"Either the cuts are scrapped, or the minister goes," he was quoted as saying.
The government, under prime minister Silvio Berlusoni, has proposed cutting $200 million per year over three years from the performing-arts budget. Nearly half of this budget goes to opera companies such as Milan's Teatro alla Scala.
"I'm not good enough to reach the ministry's institutional objectives with the funds we are currently allotted," Buttiglione said, "but perhaps a wizard of cultural economy will arrive on the scene to do it."
In related news, reported by the Canadian Broadcasting Company, Berlusconi responded to criticism of his budget cuts by saying that La Scala was dramatically overstaffed.
He said that La Scala employed thousands of people, when 400 would be sufficient; he also criticized the practice of paying dancers up to their retirement, when many stop working long before then.
A new law, which goes into effect in 2004, will require dancers to work into their 60s.
St_phane Lissner, La Scala's general manager, responded to Berlusconi by pointing out that La Scala employs 800 people, the number specified by a 1990s governmental decree, and that over half of them work in the orchestra, chorus, and ballet.
The Agenzia Giornalistica Europa reports that Claudio Fantoni, a singer in the chorus of Florence's Teatro del Maggio Musicale, has gone on a hunger strike to protest the funding cuts. In a letter to Buttiglione, Fantoni asked the minister to undertake, with "any instrument possible," to stop the government from making these debilitating cuts. "The government has undertaken to eliminate an entire sector," he wrote.
Since October 18, Fantoni has limited himself to three cappuccinos, with sugar, per day.