It was reported by the Guardian yesterday (17th December 2014) that the famous Milan opera house, La Scala, has introduced a 5 minute grace period to allow latecomers to take their seats, not because it disrupts the performance, but because they are becoming increasingly angry at the ushers. In practice, this will mean that the performance will start 5 minutes later than the scheduled time. La Scala is well known for being strict about latecomers, with some audience members having to wait for up to 85 minutes for an appropriate break to slip in. Indeed, the Guardian notes that the only known exception was in 1972 when Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were 10 minutes late for the opening night of Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera. Paolo Grassi, the head of opera at the time, commented about the incident that ‘late arrivals at La Scala are not allowed.’
Sure, if someone has bought a ticket to one of the most prestigious opera venues in the world, one can understand why they would want to ensure they had the full experience: the lights dimming, the anticipation in the air, the first notes of the overture and the curtain finally rising. But, VIP or not, is this really an excuse for aggression towards employees? I’m not sure ‘excuse’ and ‘aggression’ should ever be in the same sentence. The Royal Opera House advises those attending to arrive 30 minutes before the performance begins and, as in most venues, provides 10 minute, 5 minute and 2 minute warnings until the start. With all this information, it is not the ushers’ fault that someone is late. Equally, if you had secured a highly in demand La Scala ticket, one would assume you would ensure you arrived on time? With circumstances beyond our control such as the weather or traffic, it may not even be the latecomer’s fault, but that is still no reason for rudeness.
Furthermore, if opera goers are aware of this grace period, it runs the risk of not eliminating the problem but merely delays the problem five minutes later than before. On the other hand, as one commenter (ID2665677) on the article points out, the first 5 minutes are often taken up by the entrance of the orchestra and tuning up anyway so, in this case, where is the harm in allowing admissions during this time?
If the new measures do stop ushers from being made to feel uncomfortable then it has my blessing, it’s just sad that it is necessary.
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