The Italians have finally cottoned on that there might be something a bit funny about an opera boss selling a bunch of productions to himself (as reported here on an otherwise joke-free 1 April).
So they're now questioning the legality of the sale of seven Salzburg Festival productions to La Scala, as engineered by the outgoing Salzburg/incoming La Scala head Alexander Pereira.
Pereira is still (technically) in charge of the Salzburg Festival, and does not (technically) accede to the Milan position until the Salzburg one ends in September 2014. But he's keen to get going, and since the appointment was announced back in 2013, he has made himself busy on La Scala's behalf.
However the problem with the horse-trade is that Pereira can't sign anything on behalf of La Scala until he formally takes over from Stéphane Lissner. It is unlikely in any case that the management, whether Pereira or Lissner, has the authority to commit the theatre to such a large sum without the approval of the directors. And the directors haven't been consulted, according to the "shocked" Mayor of Milan, who is on the board. "I learned of the affair from the press," he said.
However the Salzburg Festival is so confident it's a done deal, they have included the sale value in ther accounts. Not surprisingly, the Italian press are now asking whether any contracts were signed, and if so, who signed them.
They also wonder whether the package is the bargain Pereira claims. He says the seven Salzburg productions (Don Carlo, Die Meistersinger, Lucio Silla, Falstaff , Il trovatore, Der Rosenkavalier and Endgame) will cost La Scala far less than seven new ones. But the Italians question his assumptions. They point out that the new Rome Manon Lescaut cost little more than the Salzburg productions, and that there will be additional costs for resizing the sets, as the Milan stage is narrower and deeper than the Festspielhaus. I would add that some of these productions will debut at the 2014 Festival, so they haven't even been seen yet. Who can know at this stage how transferable they are, from either a quality or technical perspective?
With only one supporter willing to speak up for him - his musical director appointee Riccardo Chailly - Pereira has been forced to defend himself. He tells La Reppublica "I am 67 years old and have a lot of experience, but I know that La Scala is the most difficult theatre in the world....they have tried to attack me with accusations of theft that do not correspond to the truth. I will report everything to the Mayor of Milan and the La Scala Board and I am sure that all will be clarified."
There remains one more peculiar aspect of the case that remains unexplored. The total amount involved, which was previously reported to be €1.6m, has now gone down to €1.28m. By amazing coincidence, the difference represents the small surplus the Festival would have made if the productions were sold at the original price. At the new total, the 2013 Festival balances its budget. Isn't that a little odd?
Pereira claims to the Milanese that he's got them a bargain, so the obvious question (which nobody has asked yet) is - has the Salzburg Festival been sold short? Could it have obtained a higher price for its productions in an independently-brokered sale? If the Austrian press has half the intellectual curiosity of its Italian counterparts, this is the question it should be putting out there.