Staff at famed opera house protest with dramatic actions

Spending cuts by the Italian government have hit Milan’s famed La Scala like a soprano reaching for a high C — loudly, and with drama.

Workers at the famed opera house have been staging strikes for three months, prompting an emotional outcry from general manager Stephane Lissner, who on July 7 warned that “La Scala will close down” unless the Silvio Berlusconi government acts quickly.

Meanwhile, the strikes over a possible slashing of up to 10% of La Scala’s $150 million yearly budget have forced a slew of cancellations, including a “Barber of Seville” that had been scheduled to bow July 9.

On July 1, the La Scala orchestra shed its formal wear in protest and performed Gounod’s “Faust” in shirtsleeves and jeans. Besides closure fears, the cuts would impose a hiring freeze and a 50% reduction in bonuses and slimmer payouts in all contracting stipulations.

Lissner is urging Italo Culture Minister Sandro Bondi to push through a legal decree to shield the temple of opera, which also has a legit stage, from the cuts by turning La Scala into a privileged foundation, allowing it to tap into government coin.

“The idea that culture can be privatized is completely unreal,” Lissner laments. “A country needs artists who ask questions; the theater is the proper place to stimulate thought. Do we want to all end up at Disneyland? I don’t!”

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