This new Tristan is a landmark for La Scala. The production is the first Wagner staging directed by Patrice Ch_reau since the epoch-making Ring cycle he and conductor Pierre Boulez did at the 1976 Bayreuth Festival; the performances are the first by Daniel Barenboim in his role as maestro scaligero ("Maestro of La Scala"), effectively principal guest conductor and the house's highest-ranking musician. (While critics have differed on the merits of the staging and the principal singers, Barenboim and the orchestra have received unanimous praise.)
The holdout union is FIALS, which represents about 60 workers at the theater, including 40 orchestra musicians — the same musicians who threatened to protest on opening night by playing in shirtsleeves and black armbands rather than concert attire. (In the event, they evidently dressed like their colleagues.)
Strikes had earlier forced the cancellation of what had been planned as Barenboim's debut as maestro scaligero, a pair of performances of Verdi's Requiem to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Arturo Toscanini's death.
The walkouts are due to a simple but difficult dispute over pay. La Scala's staff, which has not received a raise in seven years, has been demanding higher wages as compensation for the increased workload at the company, where the annual number of performances has increased by two-thirds since 2001. The administration has maintained that its hands were tied because Italian law now forbids any major opera house in the country to negotiate a union contract in the absence of a nationwide agreement with the same union. (National negotiations are ongoing.)
To stave off a strike on opening night (one of Italy's biggest media events), La Scala superintendent Stéphane Lissner convinced the national culture minister to grant a waiver allowing the company and its unions to negotiate, and he obtained a grant of €3.2 million for end-of-year bonuses for La Scala's roughly 1,200 staff members. FIALS is not satisfied with those bonuses and is therefore resuming its walkout.
"We decided not to strike at the prima on 7 December out of respect for Maestro Barenboim and the other guest artists," a FIALS representative told the news agency AGI, "but we have never liked the agreement signed by the confederate unions."
A management representative told AGI that "this strike is incomprehensible. It was voted by approximately 60 members of one single union organization. Its manner, timing and motivations do not take in account in any way whatsoever the progress of negotiations ... [the strike's] sole consequence is damage to the public, the theater and all the professionals who work at La Scala."
So far, this fall's walkouts at La Scala have been one-day affairs targeted at high-profile events such as those led by Barenboim. More routine performances, such as La Scala Ballet's current Swan Lake and concerts by the house's orchestra and chorus, are proceeding undisturbed.