Milan’s opera house defends conductor Daniel Harding after newspaper prints personal attack.

One of Britain’s leading conductors has sparked a furore between the La Scala opera house and the newspaper Corriere della Sera after their theatre critic accused him of making ­Wagner sound “homosexual”.

Paolo Isotta, a respected but frequently controversial arts critic for the Italian daily newspaper, first criticised Daniel Harding’s conducting of Verdi’s Falstaff as “heavy and pedantic” before lambasting his performance of part of Tristan und Isolde, stating: “Harding’s conducting was so soft it made you think he wanted to support the unfounded theory that Wagner was homosexual.”

At this point Stéphane Lissner, La Scala’s general manager, decided that the cantankerous critic had gone too far. “Isotta has decided to wage a personal campaign”, Mr Lissner said, claiming ­that he used his reviews as “instruments of power”. As a result the critic has been taken off the La Scala press list and declared unwelcome in the opera house.

Ferrucio de Bortoli, the editor of the Corriere, defended his unpredictable critic at the weekend claiming that Lissner has been trying to get Isotta dropped from the paper for the last two years. La Scala fired back that their boss had “merely said that a person who systematically attacks an institution to defend another is a politician, not a critic.” In what looks set to become a familiar Milanese whispering campaign Isotta is accused by insiders at the theatre of being a partisan supporter of Riccardo Muti who resigned from La Scala back in 2005.

Daniel Harding is a well-regarded conductor who has enjoyed a busy and successful career since being appointed Simon Rattle’s assistant at the age of 19. He has appeared regularly at La Scala over the past seven years. So far he has been unavailable for comment.

Meanwhile, the newspaper has stated that it will be paying for Isotta’s tickets until further notice.