New dirty tricks claim in feud of opera houses

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The Independent Culture

Relations between two of the world's most famous opera houses hit an all-time low yesterday. The Royal Opera House in London was accused by Milan's La Scala of issuing misleading statements in an ever-widening rift over a joint production of a Verdi opera.

La Scala issued a detailed list of correspondence yesterday which it said showed that conductor Riccardo Muti had acted properly in with- drawing from appearances at Covent Garden. The two theatres are in dispute over a proposed scenery change for performances of Verdi's La Forza del Destino next month, which led La Scala to refuse to allow its name to be associated with the production.

La Scala will not attach its name to a production unless it is staged in precisely the same form as it has been in the Milan theatre.

La Scala's latest salvo will raise questions about future cooperation between the two opera houses. The extraordinary row blew up after the Royal Opera House (ROH) raised concerns over metal walls which were part of the scenery and which it was felt would breach health and safety requirements.

It proposed replacements that included painted fabric, but La Scala was unhappy about the changes.

The ROH announced earlier last week that Muti and the director Hugo de Ana would not take part, and that the house's music director Antonio Pappano was stepping in as conductor. Royal Opera House chief executive Tony Hall said: "What's galling is that we've been talking about this for some time and the director has refused to engage in a debate about the changes."

But La Scala said yesterday that in more than two years of planning the London dates, there were no suggestions of any "insoluble problems". The Italian venue said it was only on 6 September that it was told the original staging would be impossible, with health and safety regulations cited for the first time. Four days later La Scala responded that if the production was not staged in its original form it would not sanction the use of its name or Muti's appearance. A week passed with no assurances and La Scala withdrew.

In issuing new details of the correspondence, giving what it claims to be an accurate rundown of events, La Scala has effectively accused Covent Garden of "biased statements". Documentation showed, it said, that Muti and de Ana "acted fairly and properly". La Scala added: "That date [6 September] left no margin for finding an alternative solution and forced La Scala to withdraw its name."

Pappano cancelled a number of concerts in the US with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and postponed a planned recording to replace Muti, allowing the ROH performances to go ahead from 16 October.