Muti’s legacy: respecting composers, rejecting revisionists

CHICAGO – In the twilight of his musical direction of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Riccardo Muti frankly exposed his legacy and implored musicians to remember his instruction on the operas of Giuseppe Verdi: use nineteenth-century scores without altered notes.

He urged them to reject modern leadership concepts that seek relevance.

“In 20 or 30 years, when everything falls apart, you’ll say that maybe Muti was right,” the 80-year-old Italian conductor told the orchestra before Wednesday’s rehearsal.

Muti leads three concerts of “A Dance in Maschera” at the Orchestra Hall until Tuesday, the culmination of a Verdi project that included the Requiem, “Otello,” “Macbeth,” “Falstaff” and “Aida.” ”

“The problem today is that these operas are often in the hands of stage directors who, with a few exceptions, are destroying the opera,” he said during an interview with The Associated Press after Wednesday’s rehearsal, and criticizing the work on the podium of those who do not study the details of Verdi.


“From the first opera to‘ Falstaff ’and the four sacred pieces is a whole arc without interruptions,” Muti said. “In each opera, you find all the elements that will be important for the next opera. And the early Verdi, the famous um-pa-pa, um-pa-pa, um-pa-pa, didn’t want to write um-pa-pa. It has always been played in this way by amateurs or directors who do not know.

Muti, whose contract with Chicago lasts until the 2022-23 season, is considered a descendant of strong Italian directors who reach out to Arturo Toscanini and Tulio Serafin. He is not a fan of most contemporary directors.

“A lot of them, most of them don’t read music. Some are absolutely deaf,” he said. “I am sure that after a long experiment in this direction, it has now also become old. There is nothing new to move the opera to today. In the end, when everyone is tired, people will start thinking, maybe within two generations, why don’t we try to see and experience again what that world was like?


He used the unpublished critical edition of the complete works of Verdi, a joint project of the University of Chicago Press and Casa Ricordi begun in the 1970s and still in the decades of its completion. Editor-in-Chief Francesco Izzo traveled from Britain to be among the audience.

Muti insists reading the score is not enough. One should understand the motivation and purpose of each note and the discard additions to the scores resulting from traditional habits. Jay Friedman, the 83-year-old lead trombone, credits Muti’s attention to dynamics.

“Muti is probably the most consistent musical director and performer we’ve had,” said Friedman, who joined the orchestra in 1962 and played with Fritz Reiner, Jean Martinon, Georg Solti, Daniel Barenboim and Bernard Haitink. “Let’s be honest, big orchestras can often be in what I call autopilot, which is that all the notes are there, very virtuous. But it takes a conductor with a real imagination and a real sense of what is possible of a great orchestra to turn that autopilot into something really special. “


A prominent cast on Thursday included Lebanese soprano Joyce El-Khoury, who gave a brilliant performance in her debut as Amelia. Russian Yulia Matochkina showed a prodigious mezzo-soprano like the sorceress Ulrica, the Italian soprano Damiana Mizzi had a lush coloratura like the Oscar page and the tenor Francesco Meli was a daring yet a bit disappointing Riccardo. Muti drew unheard-of colors, intonation, and tension.

Baritone Luca Salsi, a menacing Renato, arrived in Chicago on Sunday for four days of rehearsals after singing the role last month at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. Muti first directed “Ballo” at the Maggio Musicale in Florence in 1974 with Richard Tucker, then in an EMI recording in 1975 with Plácido Domingo and a staging in 2001 at La Scala with Salvatore Licitra.

“It’s the last of the biggest,” Salsi said. “His magic is to explain the simplicity of the score. Sometimes, with some directors, they try to find something weird or different, but Verdi, he wrote it all. You just have to be able to explain why. “


Muti did not alter the libretto in which a white judge sings a racist insult at Ulrica, a black fortune teller accused of witchcraft: “dell’immondo sangue de ‘negri.” Muti says Verdi meant the line to highlight the Judge’s intolerance.

“In many theaters in this country and abroad, for the history of the politically correct they change the phrase,” he told the orchestra. “We must not change so that future generations know the abomination that has been committed for centuries. If you don’t change, you won’t solve the problem “.

Fidelity to the original intention causes him to reject changes such as having Otello portrayed as white and Desdemona as black, and Carmen killing Don José instead, arguing that there is nothing in the score or libretto that supports such reverses.

“We can’t change history, because if we want to change history we have to change everything, starting with the Greeks, from the Phoenicians, from the Romans,” he said. “We have to keep the horrible things from the past. Tell the guys it was wrong.”


Muti’s career included contracts with the Italian Maggio Musicale Fiorentino (1968-80), the Philharmonia Orchestra of London (1972-82), the Philadelphia Orchestra (1980-92), the Teatro alla Scala in Milan (1986-2005).

By presenting his CSO operas without a staging, he tries to get the audience to focus on the music. And with the CSO, he avoids the opera houses he said at the post-concert reception “being full of very bad traditions.”

“Verdi has been for years and years, interpreted as a kind of parody of verismo, as an evil Puccini,” he said.

More than any other of Muti’s interpretations, Verdi will be his legacy.

“I wanted to thank the orchestra and the choir on this long journey we have taken to Verdi in all these years,” he said. “I will treasure the memories of this wonderful music with you, with the orchestra and the choir, and I feel it is a gift from God that I received at the end of my life to do these operas with you and this time with this. Wonderful group of singers.”

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Muti’s legacy: respecting composers, rejecting revisionists

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