So Riccardo Muti will be off to Salzburg next year to conduct Ernani but, unsurprisingly, he will not be in front of the Rome Opera Orchestra, as previously announced, but his Cherubini Youth Orchestra. After Muti's recent walkout in protest at the latest series of budget problems at the Rome Opera House, the Maestro may not have wanted to see the faces of those players for a while, but it could be that Salzburg gave him the nudge, having a few budgetary problems of its own. The Rome orchestra, for example, was asking for a €160 daily meals allowance from the Festival whereas the (arguably) superior talents of the Rome-based Santa Cecilia Orchestra were happy with €80.
The unions are searching for possible cuts to avoid the announced sacking of 182 orchestra and chorus members. Too little, too late? The annual summer festival at Rome's Caracalla Baths saw bonuses being handed out to players who were not even participating in the festival programme, says Cappelli. Then there is the work load: only 125 days a year even though the orchestra receives an annual wage not a seasonal one. No wonder there is a €393 million hole to fill.
Culture Minister Dario Franceschini suggested rewarding the organizations who manage their affairs well:
At the Rome Opera something is not working. In Rome, with the same rules and the same funding, there is Santa Cecilia which has a budget surplus, and then there is the Opera with a deficit. It is obvious that action must be taken. The time where everything was permitted because resources seemed unlimited has gone forever.
The musicians and their unions are protesting the fact that sacking the orchestra (even if many will be taken on again with more ‘reasonable' contracts) is just not fair when the real budget problems have been caused by mismanagement and strangely escalating operating costs.
The ANSA news agency reported union representative, Lorella Pieralli, as saying:
In 2012 there were anomalous increases for transport and scene shifting which shot up by €400,000; cleaning costs have been increasing annually by 30-40% for the same level of service; the cost of external artistic staff – directors, singers, choreographers etc – went up by €1.2 million for the same number of performances; and in twelve months ‘other services' shot up from €4 million to €6 million.
She added that, by contrast, the fixed cost of having an orchestra and chorus hadn't changed since 2005.
Certainly the 20 members of the 95-strong orchestra didn't do its national or international reputation much good when a strike resulted in the first night of La Bohème at the Caracalla Baths being accompanied by a piano, much to the amazement and anger of a tourist and local crowd who had paid a steep sum to be there. Strike action during the last summer season added almost €1 million to the theatre's debts.
However, how can the expense of a €20,000 ship which appeared for 10 seconds in this year's Manon be justified when the theatre was already deep in crisis? – Pieralli pointed out. Muti was in charge of that one, and he has notoriously expensive tastes. Also, controversially, his own daughter (an actress who has just turned to directing) was the regista of this ambitious project. When Muti left Rome in September was he just abandoning a sinking (€200,000) ship if there was to be an end to such lavish spectacles?
Ennio Morricone's open letter in October stated,
It is not right that the responsibility is being put exclusively on the shoulders of the musicians. Certainly the way the theatre is run can be streamlined, modernized and therefore improved, but these are first class musicians have won international competitions and continue to study to maintain their high standard.
He's right. No one criticizes what doctors are paid, and so the annual pay packet of €47,000 to €70,000 for highly trained musicians of rare talent shouldn't bandied about as an example of the theatre's wastefulness, as is happening in some areas of the Italian press. But if the musicians want to win back public sympathy, maybe some of those extras which they've been lucky to receive in the past, should now be forgotten, suggest several Italian journalists: the bonus for playing at the Caracalla Baths, the bonus for a tv relay, the extra for playing on the stage during a concert instead of in the pit, the ‘humidity' allowance for playing in the open air, the extra for wearing tails (€30 a month), the instrument compensation (like a hire fee), the chorus' ‘physical performance' bonus which is received if they are asked to do anything more than hold a score.
Personally I find some of these bonuses quite reasonable – receiving a sum to keep your instrument in shape, for example – but many of these extras are either bizarre, or represent compensation at a much higher level than the actual cost. Should you really make money out of your travel or meal allowances?
Union representative and chorus member Francesco Melis, said, rightly,
We know that economic intervention in culture is an investment, an economic driver for our country.
But we also know that you get nothing out of a bad investment, no matter how much you put into it.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.