Huge row erupts over La Scala chief’s pay

Huge row erupts over La Scala chief’s pay


norman lebrecht

February 07, 2014

Figures published by the Ministry of Culture in Rome reveal that  Stephane Lissner was paid 817,000 Euros last year to be general director of La Scala opera and ballet.

The figures have been disputed by La Scala, which maintains Lissner was paid *only*  507,000 Euros, plus bonuses and expenses, which include 85,000 euros for renting an apartment and 177,338 euros for pension, severance and social security costs (source: Il Messagero).

Hold it right there.

Half a million Euros ($680,000) to manage a tax-funded opera house? That’s more than twice what it takes to run Covent Garden.

And a bonus on top: for what? Not provoking a strike? not dancing with ballet boys? not taking more sick leave than the average diva?

This whole set up looks like sick pay. In toy town. With public money that Italy doesn’t have.

la scala lego


Lissner is leaving at the end of this season, a year early. He’s moving on to Paris Opera and Ballet. We guess they’ve matched the offer.




  • Mike Earles says:

    A damned ridiculous remuneration package. How on earth is opera ever going to pay when the director is raping the company. This is as criminal as bonuses for bankers!! Let him give free tickets to the regular man in the street who has been priced out be the director’s actions and similar. Now I know why I cannot afford to attend there opera house and enjoy live productions. But then when did this all start? Way back with Caruso and later the Social Democrat, Karajan. Now that is laughable!!

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      Unfortunately, you are very wrong about Karajan, fashionable as it is to drag him in every time this subject comes up. His publicly funded position in Berlin didn’t pay all that much. His fees weren’t much higher than those of most guest conductors either. He made most of his money from his hundreds of recordings and from international tours, especially to places like Japan where they were happy to hose him with money. And it always was, and still is, quite affordable to go to concerts in Berlin.

  • RalphW says:

    85,000€ for renting an “apartment”? What “apartment” is this that costs over 7000€ a month (nearly 10.000$)? Is she staying permanently at the penthouse of the Ritz?

  • figarosi says:

    Before you all have a collective heart attack, find out what Peter Gelb is “earning” at the Met. And he is not even qualified to run an opera house.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      No matter how good Gelb is or not from an artistic point of view – which I am not in a position to judge -, or how overblown the salaries of leading cultural managers in the US may be, that comparison doesn’t make sense because in the US, being able to raise a lot of funds from private donors is one of the most important qualifications and tasks of the manager, while in publicly funded institutions like La Scala, that plays no role – and it is therefore not a justification to pay anyone that kind of money.

      Whether or not such leading cultural managers in the US really “earn” such high salaries is a completely different question, but they do get measured by how much money they can rake in from donors.

  • MWnyc says:

    In that particular job, I can’t help thinking that Lissner was getting hazard pay.

    Think about it – would you want to try and manage that staff?

  • Below are some examples of other high salaries for arts exectuives in 2009, as reported in the New York Times. I suspect the salaries are a good bit higher now. See:

    * Peter Gelb at the Met makes 1.3 million.

    * Reynold Levy’s annual compensation to run Lincoln Center tops $1 million.

    * Carnegie Hall pays Clive Gillinson more than $800,000.

    * Glenn D. Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art, earned $2.7 million in the year that ended in June 2008, including several one-time bonuses and the cost of his apartment in the tower beside the museum.

    * Occasionally institutions will also pay bonuses tied to performance or longevity, like the $3.25 million given in 2006 to Philippe de Montebello to recognize his 30-year service to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

    * On top of his $940,000 salary, Michael Kaiser of the Kennedy Center earned a $150,000 bonus, as well as other benefits, for 2009.

    * Zarin Mehta’s most recent compensation, for fiscal year 2010, is $807,500. In the fiscal year ending in August 2008 he earned 2.67 million. This reflected his salary in addition to eight years of accumulated deferred compensation.

    * Timothy Rub, the director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art earns $450,00.

    * George Steel, the general manager and artistic director of New York City Opera receives $360,000 – and from an opera house that just shut down its next season due to a lack of funds.

    *Deborah Borda, Executive Director of the LA Phil makes $799,970 per year plus bonuses that raise her income to 1.5 million dollars.

    • Emil Archambault says:

      True, may other high-ranking administrators receive massive salaries. However, a few points to note:

      1- Peter Gelb and others administer organizations which receive close to no public funding. WHile their salaries may be too high, it does not approach the level of indecency of a 800 000 Euros salary paid by public funds.

      2- The Scala hasn’t been doing very well in the past years. Conflicts, health and safety problems, etc. have plagued the company. I hear very little about productions in Milan, particularly so in contrast with the level of media exposure that the ROH, the Met, The Bayerische Staatsoper and the Paris Opera get.

      3- Lissner gets severance pay for willingly moving to another job.

