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Stupido: La Scala bans senior Corriere critic over ‘homosexual Wagner’

In a move that would be applauded only by Silvio Berlusconi, the management at La Scala have informed the influential Corriere della Sera that its veteran critic Paolo Isotta is no longer welcome at the opera.

Isotta, a cantankerous though scholarly writer who is fond of dropping Latin proverbs into his reviews, has been a  persistent sniper at visiting conductors, most recently of Daniel Harding whose Falstaff he damned as ‘heavy and pedantic’ and whose Wagner sounded ‘omosessuale‘. Anyone who has attended a Harding rehearsal or reception would know that neither adjective could safely be applied to the British conductor, making Isotta’s criticisms simply absurd and self-parodying.

However, the Corriere chief editor Ferrucio de Bortoli has been forced to spring into print in defence of his critic, saying that La Scala boss Stephane Lissner had written to him more than two years ago, demanding that Isotta be fired. No newspaper could bow to such pressure and Corriere will continue to send Isotta to review operas on a paid-for ticket (unless Lissner’s carabinieri march him out of the door).

It’s absurd and unfortunate, a storm in an espresso cup. Most newspapers would have quietly retired Isotta after the Wagner remark. But Lissner’s provocative act has forced Corriere to stand by its man…. and so the farce continues.


Here’s Isotta’s prime cut: „Daniel Harding… ha una precisa tecnica direttoriale, a differenza del celebre suo mentore, non Simon Rattle, dico, ma Claudio Abbado, onde è un vero direttore, magari un cattivo direttore ma un vero direttore. Ha un bel gesto ampio, a «guardia alta», e signorilmente dirige sempre con la partitura sul leggio, ancorché ne sia nota l’eccezionale memoria. [...] Ha poi eseguito il Preludio e Morte d’amore dal Tristano di Wagner. L’intonazione dei fiati lasciava a desiderare, gli accordi erano spesso, a dir così, a rate: Harding ne ha dato un’esecuzione così morbida da far pensare che voglia sostenere la tesi, nulla in radice, di un Wagner omosessuale.”


UPDATE: Should that review have been published?

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  1. Harding is very pedantic. That’s why he’s good.

  2. itrinkkeinwein says:

    ” … di un Wagner omosessuale”?

    This is not criticism. It is a reflection of Isotta’s private bias on an unrelated topic.

    And the phrase has no meaning in music.

    Lissner did the right thing in imposing a temporary ban.

  3. if he didn’t explain what he meant by sounded ‘omosesuale’ -i for one wpould like to know -he should indeed be fired not by la scala but by the newspaper itself.

  4. Replace the word ‘homosexual’ with ‘Jew’ or ‘Black’ and the prejudices of the writer are clarified. He doesn’t mean to define what ‘sounding homosexual’ is – only that obviously ‘homosexual’ is a prejudice he can expect most of his readers to share and understand: it was clearly not meant to be a compliment. It harkens back to Pfitzner’s track from 1920 called ‘Musical Impotence, a Symptom of Corruption?’ with the implication that impotence was ‘feminine’ and potency was ‘masculine’: it was a track that was anti-modernist, notoriously anti-Semitic and as we now can clearly see, misogynistic. Mindless bigotry was disguised as a fear of ‘cultural impotency’. Had the Milan critic mentioned that Harding conducted a ‘feminine’ Wagner, what would his implication have been? This itself would not today have been taken as totally negative. But by calling it a ‘homosexual Wagner’, he reaches for Pfitzner’s despicable ‘impotency’ argument to shore up his own prejudices. Just as the critic Julius Korngold would flush out Pfitzner’s anti-Semitism by uncovering it as an attack on Mahler as the progenitor of Schoenberg, so one could flush out this review by demanding the reasonable explanation of what exactly is to be understood as negative about ‘homosexual sounding Wagner’. This is the a much bigger cultural battle to win than just accepting that men can marry men and women can marry women with the same degree of commitment and devotion as women and men marrying each other. The mind-set that assumes that something is negative and therefore ‘homosexual’ is little different from kids on the playground referring to something as ‘gay’ – just because they don’t like it. This is a practice that schools and teachers are finally trying to stamp out. We wouldn’t accept it if ‘gay’ were replaced with any other pejorative term for a popularly persecuted minority. Why accept it within a public forum such as a national newspaper with an international readership?

  5. Translation Guy says:

    Hmm.. before getting so excited perhaps it would be useful to have a more accurate translation of that sentence: ” Harding gave such a soft performance that it would make us think he wished to support the theory that Wagner was gay.”

    • And that, in your eyes, is more meaningful and less offensive, is it?

    • Rosana Martins says:

      Who cares if Wagner was gay or not? The comparison between an interpretation and sexual inclinations is ludicrous and totally out of place in a newspaper!

  6. Rosana Martins says:

    I believe the Corriere della Sera ought to retire Isotta, on account of his biased, stupid review. There should be no room in the press for such individuals and Mr. Lissner is absolutely right to ask for it.

    Mr. Isotta is totally out of place!

  7. itrinkkeinwein says:

    The editor, Ferruccio de Bortoli, is part of the problem.

    He sees no harm in the equation Gay = Soft. He has defended Paolo Isotta and gone so far as to suggest that Lissner, being French, considers Lombardia a colony, as if the whole matter were a joke.

    This is Italy in 2013, where homophobes are given license by a homophobic (and plausibly self-loathing) Holy Father. And Milan, where a big chunk of the GDP derives from the ideas and work of gay creative people.

  8. George Mott says:

    That the Corriere della Sera allowed Paolo Isotta to publish a homophobic remark seems the real fault here.

    • Mauro Mariani says:

      Paolo Isotta don’t write “Harding (or Wagner) are homosexual” but ”Harding gave such a soft performance that it would make us think he wished to support the theory that Wagner was gay”, as correctly writes Translation Guy. And Isotta writes too that this theory is “nulla in radice” = “absolutely baseless”.

      La Scala Theatre don’t defend the homosexuals. Lissner don’t say nothing about the presumed homophobia of Isotta, because he can read italian and can understand what Isotta really wrote. Lissner attacks a critic who don’t like Harding nor, as a general rule, La Scala Theatre.
      I don’t think that theatres can decide wich critic can write or not. I think we must ever defend the freedom of thought and of criticism, also when some people writes an ABSURDITY like Isotta.
      (Sorry for my english…)

      • itrinkkeinwein says:


        We can read the Italian.

        There is NO CONNECTION between a “soft performance” and someone being gay.

        This is bigotry, and it has no place at a major newspaper.

        Wagner, Harding and Lissner are irrelevant to this discussion about a critic and editor — Paolo Isotta and Ferruccio de Bortoli — who apparently need to be removed.

  9. Richard Barker says:

    “Storm in an espresso cup” sums it up rather nicely. Unfortunate that now De Bortoli can not quietly replace Isotta without appearing to give in to Lissner, whjch of course he will not want to do.
    Frankly I don’t much care about any of them except Abbado who should be left out of all this, being simply on a higher level than the others involved.

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