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ROME - Rome's opera house on Friday defended hiring conductor Daniele Gatti, who was fired by an Amsterdam-based orchestra last summer over sexual misconduct allegations.
Teatro dell'Opera di Roma spokesman Renato Bossa said that the theater signed Gatti this week to a contract running through December 2021 as musical director because, in a country with "rule of law, one is innocent until a trial proves otherwise." Still, Bossa termed the allegations "certainly very grave."
Gatti has denied the allegations that triggered his firing by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.
He conducted the Rome opera house's season premiere, Giuseppe Verdi's "Rigoletto," earlier this week, the third straight year he has led the theater's season opener.
The Rome opera theater quoted Gatti as saying about his new role: "I am particularly happy to be able to intensify my work here and link myself to a theater that has recently distinguished itself for the outstanding quality of its projects and the work of all the people involved in realizing them."
But the theater announced the 57-year-old maestro had to skip Thursday's performance due to a heart arrhythmia. Playing a role in the health setback could also have been "the strong emotions" Gatti felt when the theater announced the signing to the audience on Tuesday, Bossa said.
He added that Gatti was feeling better and would conduct the orchestra, in the same Giuseppe Verdi work, on Sunday.
But separately, Gatti's personal spokesman, Paolo Cairoli, said that the conductor "due to health problems" was canceling several 2019 engagements in Germany as a precaution.
Engagements being scrapped include those with the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig on Feb. 21 and 22, and staged performances of Verdi's "Otello" with the Berlin Philharmonic at Baden-Baden in April followed by concert versions at Berlin's Philharmonie, along with a concert leading the German National Youth Orchestra.
"Maestro Gatti expresses all his regret and looks forward to future collaborations with all musical institutions involved," Cairoli said in a statement.
The Berlin Philharmonic announced that Zubin Mehta will replace Gatti for the "Otello" performances.
For several years, the Rome institution has been intent on improving its profile in a country where Milan's La Scala reigns supreme in the opera world. The theater suffered a hard blow a few years ago when conductor Riccardo Muti, weary of union disputes, abruptly ended his collaboration with Teatro dell'Opera di Roma.
The theater's top executive, Carlo Fuortes said that hiring Gatti "will complete our plan to revive the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma."
Fuortes lauded Gatti's "extraordinary artistic career" as well as the "reciprocal establishment of trust he has nurtured with the orchestra and the chorus."
Earlier this year, the Concertgebouw said ended its affiliation with Gatti as chief conductor in the wake of a Washington Post story in which the conductor was "accused of inappropriate behavior." It also cited reports from women who came forward after the article's publication. The orchestra said the developments "irreparably damaged the relationship of trust between the orchestra and the chief conductor."
Gatti's lawyer denounced the allegations as a "smear campaign" and said the maestro had asked his lawyers to "protect his reputation." Gatti had become the Dutch orchestra's chief conductor at the start of the 2016-2017 season.
The Milan-born Gatti has in the past been principal conductor of Rome's Orchestra Dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia and chief conductor of London's Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
Gatti was the third important conductor in the past year to lose his job over allegations of inappropriate behavior.
Charles Dutoit resigned as artistic director and principal conductor of the Royal Philharmonic after The Associated Press late last year reported sexual assault allegations against him. James Levine, music director emeritus of New York's Metropolitan Opera, was fired after the company said an investigation had found evidence of sexual abuse and harassment. Both men denied any improper behavior.
Associated Press Writer Ronald Blum in New York contributed to this report.
Frances D'Emilio is on twitter at www.twitter.com/fdemilio
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