It's Opera Chic Editorial time! Are you sitting down? Sit down.
The wave of protests in Italy's opera houses (you know, the usual strikes and the occasional rallies -- like the one we had earlier today in Milan, etc.), which was all ignited by an executive order by Silvio Berlusconi's government has provoked a wave of random strikes throughout Italy. In Scala's case, the protest has just sunk one performance of Placido Domingo's Simon Boccanegra (giving the beloved tenor/baritone a well-deserved rest), and more notable, will sink the May 13th much-awaited (by Wagner fans anyway) premiere of Guy Cassiers' Rheingold and will also provoke the cancellation by Scala's management (management is against the executive order, too) of the May 21st big press event that was supposed to introduce the 2010/11 season. Instead, the Milan opera house will just post the program on their crash-tastic website.
Scala's unions said that they'll strike, but they'd like to open rehearsals of Rheingold to the public to compensate opera fans for the trouble. Lame? Thoughtful? You decide (For the record, Opera Chic says ~lame~)!!
The executive order (above, in an AP photo, a sign written by Scala workers earlier today before a protest rally in downtown Milan where they dragged a "culture's coffin" around in the non-stop, pouring rain) doesn't deserve a deep analysis, being more or less Italian government and business as usual: it pretends to be part of a plan to modernize, allegedly making the funding system more market-driven, while in reality, it would simply cut some funding and might -- might -- make it harder for Italian opera houses to keep burning money at the rate they usually burn it.
There's a meeting between the unions and the government planned for Thursday regardless: the harsher parts of the executive order written by Berlusconi's government -- and signed by the Italian President -- only after President Napolitano asked for, and obtained, some only apparently minor changes -- have already been toned down anyway.
It's the usual way of doing Italian government business because it's mostly empty threats, followed by strikes (therefore less revenue for opera houses already deep in the red for the most part), the occasional show of solidarity by a millionaire conductor, more negotiations, loads of posturing, the eventual creation of "special cases", and the occasional small repeal here and there. Lather, rinse, repeat. Parliament (let's not forget) will also have a chance to tinker with this "Decreto Bondi".
But in the end, it's a pointless debate. Because the economic model created back in the mid-1990s for Italy's very costly, not very productive opera houses has spectacularly failed. Making opera houses -- the notorious enti lirici -- bloated and inefficient by design (politicians will not allow private corporations to have a real say in how opera houses are to be run because they want to keep calling all the shots). Threats to cut government funding during a bad recession play quite obviously the populist card: most people, in Italy and abroad, never go to the opera house, period. Opera therefore remains, by-definition, an elitist field (and in Europe it's 100% of taxpayers who fund the pastime of the few opera-goers), so good luck getting good PR traction among the general population besides the general, vague "yeah, yeah, Italy's legacy, Verdi, Pavarotti, o mio babbino caro, blah blah etc."
Any executive order or legislative plan that does not seriously reform the intact structure of Italy's enti lirici is bound to fail. By design. Because it allows a center-right government to play the populist, pro-market card of "modernization" (not privatization, because this executive order has exactly nothing to do with "privatization"). At the same time it allows the unions to look like great defenders of The Average Joe, and it makes Berlusconi's opposition (basically impotent) look like the brave champions of the arts VS. the Berlusconi-led hordes (and it's true that TV billionaire Berlusconi couldn't care less about opera -- in fact, he makes a point of avoiding opera houses like the plague, even going to light comedy shows on the same night that la Scala opens its season just a few blocks away).
To boil this down for the uninitiated, and those generally bored by the situation (Opera Chic included): a few shows will be canceled, a lot of noise will be made by ruffians, opera houses will keep bleeding public money, but nobody -- right/center/left -- will make the painfully-necessary steps to go back to the drawing board and rebuild the system from scratch, creating a system that truly rewards quality and competence instead of rewarding political pull and sheer chutzpah.