Agence France-Presse

Milan's La Scala opera house Thursday [April 21] appointed a new artistic director, Frenchman StÈphane Lissner, as it sought to recover from a management crisis that saw musical director Riccardo Muti resign three weeks ago.
The unanimous decision by the loss-making Scala Theatre Foundation still leaves the jewel of Italian opera without a musical director but was welcomed both by the musical establishment and unions representing the opera's 800-strong workforce.
Lissner, who replaces Mauro Meli, will take up his position in May, in what Senator Albertina Soliani, on the upper house's cultural committee, welcomed as "good news (that) opens the way for important reorganizational work and revival for the theatre."
Muti, 63, resigned as musical director and conductor following weeks of infighting over the sacking of Meli's predecessor, Carlo Fontana, in late February, citing the "hostility" of the workforce, which includes 135 musicians.
More than 700 employees voted against the world-renowned maestro in a confidence motion on March 16, demanding that he and Meli resign. Only two members voted in his support.
Union leaders and Milan city authorities launched discussions Thursday on the continuing management crisis at the recently refurbished opera house, which forced the cancellation of a series of performances because of strikes.
Union leaders said they would hold a general assembly Friday and called off all planned labor actions. Muti, who had directed La Scala since 1986, fell out with Fontana over programming, with the conductor preferring rare and more obscure works while Fontana pushed for more popular operas to fill the theatre.
Lissner, 52, an atypical and audacious programmer, was named artistic director and curator for [a term of] four years and seven months. Traditionally the curator is in charge of La Scala's administrative, financial and strategic operations, while the artistic director, in consultation with the musical director, sets and manages programming.
He established his reputation as an eclectic with ambitious programming decisions as the general director, from 1988 to 1997, of the Ch‚telet Theatre in Paris.
"Music will be my absolute priority," Lissner told reporters as he left Thursday's meeting of La Scala's board of directors. "In a few months there will be another board meeting, and we will see what happens," he said.
Giving a hint to his thinking about programming for the next season, which begins December 7, he noted that the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth falls on January 17, 2006.
Lissner is the director of the ThȂtre de la Madeleine in Paris and manager of the prestigious Aix-en-Provence opera festival, which he will continue to direct until 2009. He is also musical director of the Vienna Festival [Wiener Festwochen] and co-director of the Bouffes du Nord theatre in Paris.
Last month Italy's Culture Minister Giuliano Urbani had spoken in support of Muti, while urging a resolution to the internal conflict "to safeguard the prestige and history of this theatre that knows no equal."
Fontana, for his part, expressed relief at Lissner's appointment. "I'm happy that the tribulations of La Scala are ending and the conditions to get back on track are in place."
He added: "I don't know Lissner personally, but I have been able to appreciate his professional ability in the stimulating programming of the Aix-en-Provence Festival."
La Scala, which offers dance and orchestra concerts as well as opera, forecasts a deficit of 16 million euros ($21 million) this year.

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