La Scala's new boss takes aim at 'crazy' catcalling of the loggionisti opera fans

Pavarotti and Alagna both suffered from the jeers of La Scala's aficionados. Now manager Alexander Pereira has had enough

As the incoming general manager of La Scala, Alexander Pereira has a lot on his plate: balancing the budget and attracting the talent, for starters. But the most peculiar challenge he faces – and, reportedly, the one that scares him the most – is the audience, or a noisy sub-section of it.

Dubbed in the Italian media "the hissing hooligans", the loggionisti are a small minority of noisy traditionalists who make no bones about booing from the gods when they don't think an aria is being sung with the correct vibrato, or a tenor is performing with the appropriate vim.

And, five months before he takes the reins at Milan, Pereira has moved to quash the enemies within, in effect telling them, albeit in the eloquent, peacemaking words befitting of the world's most famous opera house, to shut up if they know what's good for them.

"I have at my disposition the best [singers], but many do not want to perform on the stage at La Scala because they are intimidated, if not frightened to death," he told more than 100 members of the Friends of the Loggione association at a closed-doors meeting on Wednesday, the Corriere della Sera reported. "We can no longer allow this," he was quoted as adding. "Other opera houses are emerging and attacking our supremacy."

In December, at the theatre's gala season opener, an eclectic production of La Traviata, the catcallers showed their full force, booing during parts of the curtain call and prompting the Polish tenor Piotr Beczala to declare it was his last production at La Scala. Previously, the tenor Roberto Alagna, soprano Katia Ricciarelli and even the late, great Luciano Pavarotti have suffered at the hands of the vociferous aficionados.

Their treatment – and its ramifications on La Scala's ability to draw the best talent – appears to be uppermost in Pereira's mind as he prepares to take over from Stéphane Lissner in September. "The audience of La Scala has always been dangerous, but it is now more than ever. And the result is that in the rest of the world they say: they're crazy; it's not worth coming here," he reportedly told the loggionisti.

"But if we work together we can fix the situation, which for me is the real problem at the moment. More difficult than finding money or singers."

Many at the meeting distanced themselves from the rabble-rousers. Gino Vezzini, the association's president, told the Guardian that the troublemakers were just "fringe elements" whose booing and hissing were inappropriate and "out-of-place".

"We reserve the right to be reactive spectators," he said, but added that it was preferable and possibly more effective for audience members confronted with an abysmal performance to remain silent and not clap than to express their displeasure through jeers and whistles.

The Vienna-born Pereira, 66, who is currently artistic director of the Salzburg Festival, said he wanted a new era of generosity and courtesy at the 236-year-old theatre in which singers, especially young ones, were treated respectfully.

"I will ask 100% and more of every artist," he promised. "But even Pavarotti, on occasion, had below average evenings." He admitted that the protesters were "the thing that scares [me] the most".

One man, however, who is apparently not deterred is Antonio Pappano, the British conductor and music director of the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, who will bring Berlioz's epic Les Troyens to La Scala next month.

"Who isn't afraid of them?" he was quoted as telling Corriere. "But life is too short to waste time thinking about these things. I am a worker. I do my work, and I hope it will be appreciated."


Lizzy Davies in Rome

The GuardianTramp

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