The world’s most famous opera house is booting its general director after one season. He hasn’t even started yet.


The La Scala theater in Milan. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

Alexander Pereira has yet to oversee one show at La Scala, the world’s best-known opera house, where he’s been hired as general director, but he already knows the end date of his tenure there: December 31, 2015.

Talk about a lame duck.

Pereira is the current director of the Salzburg Festival. He officially takes over La Scala October 1, but the Associated Press reported he already made a deal for La Scala to buy four operas from the Salzburg Festival. To La Scala’s board, this was a huge no-no.

Until his official takeover date, Pereira was considered a consultant who doesn’t have those powers. The New York Times reported he met with the board in March to inform it of his intentions for the opera through the 2017 season and mentioned the four productions as possibilities. The board learned of the deal when it was reported in the Austrian media. The board voted Thursday to fire Pereira effective December of next year, citing a conflict of interest. La Scala’s opera season traditionally starts every year on December 7.

“Pereira without a doubt went beyond his powers,” Giuliano Pisapia, the chairman of La Scala’s board, told reporters. Pisapia is also the mayor of Milan, which is home to La Scala.

It’s an organizational black eye on the opera house, which is more than 200 years old. High-ranking personnel were shuffled to make room for Pereira’s prerogatives, and now he’s not even going to be there long enough to see them through. Pereira, initially signed to a six-year deal, hired Riccardo Chailly to replace Daniel Barenboim as musical director. Barenboim, who had two years left on his contract, departed early so Pereira’s pick could start.

German superstar tenor Jonas Kaufmann was a supporter of Pereira’s. In an April interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Serra, he said Pereira would bring tradition and conservatism to La Scala.

“I know Pereira well,” Kaufmann said. “I’ve worked along­side him for ten years at the Zurich Opera and then Salzburg. He’s already been in con­tact about our next pro­jects together. The only official one is a Verdi Requiem in 2015, and also an opera.” Kauffman declined to confirm whether or not he would be in Verdi’s “Don Carlo,” one of the four productions Pereira arranged to bring to La Scala.

Kaufmann is considered a huge box-office draw for opera fans, but with Pereira’s stilted future, it’s unclear what will happen. Pereira has been barred from making contracts with artists or deals with other opera houses without first consulting the board.

Pereira also ruffled union feathers by seeking new productions outside La Scala instead of using in-house resources. “We are in disbelief,” union official Giancarlo Albori told the Times. “If it was all confirmed, it’d be extremely serious. I can’t see how La Scala, one of the world’s leading theaters and performers, would want to do that.”

Pereira didn’t seem to see the problem. Again, the Times:

He also expressed the wish to bring three more productions from Salzburg to Milan: Kurtag’s “Finale di Partita,” Strauss’s “Der Rosenkavalier” and Verdi’s “Il Trovatore.”

“In four years, my predecessor [Stéphane Lissner] has imported four shows from Salzburg,” Mr. Pereira told La Stampa. “Nobody screamed out loud it was a scandal.”

Asked if there was not a conflict of interest in the case, Mr. Pereira said: “This is called opportunity. Salzburg has some beautiful productions that will not be performed on stage anymore. La Scala buys them at a bargain price. Where is the scandal?”

Soraya Nadia McDonald covers arts, entertainment and culture for the Washington Post with a focus on race and gender issues.
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