La Scala board agrees on new manager, ending uncertainty

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Italy La Scala_1560897613502

FILE – In this Wednesday, May 30, 2018 file photo, Milan’s mayor Giuseppe Sala, left, Italian conductor Riccardo Chailly, center, and La Scala’s general director Alexander Pereira pose for photographers prior to the start of the press conference to present 2018/2019 season, in Milan, Italy. Milan’s mayor announced Tuesday that board of the famed La […]

MILAN (AP) — Milan’s mayor announced Tuesday that the board of the famed La Scala opera house has agreed on a new general manager to succeed Austrian Alexander Pereira, whose money-making but sometimes troubled 5-year mandate expires in February.

Mayor Giuseppe Sala, who is chairman of the board, declined to identify the candidate due to on-going personnel negotiations, saying only “I will leave it to your imagination.” Italian media has focused on the manager of the Vienna Staatsoper, Dominique Meyer, after another candidate withdrew. The board will meet next week to confirm.

Pereira, who was tapped for his fund-raising prowess and is also the theater’s artistic director, has helped find 58 million euros ($65 million) in new private funding, but had political run-ins from the start. During one, Sala said that the Austrian had demonstrated a level of political naivete in navigating behind-the-scenes management of one of the world’s most prestigious opera houses.

He nearly lost the position after buying productions from his last employer, the Salzburg Festival, during a transition period before he had legally assumed the job. And he faced criticism earlier this year for a badly handled fundraising deal with Saudi Arabia, which ended with the return of 3 million euro ($3.4 million) that had been placed in an escrow account. The board’s issues were not over Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, but more technically that it had not been notified of the deal and that the bank transfer had not been properly flagged.

The Saudi deal debacle culminated also with public calls by the governor of Lombardy, which is represented on the La Scala board, to resign — even though there was no follow-up in board meetings.

During his tenure, Pereira also has increased the number of productions and performances, including by the opera house’s academy, raised the number of ticket sales, launched a popular series of opera and ballet for children, and reached a deal on a new work contract with the often-contentious La Scala unions, without a single performance being canceled by strike.

The powerful CGIL union, citing weeks of newspaper reports speculating on a management transition, called for continuity “in the virtuous model of production,” that has been established in recent years, saying it had also created more jobs inside the theater.

Sala confirmed that Periera’s contract would not be extended, but he declined to say whether he would remain on for two years to manage the seasons that he has already lined up.

The mayor has also previously suggested that the positions of general manager and artistic director should be split in the future, but he said that would be decided in the upcoming negotiations.

Meyer, 63, is a Frenchman who was formerly general director of the Lausanne Opera and general and artistic director of the Theatre des-Champs-Elysees in Paris. Since 2010, has been running the Vienna Staatsoper, where he has been credited with stabilizing finances and driving up attendance.

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