Lissner's in for topper Meli amid controversy

ROME — Milan’s La Scala Theater replaced its top exec Thursday in an attempt to end the power clashes between staff and management at the venerable opera house that led to vet conductor Riccardo Muti’s resignation and forced the cancellation of many performances.

Stephane Lissner, director of France’s Aix-en-Provence opera festival, will replace Mauro Meli as general manager and artistic director in May. It is not clear whether Meli resigned or was pushed out.

Lissner, La Scala’s first non-Italian general manager and artistic director in its 226-year history, has headed the Festival d’Aix en-Provence since 1988. It is among Europe’s most prestigious opera, theater and dance fests, with a more innovative and youth-oriented approach to the arts than La Scala’s current program.

His appointment follows two months of discord at the theater. Staffers and musicians have been disrupting performances in protest over the ousting of La Scala’s former general manager Carlo Fontana in February, which they blamed on Muti and Meli.

Fontana was disliked by Muti, who felt he was dumbing down the opera house. Meli was his choice for successor.

The staffers, many of whom belong to unions, said the conductor had no right to interfere with management and demanded the resignation of both men.

Muti stepped down earlier this month after 19 years on the podium, and now Meli has followed.

As is often the case in Italy, politics came into play.

Prominent members of La Scala’s board are Milan Mayor Gabriele Albertini, a member of Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative Forza Italia force, and Fedele Confalonieri, CEO of the Berlusconi-controlled Mediaset broadcasting group.

Next step toward normality at La Scala will be the hiring of Muti’s successor.

Former Amsterdam Concertgebouw music director Riccardo Chailly and Bologna opera conductor Daniele Gatti are tipped as possibles.

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