Sun, Oct 05, 2014 - Page 6 News List

Rome opera house sacks orchestra and chorus as funds cut

Reuters, ROME

Rome’s opera house has sacked nearly 200 members of its permanent orchestra and chorus as Italy’s worst economic crisis for decades chokes state spending on the arts.

Just two weeks ago, the opera’s internationally respected honorary director, Riccardo Muti, quit after a six-year tenure marked by infighting, strikes and financial problems.

The Teatro dell’Opera di Roma musicians, whose contracts are to be terminated by the end of the year, could be reengaged as part of an “outsourced” orchestra, the ministry for cultural affairs said late on Thursday, describing its move as a “painful but necessary step to save the Rome Opera and start again.”

Opera houses worldwide increasingly rely on freelance staff due to funding shortfalls, and venues across Italy — where opera was invented in the 16th century — have been forced to make similarly drastic staffing changes.

Hit by falling revenues and mounting costs, the loss-making Rome Opera has accumulated debts of more than 40 million euros (US$50 million) and relies on subsidies from both the cash-strapped city of Rome and the central government to continue operations.

Thursday’s decision prompted calls from Italian Cultural Affairs Minister Dario Franceschini — of the opposition Forza Italia party — to force Rome Opera superintendent Carlo Fuortes to resign.

Fuortes, appointed at the end of last year, said the orchestra and chorus cost 12.5 million euros a year and outsourcing would save 3.4 million euros.

Massimo Cestaro, secretary general of theater workers’ union SLC-CGIL, said: “The truth is that there has been a campaign to dismantle the principal cultural institutions of our country.”

Cestaro said the real goal of the government was to turn Italian theaters into “empty boxes.”

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