Pereira Resigns as Head of Maggio Theatre
Alexander Pereira, the superintendent of Florence’s Maggio Musicale Theater (Teatro del Maggio), resigned Monday, Feb. 27 amidst an ongoing fraud investigation. His resignation was accepted by Mayor Dario Nardella on Feb. 28, who confirmed that Pereira would stay in his position for 30 days until a successor could be found, while acknowledging his positive contributions to the theater.
Alexander Pereira has been the head of the opera house since August 2019, when it was 57 million euros in debt. Since then, Pereira has managed to bring in 9.7 million euros in sponsorship deals and is responsible for a 1.2 million gross increase at the ticket office in the first four months of 2023, thanks to his expertise.
“I’m sorry that after having worked for so many years in the great theaters in Vienna, Zurich, Salzburg and Milan, this experience in Florence has become so sad that I no longer feel like continuing it,” said Pereira.
The news of Pereira’s fraud investigation was delivered by none other than himself at the end of a Maggio Musicale Steering Committee meeting on Jan. 30, after receiving a notice of investigation on Jan. 27 for costs incurred by him charged to the Maggio Theater. Pereira and his lawyer, Sigfrido Fenyes, were invited to appear at the prosecutor’s office on Feb. 9.
“I have received the notice of investigation from the Florence Public Prosecutor’s Office with which I am informed of possible charges against me,” said Pereira. “I will reiterate and clarify to the judicial authority what I have always argued, including the control committee of the Municipality of Florence and the college of the auditors of the Foundation, namely that these are all expenses linked and necessary to the exercise of my mandate as superintendent and artistic director of the Maggio Musicale Theater.”
Pereira explained to prosecutor Christine von Borries — who is conducting the investigation — that the charges made on the company credit card were for the success of the institution. It has been discovered that the same prosecutor’s office has asked to put an interdiction in place for Pereira, but it won’t be decided on until after the investigation has concluded. A second crime has also been hypothesized: embezzlement relating to the use of 8.5 million euros, for employee salaries, out of the 35-million-euro supplement given to the Maggio Theater by the government to overcome its 50-million-euro debt.
Prior to January, eyes were turned to the superintendent in May of 2022 after politicians questioned his 2021 spending of 60,000 euros. Flights, taxis, restaurants, greengrocers (shops that sell produce), butchers, and fishmongers (shops that sell seafood) were among some of the places Pereira purchased items with the company credit card, which racked up an enormous bill.
“I’m not a fraudster. They called me saying that I was the only one who could save this theater, which had 50 million euro worth of debt,” said Pereira, in front of the Control Commission of Palazzo Vecchio (Florence City Hall). “To reduce this debt, which has now reached 52 million, I have to set aside 3 and a half million a year. I was scared when I accepted: but I brought 7 and a half million sponsors here in 2021, and when I arrived there were 2 and a half million.”
Purchases Pereira made were publicly disclosed, which included spending 48 euros at a pastry shop, 1,507 euros at a restaurant in Ibiza, 50 euros at a fishmonger, and 3,800 euros at an auction house. Due to his actions, Francesco Torselli and Alessandro Draghi, respectively of the Tuscan regional council and Florence city council, made a statement encouraging Pereira to decide whether to step down as superintendent, as they had done all in their power to de-escalate the situation.
Meanwhile, Mayor Dario Nardella, who appointed Pereira for the job, expressed gratitude towards the superintendent – thanking him for making a responsible decision that expressed his true passion and sensitivity for the theater.
“This difficult decision of yours does not affect the absolutely positive judgment on the significant work carried out in these difficult years marked by Covid, during which Pereira effectively relaunched the artistic programming of the Maggio Musicale Theater,” said Nardella.
Despite the disarray surrounding the superintendent, he did achieve many things during his time at the Maggio. In his letter of resignation, he highlights the successes of his term while also touching on the unpleasant.
“We opened the Sala Mehta by staging the opera Fidelio with Zubin Mehta, we won the Abbiati prize with the Return of Ulisse in Patria directed by Robert Carsen, which the theater hadn’t won for 17 years, and also the opening of the Sala Grande with Don Carlo directed by Daniele Gatti and the premiere of Doktor Faust directed by Davide Livermore, viewed by more than 100 critics and journalists from all over the world,” said Pereira.
Alternatively, after the start of the pandemic in March 2020, making a profit at the opera house became difficult; there were no guests, and it was challenging to obtain sponsors. Pereira said Florence is not a giving city, and the only means to make the theater come to life was to utilize his international network. He added that his trips abroad were solely for business in order to secure sponsors, and if he hadn’t done so the Maggio would have collapsed.
The superintendent’s term took a toll on his personal health. 2022 came with its own obstacles, and the Ukraine war escalated bills and infrastructure costs. Pereira revealed the true reason he resigned is because of the constant attacks he had to endure from individuals inside and outside the theater, especially from the press. Subsequently, the stress of the job caused him to lose 20 kilos (over 40 lbs.), throwing him into a health crisis in early December of last year.
“I want to thank everyone who gave me their love and artistic enthusiasm to create this beautiful theater, which could be one of the best in the world with the right support it deserves,” said Pereira, in the closing statement of his resignation letter. (Parker Hurley)