The End of Opera in Italy or; The Rejection of Own Culture

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Count of Warwick

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Oct 26, 2005, 2:24:43 PM10/26/05
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Article as found in the google alert for the fansofgiuseppedistefano
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The sad decline of the Italian love affair of opera

Has the fat lady sung for Italian opera?
By Peter Popham in Rome
Published: 26 October 2005
Italy is the home of opera so it may come as some surprise that its
demise is being predicted.

Curtains for La Scala? The culture minister, Rocco Buttiglione, has
warned of the possible "death of opera" as the nation's 13 deeply
indebted opera houses try to find ways to survive a 30 per cent cut in
government subsidies, announced in the new budget.

"I recognise," he said in Milan, "that 13 opera houses are too many,
but it is not possible to decide a priori to shut down any one of them.
They are already in a condition in which, if in the middle-to-long term
they do not restructure themselves, we will arrive at the death of
opera in Italy."

All the government-supported arts are in crisis as a result of severe
cuts mandated by Silvio Berlusconi's Finance Minister, Giulio Tremonti,
and last week theatres, cinemas, concert halls and opera houses staged
a one-day strike in protest.

But the opera, disproportionately dependent on state handouts and with
drastically shrinking audiences, is in the most serious difficulty of
all.

Almost half of Italy's arts budget - €496m (£336m) - goes to the
opera. Mr Tremonti plans to reduce that by €164m a year over the next
three years. Mr Berlusconi last week rubbed salt in the wound by
claiming the opera's problems were of its own making.

"One thousand people work at La Scala," he claimed of Italy's
best-known opera house, "when 400 would be plenty."

La Scala has staggered from one crisis to another since its gala
reopening nearly a year ago. Its new superintendent, Frenchman
Stéphane Lissner, said Mr Berlusconi had got his facts wrong. "The
total number of staff is 800, and half that are artists."

Roberto Bolle, primo ballerino at La Scala, said Mr Berlusconi should
have known better as his son-in-law Maurizio Vanadia, husband of Marina
Berlusconi, was formerly a top dancer at La Scala.

But politicians and administrators agree that the crisis facing the
Italian opera is "desperate," in Mr Buttiglione's words. He warned the
opera houses: "None of them can hope that, whatever happens, someone
will bale them out. Any of them could go bust, none is exempt from
doing their accounts. All of them are dramatically in debt."

The basic problem, according to one inside source, is that while many
companies continue to stage superb productions, managers are political
appointees. Back offices are swollen with friends and relatives.

"Fifteen years ago, we had one public relations officer - now we have
six," she said of her opera house. "We do wonderful productions but
they are killed off after a fixed number of performances and never go
abroad because there is no entrepreneurial talent at the top."

The source works at San Carlo, in the heart of Naples, a city with 24
per cent unemployment and the highest murder rate in Italy. "How can
you expect the government to provide endless handouts," she said, "when
your theatre is in the middle of a city that is dying of hunger? For
years, opera houses have used the state like an ATM. Very few young
people come to the opera, no effort is made to attract them."

This highlights an even more fundamental problem - that the Italian
public appears to have fallen out of love with "la lirica" (the opera).
A generation ago, the goings-on at La Scala were of intense interest to
everyone in Milan. Any Italian taxi driver could hum the most famous
arias, and Maria Callas and Giuseppe di Stefano were the celebrities of
their day.

But today, thanks to pop music and the Berlusconi-peddled TV diet of
soaps, quiz shows and old American movies, Verdi and Puccini have gone
out of style. The opera has become the diversion of the rich, the old
and the corporate as much as anywhere else - perhaps even more so,
given the failure of Italian opera houses to make a pitch for the
patronage of their country's youth.

Italy is the home of opera so it may come as some surprise that its
demise is being predicted.

Curtains for La Scala? The culture minister, Rocco Buttiglione, has
warned of the possible "death of opera" as the nation's 13 deeply
indebted opera houses try to find ways to survive a 30 per cent cut in
government subsidies, announced in the new budget.

