La Scala cancels €15m Saudi partnership11:01, 16th April 2019
The Teatro alla Scala in Milan has said that it will return more than €3 million (£2.5m) of sponsorship funds to Saudi Arabia following the outcry from human rights groups and from politicians in Italy, including from those in government.
The money was to be the first instalment of a part of a five-year partnership, worth €15m, that would have allowed the Saudi culture minister a seat on the board of La Scala. The partnership also included provision for two concerts by La Scala’s orchestra in Riyadh, including a concert performance of Verdi’s La Traviata conducted by Zubin Mehta. The Saudis had also asked for the creation of music academy in the Kingdom, led by the La Scala Foundation.
The decision to return the €3m came following scrutiny of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October.
La Scala is one of Italy’s great cultural flagships and the deal with the Saudi government inevitably took on a political dimension. Senior members of Italy’s governing League party joined the backlash against the opera house. Deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini led the call for the sponsorship to be scrapped, while Attilio Fontana, the governor of Lombardy, pointed out that the deal broke the rules governing the activities of the La Scala Foundation. Fontana added that the opera company’s general director, Alexander Pereira, should be sacked for his part in brokering the arrangement with a foreign government which stands accused of serious breaches of human rights.
Bowing to political pressure, the Mayor of Milan, Giuseppe Sala, who is also president of La Scala and a League member, announced that the board of La Scala ‘have unanimously decided to return the money. We’ll go back to scratch and see if there are other opportunities for collaboration.’ Sala added that Pereira would keep his job as La Scala’s boss in spite of his involvement in the deal.