Xmas message: Riccardo Muti appeals for a spiritual revival in Italy

Xmas message: Riccardo Muti appeals for a spiritual revival in Italy


norman lebrecht

December 24, 2015

Like the Pope in St Peter’s Square, the maestro has given his annual interview blessing to Corriere della Sera.

In in, Riccardo Muti laments the decline of the essence of Italy, its savours, its habits and its music. He has a nice way of evoking an image:

The Alps separate the world of frost and suet from the sun and the  oil. Our blood circulates differently. And the essence of our spirit is melody. Pavarotti was the greatest of the past half-century not just for voice, but because he sang with a mixture of joy and sadness that is in our nature.

Unfortunately Italy today can no longer either suffer, or smile.

 I remember the first time I went to the Bellini (Theatre). It was 1966, and Catania was filled with the scent of orange blossoms; today you smell only kebab. I owe everything to Italy. In particular, I owe it all to the South.

pavarotti muti


  • william osborne says:

    It’s not kebab stands, but Americanization that is diluting Italian culture, an observation that would be a bit impolitic for him to mention. In many respects, the worst threat to Italian culture, Berlusconism, is also a manifestation of Americanism.

    • Nurhan Arman says:


    • Peter says:

      Americanization is diluting and destroying almost any culture in the world, BUT there are always two to tango.

      The American “culture” usually enters through the wide open backdoor of affordable cheap shit for the mass market, while the aspiring artists create, aspire and also transpire in their high ivory towers.

      Maybe in 1000 years the historic analysis would be, that mankind missed to turn the right way and continue to aspire upward, at the crucial short period in the history of mankind, where cultural aspiration was not limited to small elites but the masses were relieved from hard labor and for the first time access to higher education, culture etc. would have been possible, due to a new majority of the population then enjoyed for the first time the benefits of spare time and disposable income after the basic needs, food, shelter, security, were satisfied.

      That turning point was the 20th century.
      Did we miss the opportunity?
      It looks like it. Look what the masses are doing with their spare time and their disposable income.

  • Olassus says:

    “It was 1966, and Catania was filled with the scent of orange blossoms; today you smell only kebab.”

    God! So sad! And so true.

    • Anon says:

      True? According to official statistics, only about 2% of the inhabitants of Catania province are of non-Italian descent.

      Catania’s problem is that of almost any retrogressive province: decades of brain drain, the talented and ambitious leaving, the remaining cross eyed with the 3rd class genes inbreeding.
      A little influx of alien fresh blood might actually – contrary to Maestro’s little orange blossom racial hate speech – be the best possible scenario for the region.

    • Benedikt M. says:

      What? Did he really say that?
      Imagine Thielemann had said such a thing: “It was 1966, and Wannsee was filled with the scent of pine and lily of the valley; today you smell only kebab.”

      I smell hypocrisy.

  • Robin Worth says:

    Thanks, Mr Lebrecht, for sharing this article, which is full of salient comment about the world of opera as it is today

    For those who don’t have Italian it might be worth underlining the point which Muti makes about the dichotomy between musical direction and stage direction today’s opera : he says that, previously, conductor and director shared artistic responsibility and subsequently praise or blame. Not so nowadays, says Muti. Music and staging are increasingly disconnected and directors making the music ” prey to personal invention….to the limits of absurdity”

    One tends to think of what has been going on at the ROH under the Holten regime

  • Olassus says:

    Actually, Norman, there is a lot here:

    “Is better Barenboim or Mehta?”

    Muti: “The first.”

    Rivalry with Abbado?

    Muti: “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

    Podium manner:

    Muti: “I admired Karajan’s measured gesture. It is not necessary to gesticulate like a windmill. You can conduct with your eyes. … Bernstein had a wider gesture, but it corresponded to his nature.”

    • RW2013 says:

      At least he answered the first question correctly.

    • Olassus says:

      Muti: “We must claim absolute respect for our symbols: the crucifix, the manger. For our way of life. And also for the small things, like perfumes.”

    • Olassus says:

      Muti: “Today Naples is degraded. For years I have expected a redemption, a retaking, the pride of attachment to a great land that need not cry about itself. It must recoup the immense resources it possesses.”

      • Peter says:

        Actually Maestro, despite Naples’ great contributions to Italian renaissance and to opera in particular, it did so not despite, but BECAUSE of one of the most MULTICULTURAL and diverse histories of the whole subcontinent. Only since 1860 is Naples Italian in a political sense.

        Wherever you look, mankind’s greatest cultural achievements were happening, when multicultural synergies were unleashed under a system of political and economic stability and wealth that was also benevolent to the arts, and only when strong domestic potential was multiplied with foreign imported excellence and inspiration.

