The first staged drama with singing, or opera as we know it, was Peri’s Dafne performed in Florence in 1597.
You would think that opera in Florence and in Italy in general are pretty secure, wouldn’t you, it being the Birthplace Of Opera (as well as all those great native sons and daughters of the past). However, according to the definitely-not-sensationalist Austrian newspaper Der Standard (de), the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino (Florence’s opera house) is in acute danger of shutting down.
The opera house has amassed 27 million euros (35 million dollars) in debt. On top of this, Italian PM Mario Monti’s new austerity package has made massive cuts to the arts and cultural institutions. Much needed cuts, one might say, as Italy’s pulling itself out of a hole right now. It’s hard to argue for an opera house in debt when the Prime Minister has given up his own salary as part of the cuts.
Maggio Musicale Fiorentino has three months to find a solution. Employees are being asked to forfeit part of their severance packages, which would save the theater a little over 2 million euros, and conductors’ fees have been slashed by 15% (although the article doesn’t say what they’re making these days.) If things don’t turn around, they may all lose their jobs.
Here in the German-speaking countries, many houses closed or merged after German reunification, mostly smaller places in the East. Berlin fought especially hard to keep all of its cultural institutions intact even when it found itself with at least two of everything, and ended up dissolving the RIAS Big Band Berlin (on the argument that jazz musicians live less settled lives than other types, and will drift to where the work is, so I was told by one of the musicians who indeed did just that.)
Over the years I have heard rumors of cuts, closings and mergers in the Austrian houses, but they have remained just rumors. There have been wage freezes and theaters incorporating into GmbHs* My own workplace did this a few years ago, and despite a lot of hand-wringing over the death of highbrow culture, we’re still going.
* Bonus trivia: GmbHs are considered legal persons under German law.