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Riccardo Muti Tiptoes Out of La Scala

April 4, 2005 | By Carlo Vitali
MusicalAmerica.com
This article was initially posted on April 2.

MILAN – It was definitely a low-profile resignation. It looks like Riccardo Muti timed his announcement to the precise moment when there would be the absolute minimum of media attention. Saturday around noon, on the very eve of a momentuous local government election and just when every national and international newsroom was focused on the drama of the Pope’s death. The press release issued early this afternoon by Fondazione La Scala quotes Muti’s bitter reproach for what he perceived as an unpredictable mutiny: ``Despite the signs of esteem expressed to me by the board of directors, the hostility manifested in such a coarse way by people with whom I have worked for almost 20 years makes it really impossible to carry on with a relationship of collaboration, which ought to be based on harmony and trust.

“Music making is not just team-work; it requires shared esteem, passion and understanding. During the past two decades of work at La Scala, I have been taking those feelings for granted.”

The previous few days, unconfirmed reports emerged of a phone call from Silvio Berlusconi, asking Muti to postpone any decision until after of the elections. As pointed out previously, it was the fear of a ballot defeat in Milan that probably induced Muti and his supporters on La Scala’s board (largely controlled by Berlusconi-oriented politicians and businessmen) to move up to late February the dismissal of superintendent Carlo Fontana. Some protest was undoubtedly predicted, but not the wave of indignation both from the public and La Scala’s workers that turned into a tsunami and threatened to disrupt the house for months to come.

Prefetto Bruno Ferrante, the highest government official in Milan, spent the past week trying to weave a compromise among mayor Gabriele Albertini, the board, and the unions, but his efforts came to nothing: The orchestra and chorus declared they were ready to resume rehearsals with Muti, simultaneously refusing to lighten their strike activity or withdraw their request for Muti and his new superintendent Meli to resign. At a three-hour meeting yesterday, the Fondazione board extended Ferrante’s mandate to negotiate further, branding the union’s attitude as “inappropriate and incomprehensible.”

Muti’s latest move and its bizarre timing are hard to decipher. Perhaps he’s really preparing to quit Italy (backstage rumors in Milan that he may consider an offer from the Met as first guest conductor remain unconfirmed), or perhaps he just hopes to rally his many fans and be begged to stay. In fact, very few houses could hire him for the $3 million he reportedly has been getting at La Scala.

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