers, employees and influential personalities to be its guests at La Scala performances. It’s the company’s way of transmitting the credo Rodolfo Squinzi was fond of repeating: “Work can never be separated from art and passion”.

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