I had hope this week to write about something other than distressing situations at opera houses but unfortunately I find myself once again reading about hard times in the opera world. If there is one place that you think opera is safe, it is in Italy. Italy is a country of art and has always been a strong supporter of artist since as far back as the Medici family. Italy is also a country of government subsidies, so much so that I once heard of a small town in the south of Italy with 100 residents, one street and 6 crossing guards. I think that is why it comes as such as surprise to me that an opera company in Rome, the capital of Italy, could be in such dire straights.
This Friday Teatro dell'Opera di Roma fired 182 of its musicians. The orchestra and chorus members will be stripped of their contracts. The company has said they want the musicians back but they will have to sign on as freelancers and be payed for performances played and not salaried. With the opera house reported to be 40 million euros in debt, it is said that this move will save the company 3.4 million euros a year. Carlo Fuortes who is the general manager has said that this is the future of opera and that many companies in Europe are switching to this standard. While this has caused great uproar with the musicians it is believed the current season of Opera in the Teatro will continue as planned.
It seems with so many opera houses in debt and no longer being able to rely on government subsidies that this might be the new norm for opera houses. This will make the already precarious life of musicians even more so. While I can understand the need for cut backs and reducing excess spending this is a hard pill to swallow. I wonder if this will also decrease the overall quality of the performances by switching over to a freelance system. In the freelance system it is very easy for orchestras and choristers to be under rehearsed because they have to work other jobs and juggle and changing schedule to make ends meat. It will be interesting in the next few years to see where opera heads to survive in this every changing entertainment landscape.