A fight at the opera: astonishment as Muti calls off rare visit to London over change of scenery

Given his Neapolitan roots, it would be foolish not to expect some volatile behaviour from the world-famous conductor Riccardo Muti. But there was still widespread astonishment yesterday when he pulled out of his first appearance at the Royal Opera House for 20 years, with less than a month's notice, after a dispute over changes to the scenery.

Muti was due to make a rare trip to London next month to conduct Verdi's La Forza del Destino, which was originally produced at La Scala opera house in Milan where he is the musical director.

But the agreement foundered after the production's director and designer, Hugo De Ana, rebuffed repeated efforts by Royal Opera House management to agree changes to the scenery needed for the Covent Garden stage.

And when De Ana insisted on his name being withdrawn from the production, Muti pulled out in support. Attempts to talk him round failed, prompting anger at the Royal Opera House.

In a caustic statement issued jointly by Antonio Pappano, the Royal Opera's music director, Elaine Padmore, its director of opera, and Tony Hall, the chief executive, the Covent Garden team made clear their "regret and extreme disappointment".

"With his director/designer Hugo De Ana, Maestro Muti does not accept what we think are minor scenic changes which need to be made to the production for it to fit safely on the Covent Garden stage," their statement said. "We are totally perplexed by Maestro Muti's last-minute decision given the level of co-operation, goodwill and trust shown by the Royal Opera House towards the maestro and the Teatro alla Scala."

Negotiations of this type were commonplace when operas were restaged in different venues, they added. "Despite numerous solutions to this problem being suggested, De Ana showed no spirit of collaboration and rejected all options presented."

Antonio Pappano has now cancelled a series of concerts in America with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and postponed a planned recording to replace Muti so the show can go on as planned on 16 October. He has just over three weeks to learn an unfamiliar score and prepare the cast and orchestra.

The fury was particularly intense as the Opera House had given Muti total freedom in his choice of operas in an attempt to woo him back. When he suggested La Forza, insiders claimed he accepted changes would be needed. The production involved heavy metal walls which were not safe or practical at Covent Garden where the opera will appear in repertory with other works. The Opera House is substituting walls that are half metal and half painted fabric which it does not believe compromise the design.

The sudden withdrawal of conductorsfor reasons other than ill-health, and particularly over design issues, is rare. John Allison, editor of Opera magazine, said Muti's behaviour appeared worthy of a prima donna. "It's very unusual and quite shocking. It's also a great pity," Allison said. "He hardly ever conducts in London. I think he is behaving stupidly. He's a great conductor, incredibly interesting, but he's arrogant."

Allison said that he disliked the "rather heavy, old-fashioned productions" of De Ana, La Scala's most prominent director. But he said: "It's good that Pappano will do it instead."

A statement issued by Teatro alla Scala in Milan made clear its disdain for the London performances. They would be described as being inspired by the La Scala production "because of the substantial changes made to the staging, as compared to the original designs".

"It is with great regret that Riccardo Muti and Hugo De Ana have decided to withdraw from this production which is not completely faithful to their conception, produced to great acclaim in Milan in 1999 and Tokyo in 2000," the statement said.

"Their decision is the result of long and careful thought and upholds the tradition of La Scala that any restaging correspond absolutely to the original production."

But in a nod towards peacemaking, the statement added: "Riccardo Muti, Hugo De Ana and the Teatro alla Scala express the wish that there may soon be a fresh opportunity to work together with the prestigious British Opera House."

Tempers may have to cool at Covent Garden first.

Muti, 63, has walked out on an opera he was supposed to conduct before, at Salzburg in 1992 when he was due to conduct Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito. But his reputation is largely a solid one of triumphant appearances with top orchestras such as the Vienna Philharmonic at festivals such as Salzburg and with whom he often records.

He has been musical director of La Scala since 1986. The opera house is due to reopen this year after a three-year refurbishment.

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker