Italy’s La Scala opera house is to return more than €3m to Saudi Arabia after a funding plan with the kingdom triggered a public backlash.
The deal would have allowed the Saudi culture minister a seat on the board. Saudi Arabia’s human rights record is under close scrutiny after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October.
The partnership plan was criticised by rights groups and politicians.
“We have unanimously decided to return the money,” opera house president Giuseppe Sala, who is also the mayor of Milan, told reporters after a board meeting on Monday. “We’ll go back to scratch today. We’ll see if there are other opportunities for collaboration.”
The €3m already delivered was part of a proposed €15m five-year partnership proposal with the Saudi culture ministry. But the plan drew widespread criticism, including from members of Italy’s governing League party.
League leader and deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini urged the opera house to scrap the deal while the governor of the Lombardy region, who is also a League member, demanded the opera’s artistic director, Alexander Pereira, be sacked.
There has been no comment so far from Saudi officials.
Saudi Arabia has blamed the killing of Jamal Khashoggi on rogue agents and denied claims that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had any knowledge of the operation.