La Scala Strike Forces Cancellation of Second Verdi Requiem with Barenboim

Classic Arts News   La Scala Strike Forces Cancellation of Second Verdi Requiem with Barenboim
For the second consecutive week, a one-day strike at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan has forced the cancellation of a special gala performance of Verdi's Requiem conducted by Daniel Barenboim.

The concert, which had been planned for this Saturday, November 17, was to have taken place at the Cathedral in Parma as a tribute to Arturo Toscanini on the 50th anniversary of his death. Last week's cancelled performance of the Verdi Requiem was also planned as a Toscanini tribute, as well as the inauguration of Daniel Barenboim's tenure as maestro scaligero ("Maestro of La Scala"), effectively principal guest conductor and the house's highest-ranking musician.

According to the Agenzia Giornalistica Italiana (AGI), this is the first time in 25 years that a strike has caused the cancellation of an out-of-town La Scala performance. The previous occasion, in 1982, was also a concert of Verdi's Requiem in Parma, in that instance to be conducted by Claudio Abbado at the city's Teatro Regio.

The company's other performance planned for Saturday, of Mozart's Così fan tutte at the home theater in Milan, has been called off as well.

The various unions representing La Scala's staff are demanding a new contract with pay increases: the workers at the house complain that they have not had a raise in seven years, despite a 67% increase over that period in the number of annual performances.

La Scala management points out, however, that it is now against Italian law for any major opera house in the country to negotiate a union contract in the absence of a national contract with the same union. (The national unions only began their negotiations with the Italian government three days ago, according to the Associated Press.)

Company administrators further claim that they have proposed a scheme to compensate La Scala's staff for their increased workload without violating the law, a plan the unions have refused to consider.

For their part, the unions, in a written statement released yesterday and quoted by the Italian newspaper Il Giornale, described management's claim that their hands are tied by the law as "an obstacle of dubious legitimacy" and "an incomprehensible and bureaucratic denial."

This labor standoff may now threaten La Scala's annual season opening on December 7 (one of the year's biggest events in Italy), this year featuring Barenboim leading his first opera as the company's maestro: a new staging of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde by director Patrice Ch_reau starring Waltraud Meier, Ian Storey, Michelle DeYoung and Matti Salminen. Company officials told the AP that no one can remember the season's opening night (held on the feast of Milan's patron saint) ever having been cancelled due to a strike. (Protests outside the theater, however, are as much a part of the event as expensively dressed celebrities.)

If La Scala's opening night next month were to be cancelled, that could interfere with the upcoming series of high-definition broadcasts of the house's productions in U.S. movie theaters. Next month's presentation, of Verdi's Aida in a lavish staging by Franco Zeffirelli, would not be affected, as it was recorded at last year's season opening. The opera scheduled for January, however, is the Ch_reau-Barenboim Tristan, to be filmed on opening night.

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