My June 19, 2011 Sunday Chicago Sun-Times and suntimes.com feature on Riccardo Muti, the spring and summer Salzburg Festivals and the upcoming European tour and new season of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
In Salzburg, Riccardo Muti conducts Monday’s performance of music of Luigi Cherubini. His C minor Requiem is set to be heard in Chicago in March 2012 | photos -- © Silvia Lelli
Thursday, June 16, 2011 8:15 PM CDT
No place like Muti’s two homes
CSO music director reflects on Salzburg and Chicago
BY ANDREW PATNER
SALZBURG, Austria -- As he contemplates his 70th birthday on July 28, Riccardo Muti is looking to move his busy international career into “a time of consolidation.”
“I am a professional conductor for almost 45 years now,” said the Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director over a light lunch at his country house just outside this world music capital. “This summer will be my 41st with the Vienna Philharmonic in Salzburg. The new production of Verdi’s Macbeth with the great German director Peter Stein I will conduct this summer will be my 20th opera staging here and my 10th opera work in the main Salzburg Festival -- more than 120 performances and more than 80 concerts so far.”
Wrapping up here last week an additional five-year, annual four-day spring festival of music from and influenced by his native Naples, Muti suggested that “after this summer, I should continue to do operas, but when I do one, it should be in Rome, where I have good relations with the opera house, or in Chicago, in concert, where I have my orchestra.”
Muti has long been a critic of what he calls “irresponsible” opera productions “where the stage director thinks that he -- or she -- is the author, not the composer!” So he’s very much looking forward to his collaboration with the equally demanding Stein, 77, whose only U.S. production to date was the 2004 Mozart's Don Giovanni with Bryn Terfel at Lyric Opera of Chicago.
“This man knows Shakespeare, he knows music, he knows Verdi,” Muti said. And, in no small matter for this strong advocate of the culture of his home country, “He knows Italian!” Having pulled out of more than one production in battles over direction or design -- “Do you know how much of my time I have wasted on some of this nonsense?” -- the highly focused Muti displays relief at finding a theatrical collaborator on the same wavelength.
“The other day I played the entire Macbeth score for him at the piano, the entire opera, from beginning to end, without a break,” Muti said. “We understood each other and we understood the music. And I said to myself, ‘Well, maybe this will be enough.’”
With the first Macbeth rehearsals three days away when we talked, Muti expressed great satisfaction with his spring Naples festival here. He presented a recently rediscovered early 19th-century opera, I due Figaro (The Two Figaros) by Saverio Mercadante, born in 1795 in Altamura, not far from another town in Puglia, Molfetta, where Muti and his brothers grew up.
Mercadante, who closed out his life as director of the Naples Conservatory in the mid-19th century, has been known chiefly for his connections with such major operatic compatriots as Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini, and the young Verdi, and for some flute concertos that remain in the repertoire. He had written this comic continuation of the Figaro story in 1826 for Madrid but ran afoul of censors. Courts did not like the way that the wily servant Figaro undermined class distinctions in such stage and musical works as Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. So they prevented a performance of I due Figaro until 1835 and, by then, Mercadante had moved on to other projects.
“You could quite reasonably say that what we offered here this month was really a world première almost 200 years later,” said Salzburg general director Markus Hinterhäuser.
Some of the other pieces Muti has plucked from the Neapolitan and Spanish archives for past spring festivals were more of historic importance, even sometimes urgency. But I Due Figaro is a hugely, surprisingly, attractive opera demonstrating its composer’s unusual ability to spin out sequences of character-rich arias and other solos followed by ensemble scenes that knit these threads together seamlessly. Its composer's historically early facility with Spanish rhythms, melodies, and dances also gets under an audience’s skin.
Offering this work in two performances (and with a very traditional-style but lively staging by Spanish director Emilio Sagi) entirely with young singers and his own Italian Luigi Cherubini Youth Orchestra, Muti once again illuminated his deep commitment to training musicians. Performers who had never heard of Mercadante a year ago presented him as an old friend. At least two of the singers -- Eleonora Buratto, who played Figaro’s brilliant wife, Susanna, and tenor Antonio Poli as Count Almaviva (here a tenor as in Rossini’s Barber of Seville) -- will be worth watching out for.
The Cherubini Orchestra closed out the festival Monday with the 1816 C minor Requiem by the group’s namesake, Luigi Cherubini himself, a Florentine turned Parisian who early in life absorbed the teachings of the Neapolitan school. Long a signature Muti work, the almost painfully beautiful piece reflects the spirit of Schubert blended with the vision and iconoclasm of Berlioz; it was set for Muti’s inaugural CSO season, but his health problems required its Chicago rescheduling for March 2012. (In spring, Muti said Northwestern cardiologists, who earlier detected his arrhythmia and installed a pacemaker, had given him a clean bill of health. He was vigorous in rehearsal, performance, and offstage all week in Salzburg.)
Muti is looking forward to this and the other works of the 2011-12 CSO season and the orchestra’s six-city pre-season European tour that starts toward the end of the summer Salzburg Festival in late August.
“I will give the Macbeth here eight times, two performances of the Verdi Requiem with the Vienna Philharmonic, and then the two programs with Chicago, including the work we commissioned from Bernard Rands, now also of Chicago,” Muti said. “And then, with the exception of the ongoing Vienna Philharmonic concerts, it will be time to move on. Chicago will really be a major home for me then.”