New La Scala chief takes aim at traditionalists’ catcalls, hissing

New general manager of La Scala effectively tells noisy minority of aficionados to shut up

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 March, 2014, 10:38pm
UPDATED : Friday, 21 March, 2014, 10:40pm


As the incoming general manager of La Scala, Alexander Pereira has a lot on his plate: balancing the budget and attracting talent for starters.

But the most peculiar challenge he faces - and, reportedly, the one that scares him the most - is the opera's audience, or a noisy sub-section of it.

Dubbed in the Italian media "hissing hooligans", the loggionisti are a small minority of noisy traditionalists who make no bones about booing when they don't think an aria is being sung with the correct vibrato, or a tenor is performing with the appropriate vim.

And, five months before he takes the reins at Milan, Pereira has moved to quash the enemies within, in effect telling them to shut up.

"I have at my disposition the best [singers], but many do not want to perform on the stage at La Scala because they are intimidated, if not frightened to death," he told more than 100 members of the Friends of the Loggione association on Wednesday, the Corriere della Sera reported. "We can no longer allow this," he was quoted as adding. "Other opera houses are attacking our supremacy."

In December, at the gala season opener, an eclectic production of La Traviata, the catcallers showed their full force, booing during parts of the curtain call and prompting the Polish tenor Piotr Beczala to declare it was his last production at La Scala. Previously, the tenor Roberto Alagna, soprano Katia Ricciarelli and even the late Luciano Pavarotti have suffered at the hands of the vociferous aficionados.

The singers' treatment, and its ramifications on La Scala's ability to draw the best talent, appears to be uppermost in Pereira's mind as he prepares to take over from Stephane Lissner in September. "The audience of La Scala has always been dangerous, but it is now more than ever. And the result is that in the rest of the world they say: they're crazy; it's not worth coming here," he reportedly said.

Gino Vezzini, the association's president, said the troublemakers were just "fringe elements" whose booing and hissing were inappropriate.

He said it was preferable and possibly more effective for audience members confronted with an abysmal performance to remain silent.

The Vienna-born Pereira, 66, who is currently artistic director of the Salzburg Festival, said he wanted a new era of generosity and courtesy at the 236-year-old theatre in which singers, especially young ones, were treated respectfully.

"I will ask 100 per cent and more of every artist," he promised. "But even Pavarotti, on occasion, had below average evenings."