But in the case of Saudi involvement, the mayor said, “discussions happened too quickly.” Mr. Pereira, he said, had “misunderstood the situation.”
Mr. Sala said that the process for joining the board was “complex” and that, in the case of the Saudi culture minister, had never been officially initiated. The Saudis sent three million euros and the money was placed in an escrow account until the board could vote on their membership. The board rejected it on Monday.
“We decided we don’t need other board members, the group is fine as is,” Mr. Sala said in a telephone interview.
The mayor did, however, appear to leave the door a little open.
“It’s true that there is no intention to have Saudis on the board,” he said, “but that doesn’t mean that there is a diktat against the Saudis, that we’re not open to other forms of collaboration.”
Mr. Pereira declined to be interviewed, but Paolo Besana, the theater’s spokesman, confirmed that such substantial foreign investment would have been a first. “The theater’s statute allows for foreign members of the board,” he said, “but obviously this becomes more delicate if the member is a foreign state.”
Mr. Besana said that the opening of the conservatory in Saudi Arabia had been placed on hold but that the organization of the summer tours there was continuing.
Italy’s culture minister, Alberto Bonisoli, was among those expressing concerns about the presence of a “representative of a foreign government on the board of a cultural institution.” He said it could give rise to diplomatic crises should problems arise within the board, requiring ministerial oversight, his spokesman, Giorgio Giorgi said.