Saudi Arabia hypothesis in Teatro alla Scala board of directors, outrage is bipartisan

Disdain from all political sides over the possible entry of a Saudi Arabian figure on the board of directors of Milan's La Scala Theater.

There has been bipartisan outrage over the news of the possibility of an agreement between Italy and Saudi Arabia for the Teatro alla Scala in Milan: according to rumors leaked after the visit to the Lombard capital of Prince Badr bin Abd Allah bin Mohammed bin Farhan Al Saud, Saudi minister of culture, the theater could receive a donative of 15 million euros from Arabia over three years, in exchange for the appointment of a member of the Arab royal house to the board of directors.

The mayor of Milan, Giuseppe Sala, hoped that this would not be pure funding, but a way to strengthen the theater’s image internationally and in the Middle East: in this case, the first citizen would be in favor. And in favor was also the president of the Lombardy Region, Attilio Fontana, who said, however, the proposal should be examined and evaluated first. Also in favor was the theater’s superintendent, Alexander Pereira, who recalled that the funding, in addition to opening up a collaboration between Italy and Saudi Arabia that would also have symbolic implications (as part of the agreement would also include the opening of a conservatory, with teachers from the Accademia della Scala, in the capital Riyadh, in a former girls’ school), would bring important resources since the theater is covered by state funding for only a third of its budget (as opposed to other major European theaters, such as the Vienna State Opera, which enjoy public funding for about 75 percent of their resources).

However, the opportunity for Saudi Arabia to enter one of the world-recognized landmarks of Italian culture has angered many political figures across the constitutional spectrum, especially because of the repeated human rights violations still taking place in Saudi Arabia. Maurizio Gasparri of Forza Italia, who announced a parliamentary question addressed to Cultural Heritage Minister Alberto Bonisoli and considers it a “dangerous infiltration” for a country that does not respect fundamental rights to join La Scala’s board of directors, Federico Mollicone of Fratelli d’Italia (for the same reason: Arabia is responsible for violating human rights, particularly women’s rights and the rights of religious minorities), as well as Sumaya Abdel Qader (Pd city councilor in Milan, of the Islamic faith), who while understanding Saudi Arabia’s attempts to raise its image considers incoherent funding from a country that vetoes and censors art, and Nicola Fratoianni of Liberi e Uguali, who considers collaboration “not tolerable,” recalling some recent events such as the atrocities carried out in Yemen, the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and the arrests and torture of women’s right to leadership activists.

Alessandro Morelli, group leader of the League at the Milan City Council, was also very harsh, calling for the dismissal of Alexander Pereira: “whoever intends to put our excellence on the market,” said the Leghist councilman, “is a merchant who does not deserve to represent our wonder in Italy and abroad.” Yet Pereira said the idea originated within the League itself: the superintendent told La Stampa that the first person to talk about possible Saudi funding was Max Ferrari, an adviser to Governor Fontana, who maintains constant relations with the Middle Eastern country. Therefore, Pereira said he was surprised by the controversy.

Finally, a few hours ago came Minister Bonisoli’s opinion that Saudi Arabia’s entry into the scale board is “part of a larger project”: he recalled that he had already met with the Saudi minister of culture in St. Petersburg in November, and as part of the meeting they talked about how Arabia intends to open up more and more to the West and Italy. At the moment, however, it is not yet known what the terms of this project are.

In the photo: the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. Ph. Credit Paolo Bon

Saudi Arabia hypothesis in Teatro alla Scala board of directors, outrage is bipartisan
Saudi Arabia hypothesis in Teatro alla Scala board of directors, outrage is bipartisan

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