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La Scala opera house axes newly hired director over ‘conflict of interest’

Newly hired opera house director's first season also his last as he's axed over 'conflict of interest'

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 May, 2014, 10:55pm
UPDATED : Friday, 16 May, 2014, 10:56pm
 

The board of La Scala has voted to oust its incoming general director at the end of his first season in the latest behind-the-scenes melodrama to shake the fabled opera house.

Salzburg Festival director Alexander Pereira had been brought in for five seasons, but the board voted to oust him after the upcoming 2014-2015 season amid allegations of a conflict of interest.

La Scala board chairman Giuliano Pisapia, who is also Milan's mayor, said Pereira overreached his powers by making a deal for La Scala to buy four operas from the Salzburg Festival, where he is still director, before officially assuming his role at La Scala on October 1.

''Pereira without a doubt went beyond his powers," Pisapia said.

Pereira, who spent two decades at the Zurich Opera before heading to Salzburg in 2011, has said he was following common practice at European theatres.

Not since Ricardo Muti was pushed out as musical director in a worker mutiny nearly a decade ago has there been so much turmoil in La Scala's ranks. The controversy risks damaging La Scala's prestige just as Milan prepares to host Expo 2015, the world fair that will feature a concert series at La Scala.

Pereira's curtailed tenure could have consequences for La Scala's musical direction. Pereira had already brought in Riccardo Chailly, replacing Daniel Barenboim in the role of musical director. Barenboim bowed out two years early to make way for Pereira's choice.

Pereira, 66, was named last June to replace Frenchman Stephan Lissner, who departs on September 1 for the Paris Opera after nine seasons at La Scala.

Pereira, sought after for his business acumen and fundraising ability, has been working at La Scala in the intervening period, as Lissner has been working on his own transition into his role at the Paris Opera.

The La Scala board on Thursday sent Pereira a letter outlining its terms: that he direct the upcoming season that opens December 7, and immediately signs a resignation letter effective December 31, 2015. He must also agree to run any financial decision, including contracts with artists and deals with other opera houses, by the board.

Pereira has not yet responded to the letter.

"It was the only possible and practical solution to avoid a disaster at our La Scala," Pisapia said. The opera house wanted to both maintain the 2014-2015 season, devoted to the Expo, "at the highest level" while avoiding any possible litigation from moving to oust Pereira immediately, he said.

Programmes at opera houses are typically laid out years in advance to secure singers and conductors, whose schedules fill up. It is not uncommon for incoming general managers to be discussing possible runs with artists for future seasons before they actually take over.

However, the terms of Pereira's La Scala deal stipulated he could only make contacts, not reach deals, before taking full power.

After Muti's contentious departure, the opera house, which was home to Giuseppe Verdi and Arturo Toscanini, enjoyed a period of relative calm under Lissner, who nudged Barenboim into the role of musical director and diversified the repertoire while balancing the budget every year.

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