Conductor Daniel Barenboim used the new season opening at La Scala, Milan, to speak out against impending cuts to the arts in Italy. Silvio Berlusconi’s government plans to slash funding to the sector by 37 per cent next year.
Before the curtain went up for Wagner’s Die Walküre, Barenboim, guest principal conductor at La Scala, turned to the audience and said: ‘I and my colleagues have concerns about the future of culture in our country and in Europe. We should remember the Italian constitution promotes the development of culture. We should safeguard the landscape and the artistic and historical heritage of the nation’
Barenboim directed his words to the president of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano, who was in the audience. His statement came after a day of violent clashes between police and those protesting against the cuts outside the opera house. Two home-made bombs were detonated and at least 10 police officers and an unknown number of protestors were taken to hospital.
Earlier this year, in May, the opera house was forced to cancel several performances when performers and workers went on strike. The action was over proposed restrictions to be placed on state-funded opera houses, including salary cuts and a limit on the amount of outside work performers can do.
The Italian government is not the only one to have proposed cuts to the arts. The Dutch government's recent proposals to close the Netherlands Broadcasting Music Centre, which supports four ensembles, were met with outrage. Following protests and an online petition which gathered tens of thousands of signatures, the coalition has now announced a reprieve for the centre. Funding will still be reduced, but talks will take place to determine its future.
UK Culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has also faced criticism for his proposed cuts of 30 per cent for the Arts Council England.