        The proof is in any culturally strong region of the past, go study.

    • Una says:

      I shall be in Berlin next week at Mehta’s 80th birthday concert that’s he’s conducting at the Berlin Phil, and with Barenboim playing the Schumann piano concerto in the same concert. Obviously they get on well together!!! Two very different personalities and outstanding guys.

  • Milka says:

    Once you get to the Pavarotti bit you realize it is the usual hot air bit that suits the day.What a crock ……………

  • Peter says:

    Maestro has my deepest respect, but makes a crucial mistake in public communication.
    Always when he is trying to evoke the good spirits of the great Italian culture, he has to lash out at the “North side of the Alps”. Why? Is it cultural penis envy?
    For someone who has a residence right north of the Alps near Salzburg, and another residence figuratively north of the Alps in Chicago, he seems surprisingly uncomfortable with both. Why Maestro then don’t you move south and make your living in your beloved MAMA of all cultures?

    • corinna68 says:

      did he say that south of the Alps is better or simply that these are different cultures? it doesn’t seem to me that he is saying one is better than the other….

      • Peter says:

        Maybe. I still would advise him to not make the reference to the regions north of the Alps, it provokes misunderstandings and opens old wounds of nationalistic resentments in both directions, the Germanic culture despising the “Italiana” for its simplistic upper melody fetish, (Schumann: “Italian music is melody plus ump-taa-taa”) and the Italiana culture despising the Germanic primitives north of the alps for their lack of elegance and emotional impact.

        Also his message seems to be a lament mostly for a lost culture. I understand the nostalgia very well, but those times are not coming back unfortunately.
        More importantly IMO is to preserve the good qualities of a tradition and implement it in a livable approach for today and the future, rather than trying to build a museum of a past culture.

        Maybe he wants the former approach actually, and with these statements to Italian media he tries to evoke Italian pride as a building force, but to my ears – perceived from abroad – he more sounds like he wants the latter.

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      Penis envy? You’re kidding. That guy is Italian, you know.

    • Novagerio says:

      Cos he’d rather not pay taxes in Italy…

  • Justthemfacts says:

    Maestro is one of the most egomaniacal people to walk the planet.

    • Peter says:

      He is a conductor. Who wants to be a conductor?
      The most horrific moment in a good conductor’s career is the moment, where you realize that you have more success by standing in front of musicians giving them cues and leading the rehearsals, rather than playing your own instrument, where you are only mediocre at best.
      There are/were some good conductors, who also are/were exceptional players and public instrumental performers. Bernstein, Previn, Sawallisch, Oramo, …

      I think Muti plays a decent piano, but not as successful as making “bella figure” in front of the orchestra. (which is unfair, he is a great musician, not his fault that he also looks good.)

  • Greg from SF says:

    I am so tired of all the America bashing on this blog.
    It’s as if there is nothing wrong with any other country on earth.
    Don’t you people remember that you would all be speaking German today if it weren’t for the Americans?
    Instead of blaming the US for every ill under the sun, it would behoove you Europeans to look closely at yourselves and find some real solutions to your problems instead of taking the easy way out and simply blaming the US for them.
    Just give it a rest, OK?

    • John Kelly says:

      It’s exactly the statement that we would all be speaking German if it weren’t for the Americans that leads to such antiAmericanism. I agree it does exist. Then again the Russians had at least as much to do with defeating the Nazis. Check it out.

      • Mark says:

        You might remember that the Russians imposed their own brand of fascism on half of Europe. It’s only thanks to the US that Stalin’s tanks stopped where they did. Ingratitude is the most vulgar of human qualities.

        • Peter says:

          Indeed. The Soviet people (not only Russians) lost about 20 million people in their defense against Nazi-Germany’s attack. The Americans waited as long as possible, meanwhile gave substantial material support to the Soviets, and then only joined the war effort, when it was exactly important to make sure, that the Soviets do not go much further than just extinguishing the Nazi fire.
          You show the biggest ingratitude and disrespect to the millions of victims of the people living in the Soviet Empire.
          It was their contribution to the effort primarily, that defeated Nazi-Germany, the US’ effort, while also very important, was a bit more circumstantial.
          This is probably against what you were told from revisionist US centric school book history, you would have to think about it.

          • Milka says:

            Peter dances around lightly in never acknowledging the Soviet uncountable murders
            of their own , the betrayal of the Poles etc etc.This of course is never mentioned
            in the Russian revisionist history as Peter so quaintly puts it .

          • Peter says:

            Open your own blog to discuss your boring hate of Russia and anything Russian. Name it “polish-inferiority-complex.com” if you want a catchy name that’s describing the issue in a nutshell. The topic here is R.M’s interview, and this subthread was about a US ignoramuses remark that the US won WWII single handedly.

