La Scala takes another step in artistic transition

MILAN (AP) — The Milanese opera house La Scala took another step in its artistic and managerial transition on Tuesday by confirming that Riccardo Chailly will be its new musical director, replacing Daniel Barenboim.

Chailly, 60, currently conductor of the Gewandhaus Symphony Orchestra in Leipzig, will be La Scala's principal conductor from 2015 before becoming musical director in 2017. Due to previous commitments, Chailly can only conduct three operas and two concert runs during the first two years of his La Scala tenure, not a sufficient presence for the musical director title, La Scala spokesman Carlo Maria Cella said by telephone.

"Originally Barenboim was going to be in the position until 2017," Cella said. But Barenboim, 71, announced recently that he would leave two years early to pursue many other projects. The confirmation of Chailly's new role comes just months after the opera house announced a change of management, which has been pushed ahead to next summer from 2015.

General manager Stephane Lissner oversaw his last gala premiere, "La Traviata," on Saturday ahead of his August departure for the Paris Opera. He is being replaced by Alexander Pereira, the director of the Salzburg Festival, who has indicated he wanted an Italian to be musical director.

Chailly is a native of Milan who made his La Scala premiere in 1978, and he has appeared frequently since with La Scala's Philharmonic. In 2006, he conducted the gala season opener of "Aida," directed by Franco Zefirelli.

Chailly has been conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig since 2005, and earlier this year he extended his collaboration until June 2020. The Gewandhaus website posted a message of congratulations to Chailly, noting that he will keep his Leipzig commitments alongside "his additional duties in Milan."

He was previously musical director of the Giuseppe Verdi Symphonic Orchestra of Milan and has conducted many of the world's major orchestras from New York to London and Vienna to Berlin. Giancarlo Albori, representing the CGIL union at La Scala, welcomed confirmation of Chailly's role, which has been widely reported for weeks but only confirmed Tuesday.

"It's not everything, although it doesn't hurt, that Maestro Chailly is Italian and from Milan," Albori said by telephone. "These are two nice things, but above all he has an extremely high artistic level."

Still, Albori expressed concern about the future of La Scala, a public theater that relies on funding from the Italian state, Lombard region and city of Milan. Lissner trimmed the program this season due to unexpected budget cuts.

Albori dismissed as "nonsense" heightened expectations that Pereira's managerial experience, including as salesman before entering the world of classical music, would transform the theater into a wholly self-funding enterprise.

He cited La Scala's historic role as a public theater in postwar Italy, which has made it one of the country's most prestigious institutions and "an international vehicle for our language." Albori said Chailly's and Pereira's artistic program will be key to securing the theater's future. They are to outline it at a news conference next week.

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