The maestro brought down from the gods

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The Independent Online
HIS RESPONSE could hardly have been more theatrical. 'I resign from Italy . . . I resign from civilised life, society, the theatre, the city and culture. I shall retain only my poetry, my talent and the purity of my heart.'

Giorgio Strehler, Italy's greatest theatrical director and a legend in his own lifetime, was reacting to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune which have landed him, an idol of the European theatre, with a summons for suspected fraud, just like any corrupt politician.

On 10 December the maestro will appear before Fabio de Pasquale, a Milan deputy public prosecutor, to explain what happened to 718m lire (pounds 300,000) of the 2.2m lire of European Community funds he was granted to hold courses for aspiring actors and theatre technicians at his Piccolo Teatro in Milan.

Mr de Pasquale, who has interviewed his 60 students and the staff, is of the view that some of the supposed teachers do not exist, many of the supposed lectures were never held, and that the money was spent instead on telephone bills and cleaning for the Piccolo Teatro and on costumes for the recent production of Faust. There is no suggestion whatever that Strehler pocketed the money.

Three of his staff have already received summonses, including Nina Vinchi, 81, widow of Paolo Grassi, an equally legendary superintendent of La Scala opera house. 'Not a lira has gone astray,' she sobbed at the weekend. 'It is a mistake, a mistake.'

But the maestro, who recently won acclaim for his European tour with Goldoni's Le Baruffe Chiozzotte (The Chioggian Quarrels), has many enemies and the summons was only the latest of his troubles. There is the headache of the new Piccolo, which he first conceived in the 1960s and which has been under construction for years, amid rows, changes of design, constantly rocketing costs and allegations of rake-offs by local politicians - like so many other projects in Milan.

More hurtful by far, however, have been charges by other theatrical figures and former friends that the maestro, now 71, has had his day and should go.