Rome Opera dismisses 182 employees

First dismissal of its kind in history of Italian opera

Rome's Opera House sent dismissal notices to 182 of its orchestra and choir in an unprecendented move that has been backed by the theatre's management and the mayor of Rome Ignazio Marino.

The opera house's board of directors has approved measures to outsource an external orchestra, which would no longer be on the official internal pay role but would be engaged as and when necessary.

The dismissal will lead to 182 of the 460 employees being laid off, with estimated savings at €3.4 million. The theatre's superintendent Carlo Fuortes, who assumed his role less than a year ago, said he hoped that at least a portion of the orchestra and chorus could form a "new entity" and work again with the opera house in a new capacity from 1 January.

Fuortes said the dismissal has been "hard and painful" but he believed it was "the only way to prevent closure." His comments were echoed by the culture minister Dario Franceschini who described the measures as “necessary for the survival” of the opera house.

The dismissal of the orchestra comes just ten days after the abrupt departure of the opera's acclaimed conductor Riccardo Muti. It also follows strikes by employees at the annual open-air opera festival at the Baths of Caracalla over the theatre's cost-saving plans.

Fials-Cisal union leader Marco Piazzai has described the mass sacking on 2 October as "unjustified and discriminatory” and suggested that Muti quit because he saw the writing on the wall.

Fuortes has defended the move, saying that artists are not covered by Article 18 of the 1970 Workers Statute protecting workers from unfair dismissal. "Opera orchestras are made up of artists, not factory workers or employees," Fuortes said. Article 18 is one the sections of Italy's labour law that the government of Matteo Renzi is hoping to abolish, although it is coming under fierce opposition from left-wing politicians and from the country's union federations.

During the last few months the financially-troubled opera house has been attempting to introduce a restructuring and salvage plan to avert liquidation but the proposals have met with constant opposition from trade unions representing its workers. There is no precedent for dismissing an orchestra and chorus in a modern Italian opera house.