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Exec’s ouster rocks La Scala

Fontana replaced by Meli

ROME — A real life Italian opera buffa is playing out at Milan’s venerable La Scala opera house. Carlo Fontana, top exec of the world-famous theater, has been sacked by its board over “differences” with La Scala’s conductor-in-residence, Riccardo Muti.

Those differences are believed to pertain to the prima donnaish Muti’s demands that he have full control of La Scala’s artistic program. Fontana, who ran La Scala since 1990, was replaced Thursday by Mauro Meli, chief of its theater unit.

The dismissal prompted heated protests from La Scala personnel, who are largely siding with Fontana.

On Thursday, La Scala employees gathered outside the recently restored 18th-century Milan landmark singing arias made famous on its legendary stage and brandishing a banner that read “Get the merchants out of the temple of opera!”

That slogan refers to other key characters in the Milanese melodrama: Mediaset chair Fedele Confalonieri — a prominent member of the theater’s board — and Milan Mayor Gabriele Albertini, a close ally of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Mediaset’s main shareholder. Both were instrumental in Fontana’s firing.

Workers at the theater have called a strike that will block the premiere of Tchaikovsky’s opera “The Queen of Spades” on Tuesday. The rift could also bring the curtain down on further upcoming performances.

La Scala’s board is expected to push ahead with cost-cutting measures to plug a growing budget hole caused by extensive renovation work, including a facelift and a redesigned stage making it possible to program three different operas on the same day.

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