December 2, 2010 / 7:41 PM / in 7 years

Financial storm clouds glitzy La Scala opening

MILAN (Reuters) - Protests against government cuts to funding for the arts in Italy risk marring the glamorous opening night of Milan’s La Scala opera house next week.

<p>Lights are placed on the trees in front of La Scala Opera Theater in Milan December 7, 2008. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini</p>

La Scala artistic director and general manager Stephane Lissner waved his fist at the world press on Thursday as he gave his opinion on the plans of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government to slash art subsidies by more than a third next year.

“We are in a very dangerous situation,” Lissner told reporters, waving his fist before cameras.

The Italian arts cuts are part of austerity measures being taken by governments across Europe to cut budget deficits and shore up economic stability amid a massive bailout of Ireland and a market crisis of confidence in European finances.

La Scala’s annual opening is one of the world’s top cultural events and a lure for the rich and famous. But the decision to cut arts funding led to theater closures in Italy last month and protests over arts funding forced the cancellation of Giuseppe Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra at La Scala in May.

“If the government does not change its plans, all opera houses will be forced to close,” Lissner told reporters.

La Scala is in the second year of an ambitious plan to stage Richard Wagner’s complete four-opera Ring cycle by 2013, as part of the celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the German composer. Daniel Barenboim will conduct “The Valkyrie” for the 2010-11 opener.

La Scala draws 40 percent of its 100 million euro ($131.9 million) annual budget from public funds, but like other cultural institutions it faces drastic cuts this season and can expect more pain in the next.

“Countries such as Italy, Germany or France must support culture despite the tough economic times,” Lissner said. “China can buy companies, but nobody can buy our culture.”

Cinemas, theatres and opera houses across Italy closed last month for a one-day strike to protest the cuts and demonstrations are expected outside the Milan opera house at the open on Tuesday.

Italy’s government has also come in for criticism over culture cuts after the collapse of some structures in 2,000-year-old Pompeii, the ancient Roman city buried by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. and a UNESCO world heritage site.

Culture Minister Sandro Bondi, who faces a no-confidence motion over the issue, said he is not responsible.

Reporting by Antonella Ciancio and Ilaria Polleschi. editing by Paul Casciato

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