Wed, Mar 13, 2019 - Page 7 News List

La Scala under fire for proposed Saudi funding

FOR THE CHILDREN:A project that would net the opera house 21 million euros would help 400 boys and girls receive musical education in Saudi Arabia, its manager said

AP, MILAN

Italy’s premier opera house, La Scala in Milan, is under fire over a proposal to grant a board seat to the Saudi Arabian minister of culture with the promise of 15 million euros (US$16.8 million) in new funding.

The plan, which is to be voted on next week by La Scala’s board, has been harshly criticized by members of Italy’s governing League party as well as by former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, citing human rights issues in Saudi Arabia.

Milan Mayor Giuseppe Sala, who is chairman of the La Scala board, yesterday declined to say whether he favored the plan, saying that he did not want to influence the board’s decision.

He said that the issues of Saudi sponsorship and the allocation of a board seat could be considered separately, and that there was no pressure for the funds, since the opera house’s books are balanced.

La Scala general manager Alexander Pereira declined to comment on the controversy at a news conference called to announce a special concert commemorating the elevation to sainthood last year of Pope Paul VI.

He cited the politicization of the discussion around the Saudi funds.

Pereira, an Austrian who previously was artistic director of the Salzburg festival and the Zurich Opera House, has brought millions of new private funding to the opera house since his arrival for the 2014-2015 season.

He said private sponsorship is the only way for La Scala to maintain a high level of quality.

His contract runs through next year.

Pereira, in an interview last week with the Turin newspaper La Stampa, said that he invited the Saudi Arabian Minister of Culture Badr bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan Al Saud to La Scala’s gala opening on Dec. 7 last year and they discussed a possible partnership with La Scala before the curtain rose.

Pereira said he extended the invitation at the suggestion of a Lombard culture official, who has since denied any role.

“The prince explained that his country is interested in a partnership with La Scala based on the model the Louvre has with Abu Dhabi,” Pereira said.

He said he followed up with a visit to Saudi Arabia in January “and from there our project was born.”

He told La Stampa that the project would include 3 million euros a year over five years, plus plans to open a music and dance conservatory in Riyadh run by La Scala’s academy that would bring another 7 million euros for the academy over three years.

Pereira said the conservatory would be open to both girls and boys, and would operate out of a former school for girls.

He acknowledged that Saudi Arabia has a poor human rights record, which has come under increased scrutiny since the killing of a Saudi journalist inside the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in October last year and the case of a Saudi woman who used social media to aid her escape from alleged family abuse in January.

“But until we begin to actually do something to change the situation, the situation will never change. That 400 children of both sexes will receive a musical education seems to me a good thing,” Periera told La Stampa.

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