Hot Maggio

Opening night a hit, yet artists strike hits nation

Editorial Staff
May 6, 2010

The Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, which runs until June 22, opened its 73rd season with a bang. On April 29, it staged a stellar performance of Richard Strauss' Die Frau ohne Schatten (The Woman without a Shadow) and celebrated the 74th birthday of director Zubin Mehta.


However with such success came controversy. The encore performance scheduled for May 2 was cancelled to voice dissent over a national decree that threatens the future of those who work in Italy's lyric and symphonic theatre sector.


The Maggio's opening night almost coincided with the April 30 signing, by Italy's president Giorgio Napolitano, of a decree that will institute substantial salary cuts for the country's lyric and symphonic musicians.


The majority of Italy's 14 lyric and symphonic foundations have been loosing money for years. From 2004 to 2008, they lost some 100 million euro, with approximately 70 percent of the funds received going toward salaries.


Part of the solution is a substantial restructuring of salaries, asserts the culture ministry. However, according to Silvano Conti, of the Slc-Cgil labour union, the decree, which goes into effect on January 1, 2011, ‘is destructive for jobs and will not result in reform.'The legislation blocks new hires until 2012, allows early retirement at 45 years for dancers and female musicians (the current age is 52), and previews up to 50 percent cuts to current salaries.


In response, labour unions and music foundations cancelled shows across Italy. Many shows were much-awaited premieres in major theatres, like the San Carlo Theatre in Naples, Venice's La Fenice, Santa Cecilia in Rome, Milan's Teatro della Scala and Florence's Maggio Musicale. In addition, a national protest of the new legislation is being organized for May 17.


Culture minister Sandro Bondi said the cancellations were ‘irresponsible' on the part of musicians and foundations, and has set up a meeting with representatives on May 6. ‘Too little, too late,' many musicians rebutted, arguing they should have been involved in the plans for restructuring before the decree was passed. Lower wages will push Italian talents out of Italy in search of higher salaries abroad, many assert.


In Florence, local politicians and labour unions noted that they approved of the modified decree, which no longer made distinctions in funding based on quality. Nonetheless, tensions remained high among staff at the Maggio Musicale after the decree was signed, and the local administration plans to meet union representatives in the Comunale Theatre on May 11 to discuss the effects of the legislation.


‘We will see the decree and read it. The most important thing is that the Maggio wasn't demoted to second-class status... In many aspects, the Maggio needs to be changed: it needs to attract more private funding and invest its resources in a more profitable way. At the same time, however, we must say that the great experience of the Maggio, exemplified last night at the premiere show, is something that is unique in Italy, and in Europe. This is why it deserves the proper consideration and attention,' the mayor said after the Maggio Musicale's opener, which attracted a number of high-profile figures, including Sofia Loren and leading music critics.


With its theme ‘Towards the Orient,' the 2010 Maggio Musicale boasts a rich calendar of events. The city becomes the stage for classical and contemporary music, theatre and dance, including Rufus Wainright in concert, and performances of Strauss, Elefunk and Mozart. Alarmel Valli's Indian dance, ‘The Forgotten Seed' is also on the bill.


An annual crowd-puller, the ‘Maggio Off' series returns with six contemporary music events entitled ‘Confusion,' while the ‘L'Altro Maggio' programme gives the public the chance to ‘experience' the Maggio through lectures, conferences, exhibits and seminars as well as the chance to watch Maggio musicians in rehearsal: catch the orchestra members practicing The Woman without a Shadow on May 7 at 4pm at the Comunale Theatre.

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