La Scala's catcalling loggionisti continue their restiveness

Roberto Alagna pulls out of Jules Massenet's Werther, blaming the opera house's vociferous upper gallery

In 2006, the Franco-Sicilian opera divo Roberto Alagna had one of the most infamous tantrums in musical history when he stormed off stage at La Scala during a production of Aida. The cause? A handful of boos from the cheap seats where the opera house's purists sit in judgment. Alagna later described the hostility of the so-called loggionisti as a humiliating "death blow" which had left him broken-hearted. He has never been back.

That was supposed to change this season, under the stewardship of Alexander Pereira, the new general manager of La Scala who is all too aware of the potential of the loggionisti to scare aware talent, remarking in March that they were "the thing that scares [me] most" about taking over the reins of the world's most famous opera house.

Now, though, the so-called hissing hooligans have struck again.

Alagna, who was to return to the Milan theatre in November in a production of Jules Massenet's Werther, has pulled out, blaming the continuing restiveness of the upper gallery and admitting it was "beyond [his] strength" to take them on again.

In a statement reported in the Italian media, Alagna, 51, said he had spent two weeks in Milan in July and had been dismayed by what he found. "During my stay in Milan, I could see that all the artists and staff of the theatre, and the loggionisti, did indeed give me a warm welcome," he reportedly said.

"However, I also attended all the performances given at La Scala in that fortnight. All of them were catcalled. I was saddened and shaken. In these conditions, it seemed to me beyond my strength to confront once again so much tension."

The return of Alagna, whose marriage to the world-famous Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu ended last year in an acrimonious split that brought a close to opera's most colourful power couple, was to have marked a coup for Pereira, who officially started in Milan on 1 September.

A statement from La Scala said he had been saddened by the decision, effectively appealing – not for the first time – to the loggionisti to restrain themselves for the sake of the opera house. The former artistic director of the Salzburg festival was quoted as asking "whoever wants to express a legitimate dissatisfaction with artistic choices to remain respectful towards the artists, the theatre and the other spectators".

He added: "It is only by helping, with generosity, the artists to overcome their fear of treading the boards of the Piermarini [La Scala] that the quality of the performances can be improved."

The news was greeted with a shrug by Gino Vezzini, president of the Amici del Loggione (Friends of the Gallery) association, who dismissed Alagna's reaction as "infantile", La Repubblica reported.

"I don't think that in July there were many protests and anyway a serious artist must do his best," he was quoted as saying, while admitted that the behaviour of "a few" loggionisti spoiled things for the rest of them.

Alagna is far from the only singer to have suffered an ego blow at the hands of the vociferous fans in the eaves. In December last year, Polish tenor Piotr Beczala declared he would never sing in Italy again after he was booed, although he consequently said he would honour his contract with the 236-year-old theatre. Not even Luciano Pavarotti escaped: in 1992, his performance of Verdi's Don Carlo was booed.


Lizzy Davies in Rome

The GuardianTramp

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