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Rome Opera in 2016 - which has seen improvements in earned income, outreach, as well as artistic excellence and innovation - is a positive example of a sound management  of the reforms of the lyric foundations.

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Italy/ 7. Public institutions in cultural infrastructure  

7.3 Status and partnerships of public cultural institutions

The first and most far reaching reform in the juridical and administrative status aimed at a modernisation of major cultural institutions in the 1990s has been the above mentioned reform (see  chapter 5.3.2) of the fourteen main public opera houses (Enti autonomi lirici) - including La Scala in Milan, the Rome Opera, La Fenice in Venice, the Maggio Fiorentino, the S. Carlo in Naples, etc. – and the only national orchestra: the Accademia di S. Cecilia, previously regulated by Law 800/1965. The reform was deemed necessary for rationalising the exceeding costs of such privileged institutions, amounting to as much as half of the total state expenditure for the performing arts and the film industry. Leg. Decrees 367/1996 and 134/1998 were thus aimed at transforming the opera houses into more flexible "lyric foundations" with a private status, possibly able to attract private capital for up to 40% of their endowment through fiscal incentives. However, only La Scala was able to immediately obtain the required private support: for the other opera houses, formally transformed into foundations, the actual development of public-private partnerships turned out to be far more problematic than expected, especially for the lyric foundations located south of Rome, in the economically less prosperous "Mezzogiorno".

As most of the financial burden of the lyric foundations is still covered by tax revenue, the 29% decrease in state allocations from 250 to 183 million EUR between 2008 and 2013, matched by the constant rise in fixed costs (mostly absorbed by salaries) is getting more and more unsustainable, urgently calling for action. To prevent the collapse of such a relevant component of Italian musical life - presently still mainly benefiting the "happy few", as only 3% of Italian citizens attended a lyric performance in 2006 (Istat, Time budget survey) - and to make its paramount costs more socially acceptable during an economic recession, a first step towards a financial rationalisation was undertaken in 2010.

Law n. 100/2010 was actually trying to cope with the precarious situation of the lyric foundations mainly by containing the dynamic of rising salaries and by calling for a deep revision of the foundations' national labour contract. The decree also foresaw the possibility to grant, upon request, a special autonomous status – allowing more freedom in decision-making and the adoption of labour contracts differing from the national one –to those foundations presenting a number of given prerequisites, later more precisely defined by Presidential Decree 117/2011: special international relevance, high level of artistic productivity, balanced budgets at least in four of the five years preceding the request for autonomous status, earned income equal to not less than 40% of the amount of state contributions, substantial amount of private financing.

No wonder that, for the time being, only two of the lyric foundations have been able to attain such, much yearned for, autonomous status: the Santa Cecilia Academy of Rome (the only Italian national orchestra), subsequently followed by La Scala. Most of the other theatres are in more or less bad shape, so much so that many of them have been put, one after the other, under the administration of external commissioners: in recent years this has been the case, among other, with Teatro Carlo Felice (Genoa), Teatro S. Carlo (Naples), the Rome Opera, Maggio Fiorentino (Florence) and Teatro Petruzzelli (Bari).

To deal with this extremely precarious situation, which threatens what is considered the cornerstone of Italian musical life, in June 2013 Minister Bray called for the institution of a technical, "emergency" panel to urgently discuss institutional and economic ways of dealing with the crisis. The result was the adoption, within Law 112/2013, ofmeasures aimed at the re launch of the lyric foundations system as a whole through a huge set of rules concerning the reform of their statutes and of the criteria of allocation of state subsidies, taking into account the plurality of funding sources, productivity and co-productions, the need to foster creativity and artistic innovation, along with an improved territorial and social outreach. Furthermore, additional emergency measures were added for the recovery and restructuring of the lyric foundations on the verge of bankruptcy, through the creation of an ad hoc Fund of 75 million EUR for the year 2014, operated by a new, extraordinary commissioner. To get access to this fund the foundations had to draft a restructuring plan for balancing their budget within the subsequent three years, also by reducing their technical administrative personnel and by modifying their excessively indulgent additional labour contracts.

Although this emergency measure had been drafted by the Ministry having in mind a couple of the lyric foundations, it happened, unexpectedly, that eight of them, still on the verge of bankruptcy, applied for the rescue….As a consequence, on one hand, Law 106/2014 had to providefor an increase in the Fund of an additional 50 million EUR for the year 2014, while on the other hand a wave of social unrest resulting from the harsh conditions blew down on some of the foundations, recently culminating with a rebellion, and a subsequent collective dismissal of all the musicians of the Rome Opera orchestra.

Thanks to the firmness of a brilliant sovrintendente, Carlo Fuortes, this arm wrestling finally had a happy ending in early 2015, with the re-employment of the musicians after their surrender and acceptance of modifying their loose additional labour contracts in order to improve their – previously quite low- productivity rate (their average yearly working time having been estimated at only 125 days).

No wonder if in 2016 the presently very well managed Rome Opera is at the forefront of our lyric foundations for earned income, outreach, as well as artistic excellence and innovation.

Chapter published: 15-07-2016

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