Riccardo Muti: ‘What’s the difference between one conductor and the next?’

He has some challenging answers in this conversation with Harvey Sachs on the Toscanini anniversary.

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    • In 1970, 29-year-old Muti was a promising young conductor at the very beginning of his career, while 45-year-old Gedda was on top of his prime and among world’s leading tenors. Therefore it is obvious who was in charge of this aria’s interpretation then and there. Quite tellingly, as a mature musician now and among world’s leading conductors, Muti emphasizes in this interview that the responsibilities for respecting the musical text belong to the Italian performers themselves. So, fortunately there is no hypocrisy here except in your pen name.

    • I submit that Muti’s imitation of a tenor screeching out that sustained high c# like a cat in heat is an imitation precisely of Gedda here. (Can’t say Gedda was in form in this performance.)

  • I’m not a big Verdi fan (I prefer my Wagner and Strauss), but I’m so impressed by how Muti explains the thought behind his approach, and his arguments about how “if we did this to Mozart…” seem dead on.

  • Apropos:

    Reminder: Join Us for
    “Toscanini at 150: The Maestro Lives On”
    Tuesday, March 28

    Please join us for the next free Insights at the Atrium event of the season, “Toscanini at 150: The Maestro Lives On.”

    Drawing on materials from the New York Philharmonic Archives and collections of Toscanini’s letters, Harvey Sachs — writer, music historian, and former Leonard Bernstein Scholar-in-Residence — surveys the New York Philharmonic milestones that defined Toscanini at the height of his career, in conjunction with the 150th anniversary of the conductor’s birth, March 25, 1867.

    This event is free and open to the public. Seating is limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis.

    Harvey Sachs speaker

    Tue Mar 28, 2017 7:30 PM
    Location: David Rubenstein Atrium at 61 W 62nd Street

    Insights at the Atrium is presented in partnership with Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc.

    Programs are made possible, in part, by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

  • There may be something to what Muti is saying. Toscanini notoriously cancelled a revival of Norma at the dress rehearsal because the Italian singers of his time did not and could not get the style right.

  • The thing about Muti is – he always has a depth of reading and experience behind his musical decision. One may, or may-not, agree with them, but they are always interesting and valid readings. I can only say he has revealed things in Mozart I never thought possible.

    Many talk-the-talk, but he actually walks-the-walk, and delivers.

  • Saying the right thing is easy. Doing the right thing is hard.
    Maestro Muti, the master of bella figura appearance.
    Now suffering from the self imposed inferiority complex regarding his national heritage, compared to the music history “above the alps”. Why does he keep emphasizing the alpine border so much lately?
    Probably a reflection of his own life. A torn man, a soul home south of the alps. A successful career made north of the alps.

    If he really means what he says, to bring music back into the Italian heritage, burn out all the bad mannerisms of Italian on-stage bella-figura-making, then may the force be with him.

  • His comments are spot on, and he has always had these opinions. He has a great love of Italy and Italian music, and despairs at the selfish mannerisms of some Italian singers( actually, any singer who sings Italian music in a ‘showy’ fashion, with an obsession for extra, unwritten, high notes). His energy and meticulous musical preparation marked him out from the start of his career as someone special; there is a recording of ‘Attila’ with Raimondi, Guelfi etc.from 1970 that demonstrates his understanding of true Verdi style. And trust me, once he has the baton in his hands and his eyes on the stage, every singer up there follows him, and not the other way around. There are numerous examples of well known singers who did not match up to his requirements, and they simply were replaced—for example, Alagna and Gheorgiu in ‘I Pagliacci’, after she told him ‘ we are not at school, Maestro….’

  • What a pity to hear this interview. Italy’s insecurity about its musical identity has done much to destroy its musical legacy, and deprived the world of one of the great musical traditions. No one makes music like the Italians. The sense of grace, form, beauty, and passion that derives from their language and culture formulates the very basis of Western classical music.

    I would recommend that Mr. Mutti read Pamela Potter’s book, “Most German of the Arts: Musicology and Society from the Weimar Republic to the End of Hitler`s Reich.” She reveals the intense nationalism with which German musicologists approached their work and the ethos of Germanic cultural superiority they promoted. She also discusses how closely the German musicological community supported Hitler. She reveals how this chauvinistic sense of Germanic cultural nationalism affected, or one could say, infected, the postwar music world and led us to irrationally devalue other classical music traditions. Amazon provides a good summary of the book’s themes:

    https://www.amazon.com/Most-German-Arts-Musicology-Republic/dp/0300072287

    Italy suffered terribly from this phenomenon and lost pride in its musical traditions, with the result that by the 1990s it had eliminated almost all its radio orchestras. And even its 12 major opera houses are now under constant financial threat. And even more strangely, the country has two world class orchestras, Santa Cecilia in Rome, and the National Orchestra in Turin, that are massively overlooked due to our jaundiced views about Germanic cultural superiority.

    So its astounding to see Muti parroting these same destructive views. I think his insecurities might be compounded by the attitudes taken toward southern Italians even it Italy. In reality, no one should be more proud of Italian opera, and the Italian way of singing opera, than someone born and educated in Naples like Muti. He does not seem to understand what an extraordinary privilege that is, and that it is exactly that heritage that makes him a great artist.

    Instead of expecting Italians to measure their achievement by Austrian or German standards, he should be standing strong and tall for the Italian way of making music and the operatic and musical heritage that Italy has given us.

    • It does not appear from the video that Muti is applying ‘Germanic standards’ to Italian opera. Instead, he advocates a better sense of the structural refinements of Italian music, and criticizes the vulgar, superficial quasi-belcanto slurs some type of singers feel inclined to put on the music.

      Concerning German musicology: most of it has been focussing on ‘absolute music’ and not opera. Where it engages with opera, it is mostly Wagner and that is something quite different from Italian, French and Russian opera, and a form of ‘symphonic opera’ i.e. with lots of ‘absolute music’ in it.

    • Italy, like other countries, has eliminated investment in radio and other orchestras because they can no longer afford them, especially in the face of escalating costs greater than the rate of inflation (even in pre-Euro Italy). Culture cannot be created and sustained on budget deficits and backward economic policies.

  • Muti here explains, in his own sub-alpesque way, that a musical tradition is embedded in the physical laws of tonality and the psychological structures of expression.

  • Unfortunately, Verdi does write long stretches of “oom-pah-pah, oom-pah-pah” music, and unless one does something in performance to enhance it, it remains village band music.

    Can anyone identify a single “oom-pah-pah” bar in the entirety of Wagner’s oeuvre?

  • Somehow, for reasons of deeply mysterious nature, but possibly due to being a fairly accomplished professional musician myself, I have to admit that for me personally, opinions on purely musical matters expressed by one of the world’s great conductors have just a little bit more weight and credibility than those of any number of william osborns of this world, no matter how many books they have read, probably in part because I dare to suspect that Maestro Riccardo Muti have read a few himself, when he found some free time between conducting most of the world’s great orchestras and leading opera houses.

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