"I recognise," he said in Milan, "that 13 opera houses are too many,
but it is not possible to decide a priori to shut down any one of them.
They are already in a condition in which, if in the middle-to-long term
they do not restructure themselves, we will arrive at the death of
opera in Italy."

All the government-supported arts are in crisis as a result of severe
cuts mandated by Silvio Berlusconi's Finance Minister, Giulio Tremonti,
and last week theatres, cinemas, concert halls and opera houses staged
a one-day strike in protest.

But the opera, disproportionately dependent on state handouts and with
drastically shrinking audiences, is in the most serious difficulty of
all.

Almost half of Italy's arts budget - €496m (£336m) - goes to the
opera. Mr Tremonti plans to reduce that by €164m a year over the next
three years. Mr Berlusconi last week rubbed salt in the wound by
claiming the opera's problems were of its own making.

"One thousand people work at La Scala," he claimed of Italy's
best-known opera house, "when 400 would be plenty."

La Scala has staggered from one crisis to another since its gala
reopening nearly a year ago. Its new superintendent, Frenchman
Stéphane Lissner, said Mr Berlusconi had got his facts wrong. "The
total number of staff is 800, and half that are artists."

Roberto Bolle, primo ballerino at La Scala, said Mr Berlusconi should
have known better as his son-in-law Maurizio Vanadia, husband of Marina
Berlusconi, was formerly a top dancer at La Scala.
But politicians and administrators agree that the crisis facing the
Italian opera is "desperate," in Mr Buttiglione's words. He warned the
opera houses: "None of them can hope that, whatever happens, someone
will bale them out. Any of them could go bust, none is exempt from
doing their accounts. All of them are dramatically in debt."

The basic problem, according to one inside source, is that while many
companies continue to stage superb productions, managers are political
appointees. Back offices are swollen with friends and relatives.

"Fifteen years ago, we had one public relations officer - now we have
six," she said of her opera house. "We do wonderful productions but
they are killed off after a fixed number of performances and never go
abroad because there is no entrepreneurial talent at the top."

The source works at San Carlo, in the heart of Naples, a city with 24
per cent unemployment and the highest murder rate in Italy. "How can
you expect the government to provide endless handouts," she said, "when
your theatre is in the middle of a city that is dying of hunger? For
years, opera houses have used the state like an ATM. Very few young
people come to the opera, no effort is made to attract them."

This highlights an even more fundamental problem - that the Italian
public appears to have fallen out of love with "la lirica" (the opera).
A generation ago, the goings-on at La Scala were of intense interest to
everyone in Milan. Any Italian taxi driver could hum the most famous
arias, and Maria Callas and Giuseppe di Stefano were the celebrities of
their day.

But today, thanks to pop music and the Berlusconi-peddled TV diet of
soaps, quiz shows and old American movies, Verdi and Puccini have gone
out of style. The opera has become the diversion of the rich, the old
and the corporate as much as anywhere else - perhaps even more so,
given the failure of Italian opera houses to make a pitch for the
patronage of their country's youth.

-----
Count

REG

unread,
Oct 26, 2005, 9:29:52 PM10/26/05
to
Thanks for this article. Although some fall off in support is almost
inevitable, given that the public is turning to other forms of culture and
entertainment, it does't surprise me that this kind of potential die-off is
occuring in a system that has long been full of cronyism, largely because
it's lived on public handouts without accountability. I think that the issue
of government support for the arts is a complex one, and I am not
reflexively against it by any means, but it's been completely politicized in
Italy for a long time - twenty years ago certain singers were favored, and
disfavored, at opera houses, based on their politial beliefs and
affiliations.

The real problem is that the efficient thing to do would be to cut down
some support for specific houses all together, and focus it more where it
would do the most good (and is the most needed). NOTE that I am not saying
that only the "A" list houses get the support - it might be exactly the
opposite - but continuing to spread the wealth, or lack of wealth, across
the board does no one a favor.


"Count of Warwick" <raff_ma...@yahoo.co.uk> wrote in message
news:1130351083.0...@g43g2000cwa.googlegroups.com...


Article as found in the google alert for the fansofgiuseppedistefano
group.

