Riccardo Muti’s Ernani cancelled amid chaos at Rome Opera

Members of Rome Opera's orchestra and chorus protest outside Campidoglio
Members of Rome Opera’s orchestra and chorus protest outside Campidoglio

After yesterday’s meeting between unions and Rome City Council at Campidoglio, a union representative said that there was “zero chance that Ernani would go ahead, either for 27 November [the opening of the opera season] or the subsequent performances”.

Massive job losses are expected at Rome Opera after it was announced that the theatre would go into receivership after debts of 29 million euros ($39m) at the end of 2011, were announced. As the recent Bray Law states that if a theatre goes into receivership, 50% of administrative and technical posts must be axed, the unions are on the side of theatre director Catello De Martino for maybe the first time.

The Rome Opera receives a very generous local subsidy from the City Council, but the amount isn’t decided on until November, just before the season is about to open, a ridiculous situation that means that budgeting has to be based upon the sum received the previous year. This year, the Council has decided to reduce its contribution by 2.5 million euros, which has further added to the theatre’s debt. However, in recent years, the Rome City Council increased its subsidy by a third to help pull the theatre out of debt, yet instead the theatre has dived further into the red. It is estimated that the Rome Opera owed 33 million euros at the end of 2012, of which almost €10m are owing to the theatre’s suppliers.

There has been an exponential increase in certain costs: transport and porterage has shot up from €387,000 in 2010 to over a million in 2012; ‘other services’ have passed from €4m to €6m. It seems that the theatre wasn’t trying all that hard to rein in its spending.

Rome Opera Theatre is a long way from covering its costs with tickets and season ticket sales bringing in just €7.3m, eight times less than the cost of the productions.

Compare Rome with Milan’s receives €27m from private sponsors, whereas Rome has €3; 17,000 season tickets holders against Rome’s 3,000; €30m in tickets sales against €1m. Maybe this is a cruel comparison, after all, has a world-wide reputation which helps in attracting sponsors and business clients. Let’s look at Naples then, where the City Council give Teatro San Carlo €1 a year, against Rome’s €20. Or what about Venice’s which puts on 114 opera performances a years, compared with Rome’s 51 – though Rome does have the summer season at the Caracalla Baths which adds to the annual total. Whatever, something is certainly going wrong somewhere. That’s what is hoped an external commission will be able to find out.

There is also mention by the theatre’s workers of a plot against the theatre. Theatres who balance their books for three consecutive years receive a 5% bonus from the Theatre Performance Fund; the unions argue that only creative accountancy by La Scala and others, allow them to appear ‘virtuous’.

Then there’s talk about a plot against . During a television special about the crisis led by journalist Bruno Vespa, he asked, “Who wants to get rid of Muti?” The question didn’t get any answers, but an Italian blog suggests that La Scala are jealous of the success Muti has enjoyed in Rome. It was the orchestra at La Scala who pushed for the conductor to leave his post as musical director of the Milanese opera house and a no-confidence motion was voted for in 2005. In fact, when Muti conducts at Rome the theatre is said to be sold out, whereas this is not the case with many other productions. Il Corriere della Sera says, “Muti is the cherry on the cake, with him everything works perfectly. For the rest of the year, the theatre limps along.”

The paper concludes,

If the next Board of Governors really care for the theatre, they will put together a team of professionals, ready to work hard. To work in a theatre you must love it, attend the performances, live and breath it. Certain sectors of the theatre function well: the artistic direction, the costume and scenery departments, and there have been improvements in both the orchestra and the chorus. Muti is only the icing on the cake – underneath the icing a lot of dust has gathered.


    • says

      The Legge Bray, as it says above, states that “if a theatre goes into receivership, 50% of administrative and technical posts must be axed”. It is an attempt to avoid continually throwing money at certain theatres to bail them out. Italy has many opera houses with expensive seasons of opera, concerts, ballet etc which is only possible through government subsidy, but many of these houses were (are) run very badly and inefficiently. Minister Bray was trying to make these organizations more responsible.

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