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And when De Ana insisted on his name being withdrawn from the production, Muti pulled out in support.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
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
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.

    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate