Italian Senate Commission investigates troubles at Scala
ROME — As strikes cancel premiere after premiere at one of opera's most famous theaters, worried Italian senators are launching an inquiry into the causes of the disarray, including the firing of La Scala's top administrator.

Striking employees, from musicians to stage crew, shut down the March 4th opening of the ballet Europa. The protests have already canceled several performances at the Milan theater, and workers are pledging to strike for each premiere.

The problems stem from a decision by La Scala's board of directors last week to dismiss superintendent Carlo Fontana, who had a rift with conductor Riccardo Muti. The opera house's workers union accuses Muti, a powerful figure in the music world, of undermining the superintendent's control.

Starting last Tuesday [March 8], the inquiry commission at Rome's Senate has begun to hear testimony from key people involved in the dispute, examining management at the theater in the past few years leading up to Fontana's dismissal.

Senator Albertina Soliani and other center-left lawmakers submitted a request for the hearings, saying that all the bickering has damaged one of Italy's cultural treasures.

"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," Soliani said in a statement.

The ballet Europa that was canceled Friday brings together dances by three top contemporary European choreographers — Angelin Preljocaj, Christopher Wheeldon and Jacopo Godani.

The strike has also canceled all the performances of Sancta Susanna, a 1921 opera by German-born composer Paul Hindemith, which was to be performed along with Il dissoluto assoluto, a revisitation of the Don Juan story by Italian composer Azio Corghi and Portuguese Nobel literature laureate José Saramago.

Beyond the superintendent's dismissal, Bruno Cerri of the CGIL union said opera workers worry that the board of directors is not listening to their concerns or sharing information about the theater's finances. They also want to ensure that the theater's artistic integrity is not compromised.

"We ask that La Scala be independent in its financial and decision-making capacity," he said.

The post of superintendent was taken over by Mauro Meli, former director of La Scala's theatrical division.

Fontana had headed La Scala since 1990, taking it through difficult times that included the renovation of the company's theater beginning in 2002. After several years at Milan's modern Arcimboldi theater, La Scala returned to its historic venue in December after 50 million euro (US$67 million) renovations.

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