La Scala rejects Saudi funding

La Scala rejects Saudi funding

Italy’s famous La Scala opera house has voted to reject investment from Saudi Arabia, which was offering €15 million over five years in exchange for a place on the board for its culture minister.

Critics said the venerable institution, the Teatro alla Scala, should not take cash from a repressive regime accused of the murder and dismemberment of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in its Istanbul consulate last year.

The board of La Scala said it would return €3.1 million, the first payment from the Saudi government.

A columnist for Corriere della Sera, Giangiacomo Schiavi, said Saudi Arabia was “a country that instead of respecting human rights, treads on them” and it would gain legitimacy through La Scala.

Giuseppe Sala, the centre-left mayor of Milan who chairs the La Scala board, said: “We have unanimously decided to return the money. Right now, going down this road is not possible.”

The decision was not meant as a snub to the Saudis, he stressed. “There is no blacklist,” said Sala.

“This was a business that was handled badly. There was great confusion and that is the responsibility of everyone.”

Companies and institutions around the globe have shied away from Saudi funding since the Khashoggi murder. This month, the talent agency Endeavor announced that it returned a US$400-million investment.

There have been calls for the opera house’s Austrian manager and artistic director, Alexander Pereira, who brokered the proposed agreement, to resign.

Matteo Salvini, deputy prime minister and leader of the nationalist, anti-immigrant Lega, opposed the deal.

The opera house should remain “free and independent” from Saudi influence, the populist said.

“If the Swiss want to invest in La Scala, we would not have a problem,” he said.

The governor of the Lombardy region, who is also a Lega member, demanded Pereira be sacked.

But Sala said he would keep his job until his contract expired in 2020.

Pereira, who used to run the Salzburg festival and Zurich Opera House, has attracted private funding to the opera house since his arrival ahead of the 2014-15 season.

The deal included plans to open a music and dance conservatory in Riyadh, managed by La Scala.

The rejection oF the Saudi money was also welcomed by Forza Italia, Silvio Berlusconi’s right-of-centre party, which criticised the deal.

“The cultural heritage of La Scala should be known around the world but not at the expense of imposing conditions as a result of funding issues,” said Forza Italia’s Mariastella Gelmini, a former education minister.

“The right choice was made by giving back the money and ensuring that the opera house remains strongly anchored in Italy, dependent on Italian money.”



La Scala. Picture credit: Wikimedia


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