- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 26, 2004

LONDON - An offstage melodrama dividing two of Europe’s leading opera houses has arisen from a dispute over the scenery in Giuseppe Verdi’s tale of doomed love, “La Forza del Destino.”

Italian maestro Riccardo Muti, musical director of La Scala theater in Milan, withdrew from conducting the work at the Royal Opera House in London because of the conflict.

The Covent Garden company said Friday it was “extremely frustrated” at the decision, prompted by what it called “minor changes” to the set used for La Scala’s staging of the opera.

The Italian theater replied that the London production wouldn’t carry the La Scala name because it wasn’t “completely faithful” to the original version.

As a result of Mr. Muti’s withdrawal, Verdi’s 19th-century opera about a love affair thwarted by tragedy and death will be conducted by Covent Garden musical director Antonio Pappano — who has less than four weeks to prepare for his first ever performance of the work.

“We were hugely looking forward to having Riccardo Muti here,” Covent Garden’s chief executive Tony Hall told British Broadcasting Corp. radio. “Why in this case some minor changes, in our view, should prove so difficult to accept I have to say bemuses us all, to put it politely.

“We’re extremely frustrated about it, really, really frustrated,” he added.

Mr. Hall said Mr. Muti had sided with La Scala designer Hugo de Ana in refusing to accept changes to four pieces of heavy hanging scenery depicting a wall. He said the alterations were needed to meet safety standards.

La Scala called the proposed scenic changes “substantial.”

“It was with great regret that Riccardo Muti and Hugo De Ana have decided to withdraw from this production which is not completely faithful to their conception,” the opera house said in a statement.

“Their decision is the result of long and careful thought and upholds the tradition of La Scala that any restaging correspond absolutely to the original production,” it said.

The Royal Opera House staging will use lighter and smaller versions of the hanging pieces in order to meet health and safety regulations, spokesman Christopher Millard said.

“Despite numerous solutions to this problem being suggested, Mr. de Ana showed no spirit of collaboration and rejected all options presented,” the Royal Opera House said in a statement.

The cast, which includes Salvatore Licitra, Violetta Urmana and Ambrogio Maestri, will be unchanged from the La Scala production.

“What the audience will see is something which to all intents and purposes is the La Scala production,” Mr. Hall said.

“La Forza del Destino” plays at the Royal Opera House for seven nights, starting Oct. 16.

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