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Milan’s Muti sings about opera rumpus

Open letter to newspaper spills details

ROME — As Italy’s Senate began a probe Tuesday into the power clash and staff strike crippling Milan’s La Scala opera house, conductor-in-residence Riccardo Muti has broken his silence about his part in the sacking of its top exec, Carlo Fontana.

“I was hurt, frequently having to hear unflattering comments (about La Scala) from the international community,” Muti revealed in an open letter on the front page of Milan’s Corriere della Sera newspaper.

“In the eyes of those people, I carried a considerable amount of the responsibility,” Muti added.

La Scala’s board sacked Fontana last month after 15 years due to differences with Muti, who had asked for his removal.

He was replaced with a Muti protege, Mauro Meli, formerly chief of La Scala’s theater unit.

Muti, chief conductor since 1986, said he acted in the interest of the staffers “many of whom asked me to intervene so that La Scala could return to its past stature.”

But many La Scala staffers are backing Fontana, staging strikes that have targeted premieres since the end of February. Although they are not pushing for Fontana’s reinstatement, La Scala union leaders want more transparent management at the opera house and a corporate, rather than political, approach.

They are concerned that prominent members of the board include Milan Mayor Gabriele Albertini, who is a close political ally of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and Fedele Confalonieri, chairman of Berlusconi’s Mediaset TV web.

Center-left Senator Albertina Soliani and other opposition lawmakers requested the Senate hearings, claiming that the bickering is damaging a national treasure.

“It’s incomprehensible that Milan’s La Scala, one of the most important theaters not only in Italy but also in the world, has become the object of individual strategies linked to economic interest groups, hurting its prestige,” lamented the senator in a statement.

Critics claim Fontana defiled the Italian opera temple by staging pop-culture shows, such as “West Side Story.”

However, film and opera director Franco Zeffirelli recently accused Muti of being “drunk with himself, drugged by his own art and his own personal vanity.”

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