It was the moment Italy’s dysfunctional politics came up against some of its most revered culture — and politics won.
The upshot is that when Puccini’s opera La bohème is staged this evening against the spectacular backdrop of the ancient Baths of Caracalla in Rome, it will be without an orchestra — for the third time — because the players are on strike.
In their place will be a single piano, and operagoers will be entitled to a refund of their tickets.
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Not only has the industrial action damaged the image of one of Italy’s most iconic cultural traditions, it is also threatening the survival of the Rome Opera House. Board members of the firm, which opened in 1880 and normally operates from a 1,600-seat theatre, will meet to consider liquidation — the first time any Italian opera company will have failed since the war.
Ignazio Marino, the mayor of Rome, who subsidises the firm with the culture ministry and regional government, said it was being held hostage by a minority of staff who have refused to sign a management plan to reduce the orchestra’s size.
“In the face of an attempt to sabotage the revival of the Rome Opera House, it’s time everyone assumed their own responsibilities,” he said. “Without signatures on the agreement, the only option is liquidation.”
The crisis comes against a background of growing ticket sales and reduced losses, and a business plan reducing staff through attrition rather than layoffs.
The Corriere della Sera newspaper described the dispute as “an anachronistic power struggle waged at the expense of all the workers and the entire city in a theatre where the unions were until recently the real bosses”.
Vincenzo Bolognese, the first violin and one of the strike leaders, however, insists the dispute is about artistic integrity. “Going on strike is like committing suicide. If I have reached this point, it is only because I want to work with dignity,” he said.
Mr Bolognese said the rebel musicians wanted the orchestra reinstated to 117 members, as had been agreed, from the proposed cut to 92. “They call us irresponsible, but we only want to work in normal conditions, worthy of a great theatre,” he said.
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Sure thing, guys. Close the place down if you cannot get what you want. You will be out of work for good, but apparently you do not care.
It does seems as if some of Italy’s problems are self-inflicted.