        • Peter says:

          …and there are several forms of fascism. You mentioned the Soviet version. We all know the German version. But you forget the American version, the only version that still lives on.

          Fascism in the original Mussolini definition, is the political alliance [il fascio – ital. multiple meanings for “a bundle” or “a coalition/alliance”] of executive government with the major industrial corporations while bypassing the democratic legislative.

          The political system of the US is certainly not a clean cut fascistic system, but arguably one in despise. It demonstrates many elements of such an alliance, where formally a legislative [or its it actually a two-party-dictatorship, a variant of the one-party dictatorship now with two store windows out to the front] exists and is maintained with lots of white smoke and theater special effects, but in reality the government is mostly run by corporate interests, the latter by itself a diffuse entity with many diverging interests, but in the end one common interest against the will of the demos, to control the country, today also the world and its resources.

          • Peter says:

            It is btw very remarkable, how many heraldic references there are to be found in the US capital, and all over the country, to “fasci”, bundles, the main symbol of fascism.


            The reverse of the Mercury Dime, the design used until the adoption of the current FDR dime in 1945, features a fasces.

            In the Oval Office, above the door leading to the exterior walkway, and above the corresponding door on the opposite wall, which leads to the president’s private office. Note: the fasces depicted have no axes, possibly because in the Roman Republic, the blade was always removed from the bundle whenever the fasces were carried inside the city, in order to symbolize the rights of citizens against arbitrary state power (see above).

            Two fasces appear on either side of the flag of the United States behind the podium in the United States House of Representatives.

            The official seal of the United States Senate has as one component a pair of crossed fasces.

            Fasces ring the base of the Statue of Freedom atop the United States Capitol building.

            A frieze on the facade of the United States Supreme Court building depicts the figure of a Roman centurion holding a fasces, to represent “order”.[7]

            The grand seal of Harvard University inside Memorial Church is flanked by two inward-pointing fasces. The seal is located directly below the 112 m (368 ft) steeple and the Great Seal of the United States inside the Memorial Room. The walls of the room list the names of Harvard students, faculty, and alumni who gave their lives in service of the United States during World War I along with an empty tomb depicting Alma Mater holding a slain Harvard student.

            The National Guard uses the fasces on the seal of the National Guard Bureau, and it appears in the insignia of Regular Army officers assigned to National Guard liaison and in the insignia and unit symbols of National Guard units themselves. For instance, the regimental crest of the 71st Infantry Regiment (New York) of the New York National Guard consisted of a gold fasces set on a blue background.

            The Mace of the United States House of Representatives, designed to resemble fasces, consists of thirteen ebony rods bound together in the same fashion as the fasces, topped by a silver eagle on a globe.

            The main entrance hallways in the Wisconsin State Capitol have lamps that are decorated with stone fasces motifs. In the woodwork before the podium of the speaker of the assembly is carved several double-bladed fasces, whereas in the woodwork before the podium of the senate president are several single-bladed fasces.

            At the Lincoln Memorial, Lincoln’s seat of state bears the fasces—without axes—on the fronts of its arms. Fasces also appear on the pylons flanking the main staircase leading into the memorial.

            The official seal of the United States Tax Court bears the fasces at its center.

            Four fasces flank the two bronze plaques on either side of the bust of Lincoln memorializing his Gettysburg Address at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

            The fasces appears on the state seal of Colorado, U.S., beneath the “All-seeing eye” (or Eye of Providence) and above the mountains and mines.

            The hallmark of the Kerr & Co silver company was a fasces.

            On the seal of the New York City borough of Brooklyn, a figure carries a fasces; the seal appears on the borough flag. Fasces also can be seen in the stone columns at Grand Army Plaza.

            Used as part of the Knights of Columbus emblem (designed in 1883).

            Many local police departments use the fasces as part of their badges and other symbols. For instance, the top border of the Los Angeles Police Department badge features a fasces. (1940)

            Commercially, a small fasces appeared at the top of one of the insignia of the Hupmobile car.

            A fasces appears on the statue of George Washington, made by Jean-Antoine Houdon that is now in the Virginia State Capital.

            Columns in the form of fasces line the entrance to Buffalo City Hall.

            VAW-116 have a fasces on their unit insignia.

            San Francisco’s Coit Tower has two fasces-like insignia (without the axe) carved above its entrance, flanking a Phoenix.

            The seal of the United States Courts Administrative Office includes a fasces behind crossed quill and scroll.

            In the Washington Monument, there is a statue of George Washington leaning on a fasces.

