- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 7, 2010

MILAN (AP) - Daniel Barenboim is conducting “Die Walkuere” for La Scala’s gala season premiere Tuesday, but as is often the case at Milan’s famed opera house, some offstage drama was punctuating the musical performance.

Even before the opening notes were played, students and police clashed briefly in the square outside the theater. Youths, many of them wearing helmets, scuffled with police swinging clubs. Smoke bombs and tear gas were lobbed during the clash, and two police officers were treated at the scene for minor injuries.

Some students _ who for months have been protesting university reforms and budget cuts throughout Italy _ carried banners proclaiming solidarity with those protesting funding cuts in the culture world.

Barenboim was expected to make a statement about cuts to Italy’s cultural budget before the national anthem is played while hundreds of opera house workers from Genoa, Rome, Florence and elsewhere will protest outside as VIPs arrive for the social event of the Milanese season.

“This is an attack on the whole cultural world, not just La Scala,” said Giancarlo Albori, a CGIL labor confederation official who is organizing the protests. “It is a tragedy for Italian culture.”

Albori said the government slashed euro5 million ($6.64 million) from La Scala’s budget in 2010 and twice that next year _ part of large-scale cuts to the nation’s cultural institutions that have threatened to bring down the curtain on several Italian opera houses.

Union officials met Tuesday with La Scala’s general director Stephane Lissner, who has publicly opposed the cuts especially to La Scala, which has significantly decreased its dependence on state funds in recent years.

La Scala’s euro115 million ($153.67 million) annual budget is 60 percent covered by ticket sales and private donations _ with 40 percent coming from the state.

Barenboim, the chief guest conductor at La Scala, also has said that Italy’s musical heritage deserves to be protected.

Barenboim said in recent remarks that “Die Walkuere” is for him the true center of Wagner’s “Ring” cycle, though technically it is the second of the four operas, after “Das Rheingold,” which Barenboim conducted at La Scala last May.

“Rheingold is a masterpiece, I don’t want to be misunderstood” Barenboim said. “But Wagner with his complexity wrote naturally something that is more important than a simple introduction. It remains a great prologue.”

The production has been staged by Belgian director Guy Cassiers, who has introduced video into the production, reportedly angering some of the singers. Cassiers said his goal is to bring all disciplines and technologies together on stage “to create a universe.”

“The most important thing for me on stage is not the set, is not the light, is not the visuals. It’s the singers. The singers are the guide … to stimulate you, to get you as close as possible to the material Wagner offers,” Cassiers said recently.

“Die Walkuerie” stars some of the most famous Wagnerian singers, including soprano Nina Stemme as Bruennhilde and mezzo-soprano Waltraud Meier in the soprano role of Sieglinde. New Zealand-born tenor Simon O’Neill appears as Siegmund and Ukrainian bass Vitalij Kowaljow as Wotan.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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