|Art world fears it is curtains for culture as budget is slashed|
The Times 21/10/2005
Amid the chandeliers and velvet of the Rome Opera House, Francesco Ernani, its director, is drawing up plans for next year that include taking productions of Puccini's Tosca and Verdi's Rigoletto to Japan.
His plans are threatened, however, by a looming one-third cut in arts subsidies, which he describes as inadmissible. "At the Rome Opera we have finally balanced the books after years of being in the red, partly thanks to private sponsors," he said. "But it costs money to stage opera at a world-class level — and most of that money still comes from central and local government."
Yesterday Rocco Buttiglione, the Culture Minister, threatened to resign if Silvio Berlusconi, the Prime Minister, refused to revoke cuts in the 2006 arts budget that performers say could cost tens of thousands of jobs. With an economy suffering from low growth and a high deficit, Signor Berlusconi's centre-right coalition — which faces a re-election battle in April — is making spending cuts of €20 billion (£13.5 billion) across the board.
But the arts cuts have produced the loudest howls of protest in a country where culture is not an extra but central to the country's image, not to mention a major source of tourist revenue. "Culture is Italy's oil," Giovanna Melandri, a former culture minister, said.
Millions are drawn to the opera at Verona or La Scala, or to admire Italy's art treasures. The draft 2006 budget allots scarce state funds to measures likely to benefit families, such as pensions, child support and mortgages. By contrast the arts budget is being slashed by €230 million, with funds for the per-forming arts — theatre, dance, opera and cinema — bearing the brunt, down from €464 million this year to €300 million
next year. Last weekend thousands of workers in the arts — including television and film stars — took part in street protests.
Signor Berlusconi and his supporters, however, take the view that the arts cuts are overdue, theatres and opera houses are overstaffed and their employees are overpaid. This week the Prime Minister caused a furore by declaring that La Scala, in Milan, employed 1,000 people "when 400 would be quite enough".
Its dancers, he said, "work up to the age of 40 but are paid until the age of 65" — a remark presumably based on inside information since his son-in-law, Maurizio Vanadia, is a La Scala dancer. Stephane Lissner, recently appointed as the artistic director of La Scala — hit this year by strikes and boardroom walkouts despite a multi-million-pound restoration — retorted that it employed only 800 people, of whom more than half were artistic staff in the orchestra, chorus and corps de ballet.
"The entire art world in Italy is in danger," M Lissner said.
Signor Berlusconi was backed, however, by Franco Zeffirelli, the opera and film director, who said that the Italian arts had been dependent too long on "Mamma State".
"Take cinema — directors in the golden age of the Fifties and Sixties had no subsidies," he said. "Italian cinema's glory days are gone, yet nowadays directors grab state handouts that would be better spent on healthcare.
"When I was a boy in Florence I used to go to the Uffizi and it was so cold my teeth would chatter. Sometimes you have to suffer for your art."