Friends, this editorial by Alberto Mattioli from La Stampa is making the rounds on Facebook. I made an on-the-fly translation for the benefit of those who do not read Italian.
I apologize for my very approximate understanding of Italian political jargon and would welcome corrections. Also, please note that I added the information about 150 years of Italian unity, which Mr. Mattioli called simply “unity celebrations.”
Opera: And so it ends
We’re closing. Down with the curtain. Opera in Italy survived invasions, pestilence, dictatorships, fires, and two world wars.
Irony of fate: Opera is being killed by a little decree with a ridiculous name, “A Thousand Extensions,” which was approved yesterday. A Christmas gift that brings a thousand problems. Because while charity to cinema has been extended thanks to fiscal incentives, the reinstatement of the FUS (Single Fund for Entertainment) has been removed from the decree (and, while we’re on the subject, so has the Extraordinary Plan for Pompei—but that, you know, is a pile of stones that interests hardly anyone).
The FUS is reduced to EUR 258 million, its lowest level ever, which is supposed to finance all of Italian entertainment and, above all, the most Italian of art forms: opera. In 2011, opera houses will receive a total of EUR 125 million, down from EUR 190 million in 2010 and EUR 222 million in 2009. Which is to say, state funding has been cut in half in two years. Now, in support of opera all over Italy, we are spending the same amount that the French government dedicates to the Opéra (of Paris) alone. We are left hoping that, who knows, the funds will be reinstated before the bill becomes law.
At this point, we need to make the usual speech and explain that opera is a basic part of our identity at home and of our prestige overseas; that Cavour made Italy but Italians were made by Rossini, Verdi, and Puccini; that we are mutilating the celebrations of 150 years of Italian unity by depriving them of their soundtrack… and so on and so forth, stating the obvious to a political class (all of it, on the right and the left) that either does not know these things or pretends not to know them. It’s wasted breath.
I would add two points. The first is that the cuts, as usual, will be indiscriminate—that is, they will strike all theatres equally, those that have done good work and those that have done poor work (along with those who have done no work at all), both the virtuous and the depraved: the Teatro Regio of Turin, which has 14,000 subscribers and only half the staff of the Rome Opera, which has 2,500 subscribers. Second, anyone familiar with the way opera houses work knows that the greater part of their expenses, 50% and up, is fixed. In other words, they are salaries. Since salaries, by decree, have already been cut, the axe is destined to fall on productions.
The wondrous result of all this: Our theatres will remain costly but will raise the curtain less and less—as if a furniture manufacturer were to spend all of its money paying employees and had nothing left to buy wood. And to think that, when Sandro Bondi became Culture Minister, we breathed a sigh of relief: Finally someone with the political weight to transform the Cinderella of our country’s cultural heritage into a princess. Instead, we’re not even left with a glass slipper.