Conductor appeals to protect Italian culture

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Conductor appeals to protect Italian culture

MILAN - Daniel Barenboim appealed to Italy’s president to protect the country’s cultural institutions from planned budget cuts in unprecedented remarks before raising the baton on Richard Wagner’s “Die Walkuere” for La Scala’s gala season premiere Tuesday.

La Scala’s exacting audience - filled for the season premiere with leading political, cultural and business figures - showered Barenboim, the singers and director Guy Cassiers with 14 minutes of applause and flowers after the performance.

But ire over the government spending cuts, not only to cultural activities but also to higher education, spilled over into the piazza outside, where students clashed with police swinging clubs. Smoke bombs and tear gas were lobbed during the clash, and police reported 14 officers suffered minor injuries.

Hundreds of opera house workers from Genoa, Rome, Florence and elsewhere protested peacefully nearby as VIPs arrived for the social event of the Milanese season.

Inside, Barenboim, who has the unofficial title of principal guest conductor of La Scala, appealed to President Giorgio Napolitano, sitting in the royal box, to invoke protection of Italy’s cultural assets as called for in the country’s constitution.

“For that title, and also in the names of the colleagues who play, sing, dance and work, not only here but in all of the theaters, I am here to tell you at what point we are deeply worried for the future of culture in the country and in Europe,” Barenboim said, addressing the head of state, who was flanked by Milan’s mayor.

The theater erupted in applause, with Napolitano joining in. Opera house officials say the government plans to slash 5 million euros ($6.64 million) from La Scala’s budget in 2010 and possibly twice that next year.

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