  • Rodney Wentworth Sr. says:

    The entire classical music business is rotten to the core, and nearly everywhere. It is no wonder that it is dying a slow death, as its very gatekeepers, those entrusted with its prosperity, health and welfare, are raping it and bleeding it for every penny they can. Mr. Lissner’s remuneration is outrageous, especially in the Italian context and the fact that it s public money being abused here. The problems on the other side of the Atlantic are no less egregious however, as there in the U.S., the major orchestras regularly go cup in hand to the rich of their communities, asking for large contributions to their endowments and then sign agreements with their senior administrators for yearly remuneration packages well over $1 million dollars. The worst examples are Deborah Borda in Los Angeles, Deborah Rutter in Chicago and soon to takeover the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., Michael Kaiser before her at the Kennedy Center, Zarin Mehta, formerly at the NY Philharmonic, Peter Gelb at the Metropolitan Opera in New York…and the list goes on and on. All of these orchestra/opera administrators negotiated salary packages for themselves of well over $1 million dollars while, in several cases, the orchestra in question was in financial difficulties or in the middle of the recent financial crisis. One of the most appalling cases is Allison Vulgamore at The Philadelphia Orchestra, who managed to negotiate a high six figure pay package for herself and literally weeks after declared the Philadelphia Orchestra bankrupt, demanding musicians take pay cuts and pension reductions, all the while enriching herself on the back of the orchestra. Who pays and who allows such unethical shenanigans? The donors and the boards, all led into believing that they need to pay these salaries to maintain a leadership position in the business. It is all rubbish! All the while there, secondary orchestras were either closing, suffering financial hardship or declaring bankruptcy, i.e. Detroit, Minnesota, New York City Opera, Syracuse, Albuquerque, Honolulu, Louisville and the list goes on and on…

    When will those running this outrage who supposedly love and cherish classical music, wake up and put an end to this? Soon, the game will be over and all but a few orchestras and operas will remain operating. Public institutions and non-profit institutions in a field under threat of demise should not be paying their administrators, nor their Music Directors multi million dollar/euro pay packages, unless they only want to accelerate the total fall of the archaic “classical music business.”

    • Evan Pritchard says:

      Bravo! Very well said.

    • Pamela Brown says:

      Though many don’t want to acknowledge what you are saying, imo you are correct. The situation is dismal in many respects and unfair to the players. The general public has had the wool pulled over their eyes.

      Ironically, if any good has come of the MO debacle, perhaps it is that everyone has a better idea of what really goes on in these supposedly-hallowed venues.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      There is some truth in what you say, but honestly, that whole “classical music is dying” mantra is getting really, really old and boring. There are problems, sure, some very big problems, too, as in so many other fields, but overall, there are still lots of orchestras, opera houses, concert musicians and the whole field is still very much alive.

  • Stereo says:

    And that’s before we talk about conductors fees. No wonder orchestra players particularly in UK are paid so badly.

  • Hasbeen says:

    Some people seem to think running a major arts institution like an orchestra or cultural centre is the equivalent of running a ‘mom and pop’ store. These are large muti million dollar institutions with very large staffs with the corresponding personnel issues, union issues and funding demands in addition to planning an artistic program. It is arguable that these people are experts in their fields and are simply compensated accordingly. The Philadelphia Orchestra for one is now in a much more stable condition and that surely can be attributed in part to good management.

    • William Snipes says:

      Living in Philadelphia and knowing intimately the key issues concerning The Philadelphia Orchestra, I can assure you, with no doubt, that things here are not running under “good management” as you have written. Allison Vulgamore is an extremely divisive and disliked figure by very many, who has not endeared herself to the musicians, nor to the community and the situation there, while somewhat better, is far from resolved and the improvement is also due, in a large part, to the endowment performing better, due to the recent increases in the U.S. stock market, upon which the endowment depends so heavily. Irrespective of what one thinks of running a major arts institution, paying investment banker salaries to senior arts administrators in a non-profit sector that is struggling for survival and asking sacrifices of musicians and staff, is immoral and clearly any manager, who would demand and negotiate such salaries to join a non-profit organization, fully dependent upon the generosity of donors, does not have their heart in the right place and is certainly not the right choice to keep such an institution afloat in a sector that is in an uphill battle for survival, with attendance declining and a shift in entertainment habits among the young generation. If greed and financial gain is such an important part of their character, then working for a non-profit organization in difficulty is really not appropriate. Sadly, this message is very hard to get across in the United States, as one assumes that demanding million dollar pay packages and getting it, is a sign of strength and character and therefore worthy of the job. This stupidity is exactly why so many U.S. based orchestras/operas have declared bankruptcy, have already closed or are on the verge of shutting down. When will the U.S. population wake up to the fact that personal greed and not putting the institution first, will never result in any success or cultural longevity?

  • Gonout Backson says:

    Wha’ever. In the last 25 years, Paris fired Barenboim (general manager and music director of the Opéra) and then Chung (music directorof the same), breaking good contracts. Officially because they were paid too much. Of course, afterwards they made much more in the courts. Apparently somebody up there considered that it’s more economic and artistically rewarding to pay Daniel Barenboim millions of francs NOT to direct the Paris Opera.

    And, I hear, it’s even funnier in Poland where the Ministry of Culture has just offered 6 million zlotys (around 1,3 million euros) to a… Museum of JPII and Cardinal Wyszynski. One third of the whole yearly budget in a country where theatres, museums and publishing houses starve. The next, biggest funding amounts to 1 million zlotys. Artists and intellectuals are screaming bloody murder.

  • Martin says:

    I don’t care so much about high salaries, but…. Over 7000 Euros a month to rent a flat?

    A they totally nuts?

    Surely it would be way more beneficial for the tax payers, if they’d buy a flat and let the boss use it for free.

    I see the point though in such a contract clause, the employee has no risk of rising rent costs. This is why some sports people have tax clauses, which makes the employer pay all tax.

  • andante says:

    It’s quite a pity that Mr Lissner can’t now enjoy so much his 7.000 euro a month apartment in Milan, as he is most of the time already in Paris to get ready for his next job at Opéra. What a luck to get a training period in France paid by Italian taxpayers