Allegations hit Italy’s top conservatoire as professors accused of taking bribes from prospective students

13 February 2023, 13:52 | Updated: 13 February 2023, 14:14

Conservatorio Milano
Conservatorio Milano. Picture: Wikimedia Commons

By Sophia Alexandra Hall

The largest conservatoire in Italy has come under fire for an alleged bribery scandal involving the vocal department.

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At least three singing teachers at the Milan Conservatoire in Italy are under investigation for allegedly taking bribes from prospective students, allowing at least two students a guaranteed ‘pass’ in the admissions exam.

The conservatoire, named after famed Italian opera composer, Giuseppe Verdi, is the largest in the country, with a total enrolment of 1,500 students.

The allegations stem from a report made several months ago, which revealed some students were paying tens-of-thousands of euros to be admitted into the conservatoire’s prestigious opera course. The case is now being investigated by the Milan Public Prosecutor's Office.

Last Wednesday, 8 February 2023, the homes of seven teachers and ten students were raided by Italian law enforcement, who found a total of €110,000 (£97,130) in cash – including €50,000 (£44,150) in the home of just one professor. Of the 17 raided, three of the teachers and two of the students are currently under investigation.

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An empty concert hall stage at the Conservatorio in Milan
An empty concert hall stage at the Conservatorio in Milan. Picture: Alamy

These two students were admitted in 2021, a year in which the conservatoire’s practical tests were carried out in the form of video recordings due to the worldwide and national spread of COVID-19 at the time.

Investigators at the Guardia di Finanza, Italy’s law enforcement agency responsible for dealing with financial crime, have hypothesised that the money was used by the students’ families in order to win favour with the three teachers, who are part of the selection committee for the vocal programme at the conservatoire.

Entry to the prestigious music school is very competitive, and only around a third of the university’s applicants get accepted. The world-renowned vocal department has a particularly low acceptance rate.

Founded in 1807, the conservatoire has an impressive host of alumni, including composers Ludovico Einaudi and Giacomo Puccini, conductor Riccardo Muti, and soprano Barbara Frittoli. It is now named after legendary Italian opera composer Verdi, despite Verdi actually having been rejected from the conservatoire when auditioning as a student in 1832.

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The Milan school is named after Italian composer Verdi, despite Verdi having been rejected from the conservatoire
The Milan school is named after Italian composer Verdi, despite Verdi having been rejected from the conservatoire. Picture: Getty

In light of the allegations, the conservatoire has responded in the form of a joint statement, published on its website by its director, Massimiliano Baggio and president, Raffaello Vignali.

The college’s senior leadership said: “The Milan Conservatory is the injured party in this affair and is at the side of the judiciary to ascertain the facts; we have already provided the investigators with the materials relating to the entrance exams and will continue to provide the most complete collaboration.

“We will follow the development of the investigations and evaluate all possible actions to protect our institution. In any case, we will also immediately strengthen the internal procedures aimed at preventing such phenomena both in the admission phase and in the assessment of students in disciplines at risk of incorrect behaviour.

“If the investigations confirm the hypotheses of the investigators and a trial is reached, the Conservatory intends to bring a civil action.”