La Scala Season Set to Open, With Some Musicians Protesting

Classic Arts News   La Scala Season Set to Open, With Some Musicians Protesting
With the threat of strikes out of the way, the Teatro alla Scala in Milan opens its 2007-08 season tonight, on the feast of St. Ambrose, the city's patron. The event is always one of the biggest on Italy's social, cultural and media calendars, and the plaza in front of the opera house will be filled, as usual, with arriving celebrities, politicians and rich people (tickets for the prima can cost as much as €2,000), as well as the media and paparazzi covering them and the protesters for various causes trying to get their attention.

The opera which the great and the good (and the rest) are coming to see is Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, a work last seen at La Scala in 1978 and a long, challenging score which few in the orchestra have ever played.

Leading the musicians through that challenge will be Daniel Barenboim, inaugurating his tenure as maestro scaligero ("Maestro of La Scala"), effectively principal guest conductor and the house's highest-ranking musician.

The new staging is by Patrice Chéreau, the legendary theater and film director best-known in the opera world for the path-breaking Wagner Ring cycle he and conductor Pierre Boulez did at the 1976 Bayreuth Festival — a project that arguably set in motion the entire phenomenon of Regieoper, productions dominated, and radically reinterpreted, by the stage director.

Tenor Ian Storey and soprano Waltraud Meier take the title roles, with mezzo Michelle DeYoung as Brangäne and bass Matti Salminen as King Marke.

Tonight's Tristan will be broadcast live in Italy on RAI, the national radio and television network, and on cable television throughout Europe by the ARTE network. The performance will also be transmitted in high-definition video and audio onto large screens at three other venues in Milan (including a cancer clinic), four opera houses elsewhere in northern Italy, and more than 30 cinemas and other venues throughout the country.

Next month, that same high-definition transmission of Tristan's opening night will be the second of this season's "Cinema alla Scala" presentations at various U.S. movie theaters.

Interested listeners in North America and elsewhere can hear today's Tristan in streaming audio via the websites of RAI Radio 3 beginning at 11 a.m. Eastern time (, click on "ascolta Radio 3 in diretta") or, with a two-hour delay, Radio France Musique (, click on "direct" and the speaker icon) beginning at 1 p.m. Eastern time.

The new production will have six further performances through Jan. 2; for information, visit (available in English).

Opening night at La Scala may be going ahead without strikes, but that doesn't mean the labor situation there is settled.

The house's staff, which has not received a pay raise in seven years, has been demanding higher wages as compensation for the increased workload at the theater, where the number of performances has increased by two-thirds since 2001. The administration maintains that its hands are 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. There is still no new contract in place, according to the Associated Press.

In order to buy labor peace for the season opening, La Scala superintendent Stéphane Lissner managed to secure a grant of €3.2 million for end-of-season bonuses to divide among the roughly 1,200 staff members at the house. (This works out to an average of about €2,000 for backstage workers and about €3,000 for the orchestra, chorus and dancers, according to Il Giornale.) Yet this is not enough for the union FIALS, which represents about 40 musicians, according to La Repubblica. To show their dissatisfaction, tonight the FIALS members are wearing white and black armbands rather than the usual concert dress as they play in the orchestra pit.

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