For the past decade and more, ever since Riccardo Muti was forced out, the birthplace of Italian opera has become a byword for bad practice.
The company operates under a perpetual threat of strikes. The backstage crews are so noisy that they distract singers in performance. The musicians have gained an inflated opinion of their status. The administration is impossible to deal with. And the best singers, usually foreigners, face boos and catcalls for reasons that are often unconnected with the excellence of their performance.
This is the reality of La Scala in the Era Berlusconi, and beyond. Many singers tell us, in public and private, that they won’t return.
So can a new music director make all the difference?
Certainly not. Like Italy itself, it will take more than one maestro to overcome systemic faults.
It will require a new attitude, a sense of new beginning, a vision.
The one man who can bring those virtues to La Scala is Riccardo Chailly, who grew up in the house when his father was director and Claudio Abbado was chief conductor. He knows what it takes to put Scala back on the top of its game and he has the talent and commitment to take it there. Whether he will get enough backing to succeed in a disjointed institution remains to be seen, but this morning’s announcement of Chailly as the next music director is the best sound to emanate from La Scala since Luciano Pavarotti was last howled off its stage.
The new sovrintendente Alexander Pereira has made a crucial signing. The Augean stables await.
We wish Riccardo well.