Privatising the ‘Temple of Opera’: The Political Battle over La Scala, Milan, 1990-2005

By Paola Merli.

Published by The Arts Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

In 1996 La Scala, the famous opera house, started to undergo a process of privatisation that transformed it from a public institution into a private foundation. The plans for the transformation, which had been in preparation since the early 1990s, were seen by the workers of the theatre as the only chance to get out of a difficult financial crisis produced by continuous cuts to public funding of the performing arts. The result of privatisation, however, was a new type of economic and political crisis, which culminated, in March 2005, in the arbitrary sacking of the Sovrintendente (general manager), Carlo Fontana, by the Board of Directors and his immediate replacement with a highly controversial figure. The official justification given by the Board for the dismissal was that of irreconcilable differences between the Sovrintendente and the Music Director Riccardo Muti. However, this explanation concealed a political battle over the institution that the privatisation process had activated. The workers of the theatre, in response to what they perceived as an act of sheer arrogance on the part of the Berlusconian Board, started intense industrial action, demanding the dismissal of Muti. This paper analyses the roots of the conflict, and its wider implications.

Keywords: Privatisation, Cultural Institutions, La Scala, Opera House, Cultural Policy, Industrial Action

International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 1, Issue 7, pp.97-108. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.764MB).

Paola Merli

PhD Student, Faculty of Humanities, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK

Paola Merli is currently completing a PhD at De Montfort University, Leicester, United Kingdom. Her thesis is a study of cultural policy for the performing arts in Italy, focusing on La Scala, Milan, since 1945. She has previously published in the International Journal of Cultural Policy and in the International Journal of the Humanities.


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