            A fasces is a common element in U.S. Army Military Police heraldry, most visibly on the shoulder sleeve insignia of the 18th Military Police Brigade and the 42nd Military Police Brigade.

            Two monuments erected in Chicago at the time of the Century of Progress Exposition are adorned with fasces. The monument to Christopher Columbus (1933) in Grant Park has them on the ends of its exedra. The Balbo Monument in Burnham Park, (1934) a gift from Benito Mussolini, has the vandalized remains of fasces on all four corners of its plinth.[8]

    • Nick says:

      “Don’t you people remember that you would all be speaking German today if it weren’t for the Americans?”

      What an utterly disgraceful statement! 70 years after the end of the conflict and there are still some brainwashed into believing this nonsense! Had it not been for Britain ensuring the Nazis did not invade their island, the whole of Europe would have been overrun before America had even decided to be part of the that War. Had the Soviet Union not been drawn into the war long before the Americans, perhaps America would be flying Nazi flags. Had not been for Ultra and the British codebreakers, once the Americans had entered they would have endured a longer and far more costly war.

      Agree totally with John Kelly. Americans should take a look at their own society before looking down their noses at others – a hugely dysfunctional political system where billions are spent to elect a President, 21.8% of children living in poverty according to the US Bureau of Census, a gun mentality that is incredulous to the rest of the world, a system of arts funding that basically depends on millionaires . . .

      Countries are far from perfect. Each has its own values and priorities. The US puts a supreme priority on the right of freedom of speech with few limits. That freedom surely includes criticising the US in blogs like this! Don’t like it? Don’t read it!

  • Peter says:

    Ahh, Nostalgia, the expatriate artist’s sweetest pain.

    “I owe everything to Italy. In particular, I owe it all to the South.”

    Says someone who makes his living, and lives, in Chicago and Austria mostly. But I guess that’s not owing. That’s earning.

  • Barbamuti says:

    That Napolitan song, Marechiare, by Tosti… It sounds Spanish if anything. Of course 200 years of Spanish rule over Napoli, in those years prospering to be the second largest city of whole Europe, after Paris, have influenced a great deal. The Spanish culture itself again being a great deal influenced by the Arabs who ruled the South – at times also almost all – of Spain from 711 to 1492, almost 800 years…

    So what exactly is Maestro referring to, when he says:

    “Noi dobbiamo difendere la nostra identità. Io sono di cultura federiciana, … che seppe fondere la cultura araba con quella giudaico-cristiana. Sono per l’incontro, ma ogni elemento che turbi e disturbi la nostra identità non è benvenuto. Dobbiamo rivendicare il rispetto assoluto per i nostri simboli: il crocefisso, il presepe. Per il nostro modo di vita…”

    “We must defend our identity. I believe in the “cultura Federiciana”*, …, who knew how to blend the Arab culture with the Judeo-Christian. They overlap, but each element that disturbs and upsets our identity is not welcome. We must reclaim the absolute respect for our symbols: the crucifix, nativity scene. To our way of life…”

    *Now Frederick II – Holy Roman Emperor, King of Germany, King of Italy, King of Sicily, King of Jerusalem, no less… – was from the German “North of the Alps” house of Hohenstaufen, his father was Henry IV, his grandfather was “Barbarossa”.
    His mother was of Spanish descent (House of Aragon).

    He spoke six languages (Latin, Sicilian, German, French, Greek and Arabic) and was an avid patron of science and the arts.

    Now the Jews of Sicily had it much better under the Arab rule, who treated them justly, because with the Christian rule, beginning with the first crusade 1072, the Jews were facing increasing maltreatment and persecution. And it got worse and worse. They were forced to mark their clothes and shops since 1310, then later live in Ghettos, and were finally expelled, property confiscated in 1492. Similar story in Naples, two years later. That ban lasted until 1740. Not many came back, ever.

    So I have no clue, WTF Maestro is talking about, when he proclaims a “pure” Italian identity and a joint Judeo-Christian culture, and that “each element that disturbs and upsets our identity is not welcome.” when in fact the whole house of cards was built mainly on Arabic, Spanish, German rule and influences, and the Jews were expelled and robbed by his ancestors.
    And it was done exactly BECAUSE those fanatic crusader Christians wanted, just like Maestro Muti wants, to “reclaim the absolute respect for our symbols: the crucifix, nativity scene. To our way of life…”

    This is not a slippery slope Maestro is walking on, this is fairy tale land, an imagined glorified fantasy picture of MAMA ITALIA.

  • Calogero says:

    Superb, historically well informed comment. Maestro Muti is technically very skilled but no one has ever credited him with being an intellectual, and it shows why in spades in this interview. (He comes off as a sentimental fool who is unable to come up with an internally consistent world view.)