At the historic Teatro Massimo in Palermo, Sicily, Riccardo Muti returned to "Don Giovanni," Mozart's dramma giocoso.
Following his critically acclaimed, season-opening concerts with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Chicago and New York’s Carnegie Hall, Riccardo Muti — the CSO’s Music Director Emeritus for Life — returned to Italy to begin preparations for a production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni to be presented in Palermo’s historic Teatro Massimo, Europe’s third largest opera house.
Before starting rehearsals in the Sicilian capital, Muti first traveled to Bosnia and Herzegovina, having accepted an invitation to conduct the Sarajevo Philharmonic to mark the ensemble’s 100th anniversary and to reinforce a connection he established with the city where he led his first Roads of Friendship concerts in 1997. At the Oct. 11 concert attended by cultural and government dignitaries, including the Bosnian ambassador to the United Nations, Muti spoke to the audience, noting, “At a time when the world is in crisis, we must be aware that the culture is an important tool for raising new generations.” On Nov. 25, a national holiday in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Muti will be recognized with Sarajevo’s honorary citizenship by its Mayor Banjamina Karic.
After the historic concert, Muti joined his daughter, renowned director Chiara Muti, in Palermo to prepare the cast and creative team for the critically acclaimed production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, first produced at the Teatro Regio in Torino in November 2022. The production in Palermo, with five performances between Oct. 26 and Nov. 2, featured baritone Luca Micheletti as Don Giovanni, tenor Giovanni Sala (who Chicago audiences may remember from the 2023 Muti-led, CSO performances of Beethoven’s Missa solemnis) as Don Ottavio, soprano Maria Grazia Schiavo as Donna Anna, soprano Mariangela Sicilia as Donna Elvira and bass Alessandro Luongo as Leporello. Chiara Muti’s atmospheric vision for the production uses the metaphor of a puppet theater where the characters are controlled by an unseen puppet master, and the libertine at the heart of the story is doomed to take the stage for eternity.
La Repubblica Palermo hailed the performance for “a masterful direction, as one would rightfully expect from one of the most acclaimed conductors, for the beauty of the recitatives, the dynamic subtlety, the ear for the color of sound, and the preference for bel canto, bringing all the singers to their best in the key arias, progressively darkening from the grand and despairing moment of Donna Elvira's ‘In quali eccessi o numi.’”
The German cultural website Online Merker recognized Muti’s musical interpretation as “an Italian tailor-made sound suited for each individual singer. The result is a sonic collection that is second to none. ... It's extremely precisely crafted and finely crafted in every detail.” Il Giornale di Sicilia noted, “To sustain the thread of this playful drama is Riccardo Muti, who possesses the extraordinary solidity of a journey — exploration and reflection, accumulations of experiences from a musical life — that brings forth from the music the ability to become its own stage, encompassing recitatives and arias, duets, dancing rhythms, quartets and the concertato finale. Softness and thrills, rapid sounds and seamless pauses, waves of ecstatic melody, abrupt affirmations — this surprising Mozart is entrusted to Muti's conscious, expressive and clear gesture that engages the Teatro Massimo orchestra.”
Muti’s Die Walküre now on La Scala TV
As part of a major digital initiative launched by Milan’s Teatro alla Scala, where Riccardo Muti served as music director from 1986 to 2005, audiences worldwide can now access archival performances from the famed opera house.
One of the latest releases is La Scala’s 1994 production of Wagner’s Die Walküre, conducted by Riccardo Muti, directed by André Engel and featuring Placido Domingo as Siegfried and Waltraud Meier as Sieglinde. Pay per stream access for this critically hailed production is now available at lascala.tv.
Muti and the CSO will perform at Teatro alla Scala on Jan. 27 as part of their 2024 European Tour, with tickets for the Milan concert going on sale to the public Nov. 30.
After leading Mozart’s seminal masterpiece, Muti will turn his attention to the 19th-century bel canto opera Norma by Vincenzo Bellini as the focus of his 2023 Italian Opera Academy, presented Nov. 18-29 in Milan. This year’s Academy, which opens Nov. 18 as Muti introduces the story and character of the opera from the piano, continues across 10 days of immersion into Bellini’s score. Muti will select and mentor four young conductors and four collaborative pianists during rehearsals with the Luigi Cherubini Youth Orchestra and a cast of talented young singers. The Academy culminates with a final open rehearsal led by the four conductors on Nov. 26 and a performance of the opera led by Muti on Nov. 29.
Originally introduced in 2015, the Academy returns to Milan for the second time since 2021 to the Fondazione Prada, the incredible artistic home and studio of the internationally renowned fashion house Prada.
Miuccia Prada, head designer at Prada and granddaughter of Mario Prada, who established the iconic fashion brand, said, “The collaboration with Riccardo Muti and his Academy affirms the centrality of teaching and the transmission of knowledge between the different generations. In fact, we are convinced that the studio is one of the most effective tools for artistic and personal growth. This project is an important training opportunity, both for the young students who will have the opportunity to work closely with Riccardo Muti, and for the public who will be involved by the generosity and passion of the Maestro and his commitment to spreading and strengthening musical culture.”
About this year’s selection for the Academy, Muti noted, “I chose Norma because I want to draw attention to the world of Bellini's bel canto that Norma represents in the most absolute way. An extremely difficult work that requires great attention to phrasing and orchestral texture, apparently simple but extraordinarily effective in supporting and intertwining with the vocal line. The sublime and infinite melody of Norma, which also fascinated Wagner, requires purity and nobility of execution. The conductor’s task is to sublimate the singing without neglecting the orchestral fabric. It must not be reduced to a simple accompaniment, but must intersect with the voices, to which color and warmth must be given.”
At the heart of Bellini’s Norma is the aria “Casta diva,” made famous by Maria Callas and beloved by opera aficionados around the world. Soprano Monica Conesa, who sang the aria with Muti and the Luigi Cherubini Youth Orchestra at a 2023 Roads of Friendship concert, will rehearse at the Academy before making her role debut in two performances of the opera at the Ravenna Festival’s annual Autumn Triology on Dec. 16 and 19 at the Alighieri Theater. Muti will also lead the Luigi Cherubini Youth Orchestra and emerging young singers in two performances of Verdi’s Nabucco on Dec. 17 and 20, as well as an all-Verdi gala program to round out the trio of programs on Dec. 22.
At the Teatro Massimo in Palermo, Riccardo Muti conducted Mozart's "Don Giovanni," directed by his daughter, Chiara Muti.