Tenor hails Riccardo Muti for helping him to master the art of singing Verdi

Francesco Meli, here in the CSO's concert version of "Aida" in 2019, credits Riccardo Muti for helping him to master Verdi.

Todd Rosenberg Photography

Few if any musical figures have figured more prominently in the career of Italian tenor Francesco Meli than conductor Riccardo Muti, a fellow countryman who has led him in dozens of performances.

Indeed, it was Muti who was on the podium in 2004 when Meli at age 23 made his La Scala debut in Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites. The two have gone on to work together regularly in cities such as Vienna, Rome and Salzburg. Meli has joined Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra three times previously, including concert performances of Verdi’s Macbeth in 2013 and Aida in 2019. Next up is Un ballo in maschera, which he will sing with the CSO and Chorus on June 23, 25 and 28.

The CSO’s music director since 2010, Muti is known as one of the world’s great interpreters of Verdi, and Meli said that the conductor has provided him with invaluable insights into how to approach new roles in the composer’s operas and delve into the scores. 

“Riccardo Muti was and is very important for my career, because he taught me the way to understand the Verdi repertoire,” Meli said. 

Opened in 1778, Milan’s Teatro alla Scala is one of the world’s most famous and distinguished opera houses, and it’s also the company that Meli considers his musical home. Of his house debut there, Meli said, “It was a great, great moment for me.”

He has gone on to sing 20 different roles at La Scala, sometimes performing in more than one production in a season. “That theater is my second home,” he said. “All the people inside the theater know me, and I know everybody. When I arrive, it’s ‘oh, maestro, welcome. It’s wonderful to see you.’ The stagehands, the technical staff and the chorus always talk with me like a brother, like a member of the family. It’s wonderful for me. I love this. 

“And the audience always, always sends me much love.”