A special autonomous status –granted by law to lyric foundations that can meet stringent artistic and financial standards – could be reached, so far, only by La Scala (Milan) and Santa Cecilia Academy (Rome).
7.3 Status and partnerships of public cultural institutions
The first and most far reaching reform in the juridical and administrative status undergone by major cultural institutions has been the above mentioned reform ( chapter 5.3.2) of the thirteen 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. 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 private "lyric foundations", 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 - although formally transformed into foundations - the actual development of public-private partnerships turned out to be far more complex and problematic than expected, especially for the lyric foundations located south of Rome, in the economically less prosperous "Mezzogiorno" (Southern Italy).
As most of the financial burden of the lyric foundations is still covered by tax revenue, the 15% decrease in state allocations – from 259 to 219 million EUR in nominal terms between 2001 and 2011 – on the one hand, and the constant rise, on the other, 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" (only 3% of Italian citizens attended a lyric performance in 2006, according to the latest Istat data), and to make its paramount costs more acceptable to a national community strained by a difficult economic crisis, a first step towards a financial rationalisation was undertaken in April 2010.
Leg decree 64/2010 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 within one year (this deadline has been subsequently delayed to the end of 2012). 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. Such prerequisites are quite stringent, and they can be summed up as follows: 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 first has been, in February 2012, the Santa Cecilia Academy of Rome (the only Italian national orchestra), followed in April by La Scala.
Most of the other theatres are in, more or less, bad shape, so much so that several of them – when on the verge of bankruptcy – have been put under the administration of external commissioners: in recent years, this has been the case with Teatro Carlo Felice (Genoa), Maggio Fiorentino, Teatro S. Carlo (Naples)… and is presently the case with Teatro Petruzzelli (Bari).
It is general opinion that reforming financially the opera houses' foundations and amending their excessively indulgent labour contracts – as recognised in the recent legislation described above – is needed, but not sufficient. The whole range of issues raised by the Italian opera system, including all its institutional, managerial, organisational, social and artistic aspects, is actually in need of reform and new solutions, in order to boost the quite inadequate cultural and economic productivity of the lyric foundations and, more generally, of the opera system as a whole. Even more so, its extremely high costs can be justified only by increasing its social outreach.