More on La Scala’s Saudi Ties.

By Frank Cadenhead. In an interview in the Italian newspaper, La Stampa, the La Scala Opera GM is holding firm on his idea to accept a controversial gift of 15 million euros over five years from the Saudi government. This agreement would also give the Saudi Minister of Culture, Price Bader ben Abdallah, a seat on the board of directors of the legendary opera company.

Alexander Pereira was firm in his support of this proposal despite a storm of opposition from Italian politicians across the political spectrum. He clearly described La Scala’s unique financial position among the worlds leading opera companies in his interview: “We must not stoke these short-term controversies. The situation is very simple: La Scala costs about 125 million euros each year, just like the other great European theaters—the Vienna State Opera or the opera house in Monaco. The only difference is those state governments cover about 75-80% of their budget, while in Milan it’s less than a third. Every year La Scala must therefore find at least 45 million euros from individual sponsors. I find them.”

Pereira went on to describe a further future connection between the two countries: “They’re looking to open a music and dance conservatory in Riyadh, run by La Scala’s academy. This would bring in another 7 million euros for the the academy, paid out in three years.” He was asked “But isn’t it true that Saudi Arabia does not respect fundamental human rights”? “We know it’s true,” he replied, “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.”

The announcement came some months after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul by a team from Saudi Arabia. Mr. Pereira explained, when the program was first announced, that he has followed the dreaded case of Khashoggi: “I know very well what a despotic regime the Saudi regime is, but beyond the cold accounting (…), I am convinced of the positive force of the music and the moral obligation of the directors to promote their knowledge.”

All of this high-profile political noise is at a time of the impending expiration of Pereira’s term as general manager in 2020. His management success, particularly in raising private funds, has been vital to the company but there is as yet no word on whether he will be asked to stay another term. The La Scala Opera board is due to discuss the Saudi proposal at a meeting on March 18, certainly one of the more important in their history.


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