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Opera Scandal Erupts in Italy as Berlusconi Plots Comeback

Only in Italy could a government crisis get mixed up in the politics of opera.

The Financial Times has been all over an ongoing spat at Milan’s renowned opera house, La Scala. To sum up the situation, next year is the bicentennial of arguably the two greatest names in opera: Wagner and Verdi. La Scala, which is something akin to Verdi’s home field, if opera were a sport, has infuriated some Italian opera lovers by opening the bicentennial season with Wagner rather than Verdi, the homegrown hero.

That probably wouldn’t be too big of a deal, even among Italian opera fans, except that German-imposed austerity has been getting on Italians’ nerves lately. German pressure is widely credited with forcing Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi out and replacing him with the more pliable (if canny and cunning) technocrat Mario Monti.

Monti meanwhile announced, as he was leaving Rome for the opening gala at La Scala, that parliament will be dissolved, since Berlusconi has now pulled his party out of the coalition backing the government. Elections are expected in March, and Berlusconi will be a candidate for prime minister.

Berlusconi, though he would make an excellent character in an opera, is more of a soccer fan; he likes the game so much he bought AC Milan. Even in Italy there are more soccer fans than opera buffs, so the cultural politics are pretty clear.

In the polls now, Berlusconi’s party is far behind the center-left and not-so-center-left coalition. But old as he is, and burdened by “bunga-bunga” scandals and his recent governments’ lack of accomplishments, Berlusconi may still have enough political magic to make the campaign interesting—especially as there are signs he will run on an anti-Germany, anti-austerity platform. Being anti-German won’t be difficult for Berlusconi: he was widely reported to have described Chancellor Merkel in a rather ungallant way. The closest we can come to revealing what he said at Via Meadia is to say that he called her “untruckable.” She would not be happy to see him back in power.

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