Slipped Disc editorial: Can one man return La Scala to past glories?

Slipped Disc editorial: Can one man return La Scala to past glories?


norman lebrecht

December 10, 2013

For the past decade and more, ever since Riccardo Muti was forced out, the birthplace of Italian opera has become a byword for bad practice.

The company operates under a perpetual threat of strikes. The backstage crews are so noisy that they distract singers in performance. The musicians have gained an inflated opinion of their status. The administration is impossible to deal with. And the best singers, usually foreigners, face boos and catcalls for reasons that are often unconnected with the excellence of their performance.

This is the reality of La Scala in the Era Berlusconi, and beyond. Many singers tell us, in public and private, that they won’t return.

So can a new music director make all the difference?


riccardo chailly

Certainly not. Like Italy itself, it will take more than one maestro to overcome systemic faults.

It will require a new attitude, a sense of new beginning, a vision.

The one man who can bring those virtues to La Scala is Riccardo Chailly, who grew up in the house when his father was director and Claudio Abbado was chief conductor. He knows what it takes to put Scala back on the top of its game and he has the talent and commitment to take it there. Whether he will get enough backing to succeed in a disjointed institution remains to be seen, but this morning’s announcement of Chailly as the next music director is the best sound to emanate from La Scala since Luciano Pavarotti was last howled off its stage.

The new sovrintendente Alexander Pereira has made a crucial signing. The Augean stables await.

We wish Riccardo well.


  • Indeed we wish Riccardo well. Once the misfits and malcontents in the orchestra die off things might get back to when Riccardo’s father was head of Scala. Not all things were great in those days, but compared to the last 15 years, it was certainly much better. I don’t think the disfunction at Scala has anything to do with Berlusconi.

  • RC has as good a chance as anyone to turn the place round. The house has been a standing joke for years, for the reasons you mention. Chailly’s excellent work is evident to anyone who cares to consult it so we can only hope the Milanese vanguards of mediocrity don’t find ways to hijack his projects or methods.

  • robert72744 says:

    The problems at Scala are almost entirely administrative. Add to that the ingrained hubris of Italian nationalism. The problems are not musical. Chailly is a great musician but I fail to see how he could begin to solve any of the extra-musical problems.

  • sdReader says:

    La Scala is not at all the birthplace of (Italian) opera. The history is complex, but cite Firenze, Mantova, Venezia, then Napoli.

  • figarosi says:

    When Stephane Lissner arrived in 2005 he inherited a company in crisis after the controversy of departing Muti and an 8 million Euro debt. Lissner balanced the next budget and every one since. This at a time when the state support of the from 61% to less than 40. The theater now pays more in taxes than it receives from the government. The number of performances went from 160 to over 250. He increased private donations and sponsorship to cover the shortfall by restoring the prestige of the La Scala brand. He introduced famed international stage directors, brought in a new music director. Daniel Barenboim, who some may have heard of, and, for the last three years, broadcasts opening night which is watched around the world by millions. But why let facts interfere with colorful rhetoric?

  • It’s amazing that Mr. Lissner was able to do what he did with the theatre. Agitators in the orchestra have lost their perspective. There was a deserved pride in being a part of Scala that has turned into arrogance and entitlement. I hope that Mo Chailly can restore the pride.