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La Scala is back in the heart of Milan.

After a three-year exile on the city's outskirts, the famed opera company is returning to its renovated 18th century theater in time for its traditional Dec. 7 opening night.

The renovation was completed a few weeks ahead of schedule, giving conductor Riccardo Muti time for rehearsals of Antonio Salieri's "Europa Riconosciuta," the opera that will inaugurate the 2004-05 season as it did La Scala's first season in 1778.

Muti tested the acoustics of the "new" La Scala with a 40-minute rehearsal last week, and theater officials reported that the maestro broke into an applause at the end to express his satisfaction with the quality of the sound.

"Muti shared with me his enthusiasm about the acoustic quality of the new theater," said Milan's Mayor Gabriele Albertini, whose government approved and financed part of the $67 million renovation, which began in early 2002.

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