Italian opera houses strike following government cuts

Gramophone18th May 2010
Scene of a strike: Venice's historic La Fenice (photo: Michele Crosera)Scene of a strike: Venice's historic La Fenice (photo: Michele Crosera)

The mayor of the city of Venice, Giorgio Orsoni, is the latest to add his voice to a chorus of disapproval among musicians and theatre workers following government reform of state-supported opera houses and orchestras approved by the Italian president, Giorgio Napolitano.

The emergency measures, announced at the start of this month, are aimed at cutting costs but would have the effect of reducing salaries of 5500 employees by between 10 and 20 per cent, musicians and staff have claimed.

Mr Orsoni said the decree risked "butchering" the historic Venice theatre, La Fenice. The premiere of Don Giovanni, due for this evening (Tuesday), has been cancelled.

The arts and culture minister Sandro Bondi, who drafted the measures, called the strikes "irresponsible". He defended the reforms saying that cuts would not be introduced now, but in a year's time, if agreement on an integrated nationwide contract for musicians and staff could not be reached. No formal contract has been in place since 2003.

But musicians remain on the offensive. Agostino Spera, a trombonist in the Orchestra di Santa Cecilia, Rome, told La Repubblica: "I, an orchestral player on €2000 a month, invite Bondi to come and see how we work...He will see whether we are privileged. The government wants to wipe out quality in music."

Organisations across the country have been staging strikes, including the Opera di Roma; the Teatro San Carlo, Naples; the Maggio Fiorentino festival; the Teatro Regio, Turin; the Orchestra di Santa Cecilia, Rome; the Teatro Carlo Felice, Genoa; the Teatro Comunale, Bologna; and La Scala, Milan, where last Thursday's opening performance of Das Rheingold, the first instalment of a new joint Berlin-Milan Ring cycle conducted by Daniel Barenboim, was cancelled.

In lieu of the performance, La Scala musicians made tickets available to the public for the dress rehearsal on the Tuesday before, which brought crowds queuing in front of the theatre in the rain. Many wore the yellow “culture bearer” badges that singers and players had distributed at open rehearsals and at the final performance of Simon Boccanegra, when tenor Plácido Domingo himself, in the title role, was among those to wear a badge.

Charles Searson

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