Being booed and heckled has long been part of the game for singers at La Scala.
Roberto Alagna, Renee Fleming, even Luciano Pavarotti have all been subject to the antics of the loggionisti, the rowdy traditionalists who sit in the uppermost balcony of the Milan opera house and make their feelings about performances known loud and clear.
But Alexander Pereira, who becomes La Scala’s new director on October 1, wants to silence the “hissing hooligans,” as the merciless loggionisti are known in the Italian media.
"I have at my disposition the best [singers], but many do not want to perform at La Scala because they are intimidated, if not frightened to death," Pereira told more than 100 members of the Friends of the Loggione association at a closed-doors meeting on Wednesday, the Milan newspaper Corriere della Sera reported.
"We can no longer allow this," Pereira was quoted as saying. "Other opera houses are emerging and attacking our supremacy."
The loggionisti have been a longtime fixture at La Scala. In 2006, Alagna stormed off the stage during a performance of Aida, after his opening aria was vociferously booed (his understudy, Antonello Palombi, was hurried on-stage to complete the act with no time to change out of his jeans and shirt). The moment was posted on YouTube.
Fleming was booed in 1998 for adding extra trills to her arias in Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia, though she reportedly toughed it out and finished the night.
Yet things apparently came to a head in December when, during the gala season opener of La Traviata, the loggionisti booed during the curtain call over what they saw as a bastardized remake of a beloved classic. Piotr Beczala, the Polish tenor playing Alfredo, took to Facebook later that night to declare that it would be his last production at La Scala.
While some singers grudgingly accept the loggionisti, Pereira, who arrives from the Salzburg Festival, believes they are hurting La Scala's ability to draw the best talent.
"The audience of La Scala has always been dangerous, but it is now more than ever," he reportedly told the loggionisti. "And the result is that in the rest of the world they say: they're crazy; it's not worth coming here."
Weigh in: What do you think? Are the loggionisti rude or simply a colorful part of operatic tradition?