Under the night sky, dancers leaped on the wooden stage floating on an illuminated swimming pool, a fairytale experience from Milan's La Scala as it seeks to reach a wider audience.
The lights reflected in the turquoise water of the enormous net-covered pool of the Bagni Misteriosi, an iconic 1930s venue transformed into a theatre.
"It's magical. It's the first time I've been to a performance by La Scala," said Federica Smaldino, a 47-year-old office worker, watching the show on Monday night.
A ballet fan, she has promised herself she will visit the theatre itself soon.
The programme included contemporary pieces including Sentieri by Philippe Kratz or Movements to Stravinsky by Andras Lukacs, as well as classics such as Swan Lake and Don Quixote, choreographed by the legendary Rudolf Nureyev.
"We wanted to present as many different pieces as possible to show the range of La Scala ballet," ballet director Manuel Legris told AFP.
"It's a particular pleasure because here we are meeting a new public, who do not necessarily have the chance to go to La Scala."
Like the spectators, by the end of the performance he had fallen under the spell of the baths.
"It's an area where you can dream, and it transports the dance into a truly fairytale world," he said with a smile.
- Message of hope -
The performance was one of a series of concerts staged by La Scala for free, ranging from jazz to Vivaldi and Donizetti, passing via Brahms, Bach and Rachmaninov.
Retired Milan resident Rita Tornari, 67, was among the rapt audience and expressed her delight at the initiative.
"It gives people like me, who do not have a season ticket to La Scala, the chance to attend such a prestigious performance," she told AFP.
Moving sometimes fast, sometimes slowly, embracing fleetingly before separating, Emanuela Montanari and Massimo Garon performed a moving interpretation of Arbakkinn by Simone Valastro, to a poignant tune by Iceland's Olafur Arnalds.
Then it was the turn of Swan Lake, with a duo by Vittoria Valerio and Claudio Coviello who seemed at times to be like feathers suspended above the waves.
With the water around them, "you have to be doubly attentive on this slightly wobbly stage and take care not to slip," admitted Valerio, La Scala's soloist.
She cherished the return of a live audience after a season marked by coronavirus closures.
Spectators "give us adrenaline, passion and a desire to dance", she said.
Coviello, her partner, said such a performance provides "a message of hope after the pandemic", which hit Italy hard and remains ever-present, with most of the audience wearing face masks.
- Culture for everyone -
With the free concerts La Scala director Dominique Meyer, who took over last year, wanted to recreate the spirit of the 1970s, when one of his predecessors, Paolo Grassi, opened up the mythical stage to the wider public.
"Many people have never stepped through the door of a theatre, but culture is for everyone, music is for everyone," he told AFP, rejecting the idea that it was "reserved for an elite".
Residents in buildings overlooking the baths were also given a free show on Monday night, watching out of windows a performance that closed with a piece from Don Quixote that mixed classical dance and flamenco.
The grand pas de deux was performed to a frantic rhythm by the soloists, and drew a thunderous applause.
As if hypnotised, the spectators moved slowly to get out of their seats at the end, waiting in vain for more, before easing back into real life.