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La Scala ousts general director after 1st season in latest melodrama to roil opera house

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MILAN - The board of La Scala voted Thursday to oust its incoming general director at the end of his first season in the latest behind-the-scenes melodrama to roil the fabled opera house.

Salzburg Festival director Alexander Pereira had been brought on for five seasons, but the board voted to oust him after the upcoming 2014-2015 season amid allegations of a conflict of interest.

La Scala board chairman Giuliano Pisapia, who is also Milan's mayor, said Pereira overreached his powers by making a deal for La Scala to buy four operas from the Salzburg Festival, where he is still director, before officially assuming his role at La Scala on Oct. 1.

"Pereira without a doubt went beyond his powers," Pisapia told reporters.

Pereira, who spent two decades at the Zurich Opera before heading to Salzburg in 2011, has said he was following common practices for European theatres.

Not since Ricardo Muti was pushed out as musical director in a worker mutiny nearly a decade ago has there been so much turmoil in La Scala's ranks. The controversy risks damaging La Scala's prestige just as Milan prepares to host Expo 2015, the world fair that will feature a concert series at La Scala.

Pereira's curtailed tenure could have consequences for La Scala's musical direction. Pereira had already brought on Riccardo Chailly, replacing Daniel Barenboim in the role of musical director. Barenboim bowed out two years early to make way for Pereira's choice.

Pereira, 66, was named last June to replace Frenchman Stephan Lissner, who departs Sept. 1 for the Paris Opera after nine seasons at La Scala. Pereira, sought after for his business acumen and fundraising ability, has been working at La Scala in the intervening period, as Lissner has been working on his own transition into the Paris Opera.

The La Scala board on Thursday sent Pereira a letter outlining its terms: that he direct the upcoming season that opens Dec. 7, and immediately signs a resignation letter effective Dec. 31, 2015. He must also agree to run any financial decision, including contracts with artists and deals with other opera houses, by the board.

Pereira has not yet responded to the letter.

"It was the only possible and practical solution to avoid a disaster at our La Scala," Pisapia said. The opera house wants to both maintain the 2014-2015 season, devoted to the Expo, "at the highest level" while avoiding possible litigation if they had moved to oust Pereira immediately, he said.

Programs at opera houses are typically laid out years in advance to secure singers and conductors, whose schedules fill up. It isn't uncommon for incoming general managers to be discussing possible runs with artists for future seasons before they actually take over.

However, the terms of Pereira's La Scala deal stipulated he could only make contacts, not reach deals, before taking full power.

After Muti's contentious departure, the opera house, which was home to Giuseppe Verdi and Arturo Toscanini, enjoyed a period of relative calm under Lissner, who nudged Barenboim into the role of musical director and diversified the repertoire while balancing the budget ever year.

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