'Monster of Milan' resigns after mutiny by La Scala staff

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

One of the most famous figures in music resigned dramatically yesterday after an acrimonious power struggle at the world-renowned opera house La Scala, Milan, which prompted a virtual mutiny.

One of the most famous figures in music resigned dramatically yesterday after an acrimonious power struggle at the world-renowned opera house La Scala, Milan, which prompted a virtual mutiny.

Riccardo Muti quit as musical director at the Italian institution after an autocratic 19-year reign, following an escalating dispute in which more than 700 staff, including the entire orchestra, had demanded he should go.

He cited the "hostility" of his colleagues as the reason for his departure. Staff had become critical of his excessive power and turned against him by striking on the first night of every production, refusing to rehearse with him and forcing the cancellation of some performances.

Unhappiness with his tenure led to the film and opera director Franco Zeffirelli lambasting him and accusing him of being an "absolute dictator" and a "caricature of a conductor".

The dispute had been worsening since the sacking of La Scala's administrator, Carlo Fontana, earlier this year. The two had been at loggerheads and the official reasons for his axing were unexplained "differences".

It is thought Mr Fontana's desire to programme more populist works in La Scala's season and Muti's resistance were at the root of their problems. Muti insisted on the theatrical integrity of every production and was furious at efforts to find modern works.

He had a notorious temper and a reputation for perfectionism. Last year the shockwaves were felt as far away as Britain when the Royal Opera House and La Scala fell out as Muti blew his top and refused to travel to London to conduct a production.

The cause of his wrath was a simple tweaking of scenery requirements in order to comply with health and safety regulations.

Muti, long hailed as one of the most gifted conductors of his generation but one who ruled with a baton of iron, even cancelled some recent performances himself because of the difficulties at the theatre. He said it had been impossible to "make music together considering the atmosphere created by the insinuations, the insults and the incomprehension".

In his resignation statement yesterday he said: "Despite the great esteem the board of directors has for me, the theatrical show of hostility from people I have worked with for nearly 20 years has made it utterly impossible to continue our relationship, which has to be based on harmony and trust. Making music together is not just a team effort. It requires us to respect each other, to share our passion and to understand each other - feelings I thought underpinned these 20 years of work at La Scala."

There has also been a political dimension to the struggle, with Mr Fontana backed by the unions and the centre-left opposition on Milan's city council, while Muti is supported by much of the Italian right.

The venue is the world's best-known opera house and has launched the careers of composers and singers ranging from Giuseppe Verdi to Maria Callas. It reopened in December after a three-year closure, following renovations that cost an estimated £42m.

MAD ABOUT MUTI

Franco Zeffirelli: "[Muti is] drunk with himself, drugged by his own art and his own personal vanity; he can only talk about himself, he's become a caricature of a conductor"

Carlo Fontana after staff demanded Muti's departure: "The people of La Scala have rejected absolute monarchy"

Music critic Norman Lebrecht: "The opera world has got used to Muti's limited vocabulary. There is only one way to work with Muti: his way"

La Scala flautist Davide Formisano: "The relationship between Muti and the orchestra is sick. We're like a separated husband and wife bickering"

Comments