The sad decline of the Italian love affair of opera

Has the fat lady sung for Italian opera?
By Peter Popham in Rome
Published: 26 October 2005
Italy is the home of opera so it may come as some surprise that its
demise is being predicted.

Curtains for La Scala? The culture minister, Rocco Buttiglione, has
warned of the possible "death of opera" as the nation's 13 deeply
indebted opera houses try to find ways to survive a 30 per cent cut in
government subsidies, announced in the new budget.

"I recognise," he said in Milan, "that 13 opera houses are too many,
but it is not possible to decide a priori to shut down any one of them.
They are already in a condition in which, if in the middle-to-long term
they do not restructure themselves, we will arrive at the death of
opera in Italy."

All the government-supported arts are in crisis as a result of severe
cuts mandated by Silvio Berlusconi's Finance Minister, Giulio Tremonti,
and last week theatres, cinemas, concert halls and opera houses staged
a one-day strike in protest.

But the opera, disproportionately dependent on state handouts and with
drastically shrinking audiences, is in the most serious difficulty of
all.

Almost half of Italy's arts budget - ?496m (Ł336m) - goes to the
opera. Mr Tremonti plans to reduce that by ?164m a year over the next

Almost half of Italy's arts budget - ?496m (Ł336m) - goes to the
opera. Mr Tremonti plans to reduce that by ?164m a year over the next

MV

unread,
Oct 28, 2005, 2:48:28 AM10/28/05
to
The opera business in most countries where public subsidy is a part of the
financing of it is riven with cronyism and ridiculous appointments. Britain
certainly suffers from it. SUch a revolution in Italian houses was
inevitable. It may be worse than it has to be because Berlusconi really is a
philistine.

In Britain however, there are companies who recieve the bulk of Arts Council
(the body who dishes out the subsidies) money and it is focused on a very
small group. Look at the account sof many of the subsidised companies and it
is pretty shocking stuff. There are committed people at the top and on the
boards but they have the ear of various people. Plenty of passion about but
not many brains. When change is mentioned everyone goes into meltdown. The
waste in British opera houses is frightening and it is no doubt the same in
Italy. Ultimately, the protestations of opera houses that they need all of
this money just does not wash and it will ultimately prove fatal for the
artform.
MV


"REG" <Rich...@hotmail.com> wrote in message
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JLaB

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Oct 28, 2005, 8:43:50 PM10/28/05
to
It is a sad day, indeed, when the Italians begin to follow suit.
Certainly, there is a lot of waste in the industry. I doubt, however,
that the situation is worst in the UK since there is so very little to
waste, here, when one compares our resources to those of our
continental cousins. I am still more doubtful that the statement that
"There are committed people at the top and on the boards" has been
proved to be universally true in Britain. Better not expand on that
one...

MV

unread,
Oct 29, 2005, 8:28:45 AM10/29/05
to
Well maybe we begin from diferent positions JLaB
I think there is plenty of money in our subsidised opera houses when it
comes to mounting quality opera. One company I know has an 8 million
budget - 3 million of that will go on productions(about 38 performances) and
the rest is on admin. Hello? The ROH suposedly runs on a neutral budget
now - ie with no deficit. However, I actually don't consider that a huge
achievement when the subsidy is 24 million. I had lunch recently with Jeremy
Isaacs and Sir Denis Forman (of whom I am a great admirer); both, as I am
sure you know, with quite a history in British opera. It was illuminating.
There are many things wrong with opera today - and there are many things
"right" with it too. But a minor example - WE were recently approached by a
very well known but significantly aged singer who was interested in
performing for us in one of our forthcoming 2006 productions. The fee that
was requested was simply ludicrous (and included first class air travel and
accomodation). We would not have paid it even if we could have afforded it.
Economically this sort of thing is a big part of what drives the levels of
required subsidy. If one singer demands £2000 per performance - another has
to be stratospherically better to demand £15,000 per performance. The thing
is, they rarely, if ever, genuinely are and that amount will demand that
prices on the door are, well, the sort of prices people have become used to
in opera houses. We are fortunate in that we have never taken thepath that
"names" sell our tickets.

MV


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