Italian premier says no to Riccardo Muti

Italian premier says no to Riccardo Muti


norman lebrecht

October 27, 2020

This is Signore Conte’s reply to Muti’s request to keep opera houses and concert halls open:

Dear Maestro Muti , I respond to your heartfelt appeal … and I take the opportunity to share some considerations with you and with the readers. Your reflections touch me deeply, and I do not think they have left readers indifferent. You are right: the decision to close concert halls and theaters is objectively “serious”. Concerts, theatrical performances are food for the spirit, food for the soul. It was a particularly painful decision precisely because it was serious. We were forced to take it because the primary objective must now be to regain control of the epidemiological curve and prevent its continuous rise from compromising the efficiency of our health system and, with it, the stability of the entire social and economic system.

It is a decision that we did not take lightly because we are aware that all the protagonists of the entertainment world – artists, musicians, authors, entrepreneurs, technicians, workers – have been suffering enormous difficulties for many months now. The same security protocols, if on the one hand offer greater guarantees of preventing contagion, on the other hand they severely limit the presence of the public, contributing to the general impoverishment of this as well as other sectors of activity. The gestation of the latter was particularly painful also because I signed the document only when we were sure, after the verifications made at the Ministry of Economy and with the State General Accounting Office, to be able to approve, in the Council of Ministers to be held this afternoon, a decree- law that will allow the provision of immediate refreshments and support measures to economic operators and workers affected by the new rules. The experience we have gained in these months of great difficulty also confirms that culture contributes to strengthening the identity of an entire people, acts as a driving force for social cohesion, creating the basis – at the same time – for a dialogue that crosses regions. and national borders, helping to grasp, in one’s own legend and in other’s, the common destiny of finitude of the human being.

The criterion that guided us was not that of indiscriminately targeting a sector considered “superfluous” compared to others. Instead, we intervened in all those sectors of activity – evening catering and related activities, fitness, entertainment – which offer opportunities for sociability, whether high or not. Sectors of activity that contribute – directly and indirectly – to generating gatherings and aggregations of people, and that generate, especially in the evening, influxes on public transport and multiply the opportunities for contagion. Similarly, to decongest traffic and contagion opportunities during the day, we have encouraged smart working and the use of distance learning in secondary schools. There is also another aspect to consider.The reduction of social occasions and moments of aggregation also involves a drastic reduction in the number of personal contacts . This greatly facilitates, in the case of people who are positively surprised at Covid-19, the tracing operations and, therefore, lightens the current overload of work of the prevention departments. We are forced to make these further sacrifices.

But we do not intend to give up beauty, culture, music, art, cinema, theater at all. We need the nourishment that we derive from these activities and the dream capacity they arouse in us. We intend to return as soon as possible to enjoy these emotions in company, sharing the silent harmony that is established in the presence of a neighbor, even if he is unknown. Our spiritual dimension could not survive without this experience. It is in this spirit, dear Master, that we have taken on the responsibility of making such painful choices. But I assure you that, with Minister Franceschini, we are already working to get microphones, spotlights, projectors back on as soon as possible, and to ensure the conditions for an effective relaunch of all entertainment activities, trusting in commitment, energy and on everyone’s intelligence.




  • SL says:

    Wrong picture though

    • John says:

      A very classy response from Mr. Conte. Mr. Muti’s arrogant letter did not deserve it. People in Italy still remember the military trucks in Bergamo picking up corpses by the dozens. Perhaps Mr. Muti should enrich his own spirit meditating on the hundreds who lost loved ones. Just don’t hold your breath …

      • Chicagorat says:

        Once a tyrant, always a tyrant. After his less than glorious exit from La Scala (both the administration and the orchestra forced him out), Muti learned one lesson: “I have to make nice with the orchestra”. But, from what I hear from people close to the organization, he has not changed one least bit. He still considers himself indispensable and the one true King of Chicago. He wants to call all the shots, considers the administration (made of widely respected professionals) useless, and surrounds himself with an inner circle of Italians and adulators who enjoy mocking donors, trustees, and more generally American culture and society. In Muti’s mind, the world does not spin without Muti.

      • Simon Scott says:

        Those videos of the trucks milling about were unabashed fake news

  • Jessica Pastrami says:

    It is wonderful that the world has finally realized that during flu season it is simply not safe to do concerts or have gatherings of any kind. I have been shouting this to anyone who would listen every winter as scores of the elderly were ravaged by influenza. We have now realized with the help of this dangerous pandemic that these deaths are preventable by some implementing simple measures: Stay at home and wear a mask. We can stop the scourge of respiratory viruses. If it costs are the careers of some orchestra musicians, I say that’s an acceptable cost to protect or elders. Sure, some selfish people will protest “muh freedoms”, but all righteous human with empathy agree: concerts are a luxury, not a right. Staying alive is a right. Mask up or pack up!

    • Tamino says:

      Thank you for the satire.
      With people thinking like you, mankind would have been extinct a long time ago.

    • Pastrami says:

      Going outside during flu season is LITERALLY murdering the elderly. If you step outside you are potentially killing the old. Stay at home and eat a pastrami sandwich with your mask on.
      (Also, please ban cars because they kill people too. Only a murderous society prioritizes the luxury of freedom of movement over the health and safety of its populace.)

