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OPERA

‘A slap in the face for human rights’: Should La Scala take Saudi money?

A proposal to use €15 million in Saudi Arabian government funds for Milan's La Scala opera house came under fire on Tuesday because of anger over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

'A slap in the face for human rights': Should La Scala take Saudi money?
La Scala has arranged a deal to accept millions of euros from Saudi Arabia. Photo: Teatro alla Scala/AFP

The October killing of the Washington Post contributor in Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul sparked international outrage. Riyadh denies any involvement and says the killing was carried out by rogue agents.

In an interview on Tuesday in La Repubblica newspaper, La Scala director Alexander Pereira confirmed the historic theatre has negotiated a financing deal with the Saudi culture ministry. Pereira said the proposal was for a partnership of at least five years to raise €3 million a year.

READ ALSO: Italy to offer €2 opera tickets for 18-25 year olds

He said talks with Saudi officials were suggested by people close to regional Lombardy region president Attilio Fontana, a member of Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini's nationalist League party.

In December, at the start of the new La Scala season, Italian Culture Minister Alberto Bonisoli met with his Saudi counterpart, Prince Badr bin Abdullah. The Saudi minister might join the prestigious opera house's board, according to widespread Italian media reports.

The talks came under fire from opposition leaders.

“The idea that the Saudis will come into La Scala is a slap in the face for Milan over human rights,” said Antonio Panzeri, a European lawmaker from the main opposition Democratic Party.

READ ALSO: 'Piccola Scala': How Milan's theatre scene is experiencing a revival

“I understand the need to find funds, but we absolutely cannot allow one of the most prestigious symbols of Milan to collaborate with those who trample on rights and freedom every day in their own country.”

Forza Italia party lawmaker Maurizio Gasparri said the government has a duty to defend the “history and identity of La Scala”, asking Bonisoli to clarify the government's position.

Theatre director Pereira said he had followed the Khashoggi case “with dread” and was aware of the “despotic” nature of the Saudi regime. But he said he was convinced of the “positive force of music”.

“Prince Badr is very determined,” he said. “He could finance the Scala privately or redirect his proposal elsewhere.” 

READ ALSO: 'It's incredible to lead an orchestra in Italy, the place where music was born'


Photo: Marcello Orselli
 

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CULTURE

Why Friday the 13th isn’t an unlucky date in Italy

Unlucky for some, but not for Italians. Here's why today's date isn't a cause for concern in Italy - but Friday the 17th is.

Why Friday the 13th isn't an unlucky date in Italy

When Friday the 13th rolls around, many of us from English-speaking countries might reconsider any risky plans. And it’s not exactly a popular date for weddings in much of the western world.

But if you’re in Italy, you don’t need to worry about it.

There’s no shortage of strongly-held superstitions in Italian culture, particularly in the south. But the idea of Friday the 13th being an inauspicious date is not among them.

Though the ‘unlucky 13’ concept is not unknown in Italy – likely thanks to the influence of American film and TV – here the number is in fact usually seen as good luck, if anything.

The number 17, however, is viewed with suspicion and Friday the 17th instead is seen as the unlucky date to beware of.

Just as some Western airlines avoid including the 13th row on planes, you might find number 17 omitted on Italian planes, street numbering, hotel floors, and so on – so even if you’re not the superstitious type, it’s handy to be aware of.

The reason for this is thought to be because in Roman numerals the number 17 (XVII) is an anagram of the Latin word VIXI, meaning ‘I have lived’: the use of the past tense apparently suggests death, and therefore bad luck. It’s less clear what’s so inauspicious about Friday.

So don’t be surprised if, next time Friday 17th rolls around, you notice some Italian shops and offices closed per scaramanzia’.

But why then does 13 often have a positive connotation in Italy instead?

You may not be too surprised to learn that it’s because of football.

Ever heard of Totocalcio? It’s a football pools betting system in which players long tried to predict the results of 13 different matches.

There were triumphant calls of ho fatto tredici! – ‘I’ve done thirteen’ – among those who got them all right. The popular expression soon became used in other contexts to mean ‘I hit the jackpot’ or ‘that was a stroke of luck!’

From 2004, the number of games included in Totocalcio rose to 14, but you may still hear winners shout ‘ho fatto tredici’ regardless.

Other common Italian superstitions include touching iron (not wood) for good luck, not toasting with water, and never pouring wine with your left hand.

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