The artistic director of La Scala has warned that the celebrated opera house is "dangerously close" to privatisation, as public funding for the arts continues to dry up.
Stephane Lissner told a meeting organised by Italy's CGIL trade union that if cuts eat into the venue's finances "just a little bit more", then the theatre will be "dangerously close to being privatised".
In 1998, 61 per cent of La Scala's funding came from the state. But by 2011, the proportion had fallen to 47 per cent. This year, just 37.5 per cent will come from government coffers.
"Elsewhere in Europe the least-subsidised institution can rely on 50 per cent public funding," Mr Lissner said. Around 60 per cent of funding for The Paris Opera comes from the state and Vienna State Opera is about 55 per cent publicly funded.
Italy's Corriere della Sera newspaper reported La Scala now pays €36m (£30m) in taxes, €6m more than it receives in funding. Lorenzo Ornaghi, the Culture Minister, said the privatisation of La Scala was not on the cards and has pledged to fight for more money for opera.
Mr Lissner said that the "real problem", other than the economic crisis, was the tiny amount the state spends on arts and culture. La Scala is in no immediate financial danger, unlike several other lyric theatres.