TURIN, Italy – One thing about the Italians, they’ve always known how to produce a spectacle. They did not disappoint on a frigid Friday night, overcoming a lack of snow and local ambivalence over the Winter Games to create an opening ceremony that would have done Nero proud. There was fire and fireworks, rock and opera stars, cow bells and acrobats, Italian President Carlo Ciampi and Yoko Ono. It was eclectic and cultural, grandiose and simple. It had the world’s biggest mosh pit and greatest red curtain. It was definitely Italian. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORESanta Anita opens winter meet Saturday with loaded card They utilized a full orchestra and ’70s disco. Gowns by Giorgio Armani and lyrics by John Lennon. More than 2,500 athletes from 80 countries, along with more than 35,000 at Olympic Stadium, braved the winter chill to take in the world’s ultimate variety show. It made for one great party, and if little of it had anything to actually do with the Olympics that was besides the point. One thing we learned: Sophia Loren and Luciano Pavarotti still got it. If these Winter Games have hardly been embraced by the 1 million locals, they had to feel pretty good about their opening ceremony. The Turin theme for the games is “Passion lives here,” and they threw a nice little bash with some 2 billion watching on TV to get things rolling. It did not have the overdone, showy feeling that Athens’ opening ceremony sometimes slipped into in 2004, but hardly lacked for outsized flair. There were high-tech touches, but the best moments were produced by people working in remarkable unison. Favorite big moment No. 1: A wonderfully choreographed 413 performers formed a massive ski jumper, moving in unison to synchronize his moments as he lifted off and the tips of his skis almost touched his nose. Favorite big moment No. 2: Twenty-eight acrobats suspended by wire Cirque Du Soleil-style over a net form a large, gleaming dove. The ceremony opened with a masked Jury Chechi, the famous Italian ex-gymnast, hitting a giant anvil with a large hammer, flames erupting from its sides. Flames then burst along the perimeter of the stage. The fire and passion theme continued with six in-line skaters in red skinsuits rolling down ramps, flames blazing from the back of their red helmets. The Human Torch on wheels. There are always moments in opening ceremonies when those in attendance are left wondering exactly what they’re watching. It’s an event best viewed with a script in your lap or a TV announcer in your ear. It’s a lot warmer with the TV announcer in your ear. The show also showed off the Stanford tree mascot, fiberglass cows, dancers with giant balloons on their heads (they’re supposed to be snowflakes) and supermodel Carla Bruni in an Armani gown that probably cost slightly less than the Turin annual budget. The rising of five medal rings that ultimately formed the Olympic rings was impressive and preceded the parade of athletes. The parade began with Greece and ended with Italy. In between there was a lot of odd disco music played as teams entered the stadium. You expected John Travolta to make an appearance. Canada entered with a large contingent, Janet Jones laying 2-1 odds the men’s hockey team takes home the gold. Denmark entered without distributing any political cartoon fliers, though they were followed by three security guards. The athletes were young and sometimes almost oddly old. New Olympic rule No. 1: If you need a wheelchair to enter the stadium, you shouldn’t be walking with the world’s best athletes. There were 80 nations in all, and that included several who seriously need to consider a name change. North and South Korea marching somewhat oddly together as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. And then there’s the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. So what are they now? There was also Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. New Olympic rule No. 2: If no one can pronounce it, your country needs a new name. The biggest cheers went to small contingents (Kenya), and of course, Italy. This being the Winter Games and it being very cold, there were no outrageous costumes or many displays of individuality. But I have absolutely no doubt that everyone who saw the Mongolia team was thinking – I gotta have one of those hats, whatever the animal used. Think the customers in Karen Allen’s bar in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” The U.S. team was led by flag bearer Chris Witty and received at least polite applause. Skier and would-be renegade Bode Miller marched, as did ice skater Michelle Kwan. Unlike in past ceremonies, after the parade the athletes were able to sit on benches in the lower mosh-pit area. The Olympic flag was carried in by eight women, including a glowing Loren, fellow actress Susan Sarandon and Chilean writer Isabel Allende. There was a call for peace by Ono, followed by a throaty rendition of Lennon’s “Imagine” by Peter Gabriel before the flag lighting ceremony. Skiing great Alberto Tomba carried the flame into the stadium, but of course it didn’t stop there. The flame was passed around three more times – and just before you feared that Tommy Lasorda would get a turn – it went to Stephanie Belmondo, the former Italian cross country great, who lit a spectacular explosion of fireworks on the way to igniting a massive cauldron. The world’s largest red curtain was lifted to reveal Pavarotti and orchestra. He sang Puccini’s “Nessuno Dorma” gloriously, but seriously needs a new dye job. It capped an inviting evening. The buses don’t work, there’s no snow, the locals are irritated, the city is a pit, but the opener was a thing to behold. Steve Dilbeck’s column appears in the Daily News four times a week. He can be reached at [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!