Silencing the fat lady?

Sour notes thanks to opera cuts


Many countries are cutting the pay of public employees, but in Italy, those employees carry spears and sing high Cs. Earlier this month, Silvio Berlusconi’s culture minister, Sandro Bondi, announced “austerity measures” for the country’s 14 state-subsidized opera houses. Proposed cuts include a hiring freeze, and measures to hold down musicians’ wages: for example, choristers would no longer get extra money for singing in German. In response, unions called a series of strikes, shutting down productions all over the country. Members of La Scala in Milan took to the stage with a banner reading “No al decreto infame” (“No to the infamous decree”), and the musically named Gianni Timpani, a chorus member at the Rome Opera, told the London Times that cutting arts funding was against the Italian constitution. Most musicians have come out against the subsidy cuts, seeing them as a threat to Italy’s proud operatic culture: Daniel Barenboim, La Scala’s principal guest conductor, fumed that the proposals “will cause enormous damage to the musical life of this country.” But others have argued that overgenerous funding may explain the sinking popularity of opera in the land that invented it; veteran director Franco Zeffirelli told the London Independent that “the state is effectively propping up bad productions.”

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