Strikes at La Scala Called Off; Season Opening Out of Danger

Classic Arts News   Strikes at La Scala Called Off; Season Opening Out of Danger
The strikes that threatened the season-opening gala at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan on Dec. 7 have been called off, and the glamorous event — one of the highlights of the cultural, social and media calendars in Italy — will go ahead as planned.

Reports last week from the Associated Press, CBC News and various Italian media said that an agreement between labor representatives, opera house management and the Italian government was announced in Rome last Tuesday (Nov. 27) by national culture minister Francesco Rutelli.

Workers at La Scala, who had not received a pay raise in seven years, were demanding higher wages as compensation for the increased workload at the theater, where the number of performances has increased by two-thirds since 2001. Unions called two one-day strikes against the house on Nov. 9 and Nov. 17, forcing the cancellation of two concert presentations of Verdi's Requiem planned to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Arturo Toscanini's death.

La Scala administrators maintained that, while they were very sympathetic to the staff's demands, their 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. Two weeks ago the house's management called for the central government to intervene. The current settlement appears to be the result.

The Dec. 7 performance — of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, in a new staging by director Patrice Chéreau starring Ian Storey, Waltraud Meier, Michelle DeYoung and Matti Salminen — will be the first by Daniel Barenboim in his capacity as maestro scaligero ("Maestro of La Scala"), effectively principal guest conductor and the house's highest-ranking musician.

On the previous evening, as a sort of prelude to the gala, Barenboim, Chéreau (as narrator) and seven principal players from La Scala's orchestra will give a special performance of Stravinsky's L'Histoire du soldat for students at the University of Milan and at other local schools.

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 theaters in Milan, 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.

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