The Italian Almanac

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Italian News - November 14

Opera lovers in Italy this season may notice something different about the performers. Many of them are looking distinctly svelte after going on hunger strike to protest about proposed cuts to the country's arts budget. Living on only water, fruit juice and coffee, singers' weights have shrunk.

Barbara Vignudelli, a soprano at the famed La Scala opera house in Milan, has had no solid food for two weeks. 'I feel OK, but I'm dreaming of a mortadella sandwich,' she said. 'I'm doing this to try to shame our politicians. We have one of the most important cultural heritages in the world - it will be a disaster for Italy if these cuts are implemented.' Vignudelli has lost 13lb. 'I am a person who is healthy and takes care of herself, so to do this is difficult,' she said. 'But it shows how strongly I feel.'

In Turin nine members of the local opera have been drinking only coffee and employees of opera houses in Bologna and Catania have also joined in the protest. Other participants in the rotational fasting include orchestral musicians and conductors, presidents of theatres and the artistic directors of many of Italy's cultural associations.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's coalition government has proposed a 35 per cent cut to state funding for the arts - from 464 million to 300m - in the 2006 budget as part of financial measures aimed at reducing Italy's annual deficit, which is above levels permitted by the EU. The proposal has caused outrage. Critics say it could force Italy's 13 opera houses to cut performances and that some of the smaller historic theatres, heavily dependent on government subsidies, may have to close.