Associated Press
By Angela Doland

ROME ó These days, most of the drama at La Scala opera house is offstage. Since the storied Milan theater fired its top administrator, strikes have canceled several performances. An Italian Senate commission is investigating the disarray. In another plot twist, the opera's music director shot back at accusations he has behaved like a prima donna.
Conductor Riccardo Muti wrote a letter to the Corriere della Sera newspaper denying rumors that he had vetoed the appearance of other top maestros at the theater and saying he always acted in La Scala's best interest.
"Today, I am accused of wanting not to be merely musical director, but artistic director as well, and perhaps also superintendent, or even of influencing the candidacy for the next mayor," Muti wrote in the letter published Tuesday [March 8]. "I would smile, if the situation were not so depressing."
The problems at La Scala, which come just three months after La Scala's 18th-century theater reopened following an expensive renovation, stem in part from a February decision by its board of directors to dismiss superintendent Carlo Fontana, who had a difficult relationship with Muti.
From musicians to stage crew, workers have shut down several performances and pledged to strike for each premiere. In one dramatic blow, the strike postponed all nine performances of Sancta Susanna by Paul Hindemith, which was to be performed along with Il dissoluto assoluto, a revisitation of the Don Juan story by Italian composer Azio Corghi and Portuguese Nobel literature laureate JosÈ Saramago.
Unions worry the board is not listening to their concerns or sharing financial information. Many workers have a strained relationship with Muti, music director at La Scala for nearly 20 years, and say he undermined the superintendent's control.
Film and opera director Franco Zeffirelli had harsh words for the conductor. "The problem with Muti is that he wants to be the absolute dictator of La Scala ó and he is succeeding," Zeffirelli was quoted as telling London's The Guardian newspaper last week. He also reportedly described Muti as "drunk with himself, drugged by his own art and his own personal vanity" and said La Scala was suffering because of it.
Worried about the disputes at an Italian cultural treasure, several legislators asked for an inquiry at the Senate. Hearings began Tuesday [March 8] with testimony from union members, who were still deciding on a formal response to Muti's letter. One suggested a dialogue would have been preferable.
"The workers had hoped to meet with him first, and now they see a letter in the newspaper," said Sandro Malatesta, head of the FIALS union, quoted in Corriere.
In the letter, Muti wrote: "I thought it was obvious that after 20 years together, I have always been on the side of La Scala."
Denying rumors that he never wanted to relinquish the spotlight, he said he had invited a range of guest conductors, including the opera house's former musical director, Claudio Abbado. He always declined, Muti said. "That accusation is so insulting that it deserves no response," Muti wrote.
After several years at Milan's modern Arcimboldi theater, La Scala returned to its historic venue in December after 50 million euro (US$67 million) renovations. The theater, a horseshoe-shaped neoclassical house, was the site of several famous opera premieres, including Verdi's Otello and Falstaff.
Fontana had headed La Scala since 1990. His job was taken over by Mauro Meli, former director of La Scala's theatrical division [and previously superintendent of the Teatro Lirico in Cagliari on the Italian island of Sardinia].

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