Why are Italy’s top opera houses now run by non-Italians?

Why are Italy’s top opera houses now run by non-Italians?


norman lebrecht

October 13, 2019

Four of the top six now have foreigners as sovrintendente:

La Scala, Milan – Dominique Meyer (France)
Turin – Sebastian Schwarz (Austria)
Florence – Alexander Pereira (Austria)
San Carlo, Naples – Stephane Lissner (France)

Only Venice (Ortombina) and Rome (Fuortes) have Italians in charge.

All the foreign appointments have been made in the course of the past year.

Why is that?

Our inside source has an interesting theory. The mayors of Italian cities are fed up to the teeth with the media speculation, every time they sign off on an Italian head of an opera house, as to which political party the new sovrintendente owes his job and whose pocket he’s in.

Foreigners, they theory goes, are party-neutral.



  • Phillip Ayling says:

    Are they foreigners or are they fellow citizens of the EU?

  • ospite says:

    Sebastian Schwarz è tedesco, ma abita in Austria.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Interesting story and interesting theory which sounds entirely plausible.

    Another possibility is that Italian sovrintendentes have difficulties with the language in a number of operas so that, at the opening night, they cannot follow the plot and thus create problems afterwards.

    Again another theory, based upon some experience I heard from a befriended French conductor who has worked in Bari for a couple of years, is that Italian sovrintendentes are as emotionally-unbalanced as the rest of the staff and when everybody winds-up everybody else, stress storms rsie higher than with a foreign intendant, who introduces some measure of calm understanding during the preparations of productions, when people are at each other’s throat.

  • For decades, Italy suffered from laws made during the Mussolini era that stipulated that only Italians should be given jobs as the directors of cultural institutions, orchestra jobs, and professorships. Even after Italy joined the EU and it became illegal to exclude other EU members from jobs, the practice of hiring only Italians continued. The results produced predictable provincialism and cronyism. Italy’s conservatories still suffer from this problem.

    It also caused a continual decline in the quality of Italy’s orchestras which made it easier for right wing governments to eliminate all but one of the radio orchestras in the 1990s. Italy’s opera houses face a similar peril.

    In 2015, a centrist government opened museum directorships to foreigners. They have brought much needed new perspectives to Italy’s wonderful cultural life and heritage.

    In 2017, the the hiring of foreigners was challenged in court by some Italians who wanted to have the foreigners removed so they could get the jobs. Early this year, the far-right cultural minister reiterated his belief that only Italians should get the jobs. (A bit on the Benito side of things one might editorialize.)

    I’m not sure what has transpired since then. Perhaps someone can fill us in. Artnet has a good summation here up to about last January:


  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Go the Austrians. Talent in spades!

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    It is good to see these opera houses still in operation. I thought in the last 20 years most of them were in deep trouble & scaled down their operations. From what I have seen in the internet some of them have deplorable orchestras, but the auditoriums are gorgeous. What a shame, as a tourist, attending opera in Italy comes with the additional cost of being almost certainly pick pocketed while there.

  • LewesBird says:

    Sebastian Schwarz, “Austria”? Mu ha ha. Gurl, he’s from Rostock, as in Deutsche Demokratische Republik. Might as well have claimed he’s “from Venice”, if where he owns property is the litmus test. Appelons un chat un chat.

  • Nik says:

    Schwarz is German.

  • Andrea Penna says:

    Sebastian Schwarz is German though

  • Rgiarola says:

    Perhaps It is just a signal that there isn’t any protectionism related to hiring countrymen in Italy. However I know it’s sound too sweet even if it is true. LoLoL

  • Cantantelirico says:

    Frau Blücher might have other ideas.