Besides the all-too-present drama of singers pulling out of shows, singers being fired, singers being booed off the stage, singers being kept away from the premises by the police, political backstabbing, conductors fired by the orchestra, frequent strikes, and general feverish unrest, Teatro alla Scala has a historical penchant for generating massive beefs between artists, conductors, managers, etc.
Far from being a recent phenomenon -- Callas snubbed by the then-GM, Tebaldi harassed until she went off to San Carlo and the Met, Freni and even Pavarotti savagely booed by the loggione, frequent guest conductor Herbert Von Karajan eventually snubbed in favor of, all people, Karl Böhm, etc etc -- the situation has gotten worse since Claudio Abbado left as Music Director in 1986 and his successor Riccardo Muti left in 2005, both voted down by the all-powerful orchestra.
The Milan-born Abbado came back in the late 1980s and early 1990s as Music Director of the Berliner Philharmoniker and successor to Herbie Von K., probably the swankiest job in classical music -- always with other orchestras -- but he has never conducted the Scala orchestra again. He hasn't been back since the early 1990s due to a series of problems he had with the administrators back then. Abbado has since turned down every opening, every invitation to come back to his native city.
Riccardo Muti, well, after the early 2005 drama he has become a highly paid freelancer -- Vienna, Paris, London, Rome, Moscow, Tokyo -- a guest conductor in New York and future Music Director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, besides his usual summer commitment in Salzburg and the directorship of the Whitsun Festival in Mozart's hometown and the directorship of his youth orchestra, the Cherubini.
Both have apparently been asked by the current General Manager Stephane Lissner, who has never worked with either conductor, to come back to la Scala (the dream scenario, as Scala gossip has it, would apparently have been a Abbado Magic Flute and a Mozart/DaPonte opera with Muti).
Abbado, famously an opponent of the current conservative city government of Milan, has just answered that he will come back for free, only if the city government plants 90,000 new trees. (The cost would apparently be around two million euros). The project's feasibility? Kind of up in the air. Which, frankly, seems to be the point of Abbado's request.
Muti, instead, got crankier in an interview with Il Giornale:
"Mr. Lissner says he would like to meet me. But he never called me. No phone calls, no letters. I don't know him. He told a story of an encounter we had in Paris back when I was music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, but I met many people, I have no recollection of such an encounter. It must have been a very quick episode. I expected at least to receive a letter, as a courtesy, when he arrived at la Scala, since I had spent so much time in that theater. But not even that."
"Maybe someone told him that I moved to an igloo; but I really think he knows I don't live too far. I'm often in Piacenza, with Orchestra Cherubini... I don't know what he is waiting for. He lost a chance to meet me in Salzburg, where he saw the Otello I conducted there. Salzburg's Jurgen Flimm told me he had asked Lissner to come see me, but Lissner never came"
Abbado is 75. Muti is 67. Lissner is 55. Abbado and Muti are -- if not the two best -- two of the very small roster of the best conductors out there. Lissner is running the most famous opera house in the world, and one of the oldest. But this I want a forest!, bring me flowers and send me fan mail, no I won't, is totally high school, all over again.