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And when De Ana insisted on his name being withdrawn from the production, Muti pulled out in support.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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
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.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence