MILAN – La Scala’s general manager said Tuesday that he hopes Premier Mario Monti’s government will avoid cutting spending for culture, noting that music and theatre can help unite people.
Stephane Lissner told foreign reporters that La Scala will have a difficult time balancing the famed opera house’s budget in 2012 due to expected drops in public and private contributions, even as the Milan opera house increases attendance and the number of performances.
“We are facing a very difficult movement,” said Lissner, who has balanced La Scala’s budget each of the seven years he has been at the opera house. The Frenchman, who was named general manager in May 2005, said the theatre had an €8 million ($10.4 million) shortfall in 2004. Lissner’s mandate expires in 2015.
Monti, Italy’s new prime minister, has promised to shake up what he calls an over-regulated, underperforming economy, accelerate economic growth and reduce the country’s debt burden, which is also 120 per cent of its annual economic output. But he faces tough political opposition.
La Scala’s budget for 2012 is €110 million ($150.8 million), down slightly from 2011. Of that, 40 per cent comes from the state and 60 per cent from private donors, ticket sales and sponsorships.
Lissner bemoaned the fact that La Scala’s level of state support — from the national, regional, provincial and city administrations combined — is among the lowest in Europe for a public theatre.
He compared it with the Paris Opera House, which he said received more than 60 per cent state support, and Vienna Opera House, which is around 55 per cent state funded.
“It is difficult, but it would be wrong to sacrifice culture,” Lissner said, then adding: “There is not much more to sacrifice.”
Lissner took it as “a strong signal of support” the fact that both the head of state, President Giorgio Napolitano, and the head of government, Premier Mario Monti, attended the gala premiere of La Scala on Dec. 7, the first time both of the nation’s top officials attended La Scala’s opening night in 15 years.
But he said he hoped that the government would also see that culture is as necessary “as health or research,” and also something that can help people facing economic difficulties.
“The more things are difficult, and the more they go badly, the more the public wants to go to the cinema and to the theatre,” Lissner said. “They don’t only need a distraction. They need above all to be together, under the same roof, in the same theatre, to share something together.”
Lissner said that despite Italy’s financial crisis, the number of subscriptions to La Scala has risen by 7 per cent, to some 17,400, which he saw as an encouraging sign. La Scala will stage 253 performances this year, including 21 on other stages, up from around 180 in 2004.