      • Rohat Rastopante says:

        Not sure if this is a serious post but I absolutely agree – all sandwich consumption must be accompanied my mandatory masking. Safety first!

      • Jessica Pastrami says:

        Last time I checked there isn’t a deadly contagious automobile pandemic. And thank you, I will eat a sandwich… IN MY HOME. Safe from the virus. Have fun at your anti-mask rallies! I hope the ventilator insertion isn’t too painful.

        • SVM says:

          To be perfectly serious for a moment (now that I have realised, belatedly, that most of Pastrami’s comments are surely sarcastic), the air pollution from motor traffic *is* very widely acknowledged among respiratory experts/researchers as being responsible for many premature deaths (as well as causing more people to have asthma), including in young people. It is also thought that high levels of air pollution exacerbate the effects of COVID-19 (and may explain the location of certain infection hotspots, such as Wuhan and Lombardy).

      • Veronika says:

        Let’s ban elevators too, accidents happen. And chewable food too, choking hazard is a real thing. Can’t wait to see you walking up the stairs munching on an astronaut paste.

    • Karl says:

      Don’t forget that we should lower the speed limit to 10 mph to save people from automobile accidents. And we could start mandatory weighing of everyone and force the obese into a camp where they must diet and exercise. And we are well on the way to banning sex anyway so let’s institute a full ban. Over 1000 people die from kitchen knives every year too so they must be banned.

    • William Safford says:

      People in places like Japan have been wearing masks in public for a number of years now. They were onto something before we were.

      Even though I assume that you mean your post to be taken ironically, I suspect that elements of it will be part of our future, for the better.

        • William Safford says:

          Citing a John Solomon-founded right wing mouthpiece with conspiracist leanings does not lend any credence to your misinformation.

          • Hayne says:



            As I’ve said before, if you really believe your face mask protects others from the virus then it must protect you from it also. I would never stop you from wearing one. Why do you care if I wear one or not?
            I guess a Danish scientific study is now “right wing” since it was reported in a “right wing” news site.
            I’ll play along. Please show me any evidence of John Solomon reporting something not true. BTW, something you personally disagree with is not an argument.

          • William Safford says:

            Again, your information is bad, because you get it from an unreliable right wing propaganda sources.

            Masks are effective at helping to curb the spread of COVID. Masks are neither 100% effective, nor 100% ineffective, at helping to curb the spread of the virus. It’s somewhere in between.

            If you wear the mask, you primarily protect me from being infected by you. You also receive some protection from being infected by someone else.

            Please stop repeating misinformation.

          • Hayne says:

            Something you cannot dispute intelligently is called “right wing.” Please show any proof of John Solomon’s articles being wrong. You can’t. You just slander. You are a typical leftist. Being called a leftist is not a compliment. It shows a lack of critical thought.
            Your statement on masks without any proof convinced me.
            Thank you Dr.Safford.
            Now to the realm of sarcasm…


          • William Safford says:

            False. I can contest false left-wing misinformation just as easily as I can false right-wing misinformation, if and when I encounter it.

            What is the difference? The sheer volume of right-wing misinformation, vs. the slow trickle of left-wing misinformation.

            We are in a period of our history in which know-nothingism is in the ascendancy in the right wing, and has long since infiltrated the Republican Party.

            The historical antecedent:


            You do not like being called out for disseminating misinformation.

            There is an easy answer: stop spreading misinformation. Problem solved.

            Even better: stop being suckered into believing it.

    • Farhid says:

      “Educated” girls like you need to hook up with a Muslim guy so you can experience diversity first hand all covered up for the rest of your lives. Those guys really keep their females in line!

      Your little group doesn’t have the true confidence in what you espouse to do that though. The reality would be too diverse for you which proves how mentally weak you are.

      You haven’t the courage to sacrifice your freedoms to that kind of a culture yet you think you’re going to tell everyone else how to live?!?! You’re just a girl, not an adult honey!

  • Alain Louy says:

    Ce n’est pas la photo de Conte.
    Confusion entre le Pt de la République et du Conseil.

  • Eli says:

    I find Mutti’s letter extremely selfish. Yes, music is essential to the soul, however, is it essential to the survival to life right now? not at all when people are dying…

    There are other ways to digest music right now which is online and countless recordings on Spotify. You can support artists right now by listening as we gain royalties.

    I think what he’s really saying is…classical musicians want money, and are too lazy and egotistical to adapt either to another field (temporarily) or figure out a new system to share music in an effective way.

    As a musician, myself, welcome to life…

    • Ted Kelso says:

      Who’s supporting you boy?

      Living off your parents is not realistic for the rest of your life you know.

      Besides there is little work due to the pandemic which has “socialized” the entire employment landscape. Those relying on unemployment IF they ever received it have been lucky to keep their homes or eat since the money has run out in many states. A musician’s skills will not usually get you hired in another sector even when times are good. Send out resumes and see what happens if you dare. Currently there are a ton of jobseekers who cannot find anything since losing their jobs in March or later. Employers either can’t operate on uncertainty and closed up for good or got cheaper people at reduced rates that can’t support themselves alone.

      When you start supporting yourself eventually, you’ll understand life better.

    • Novagerio says:

      Muti’s answer is far from selfish. He is only complaining about the PM’s formulation that “Art is superfluous during a pandemic”.
      The fact is that Italian theaters and other cultural institutions have closed during the last many years because of the ignorance and lack of interest
      of regional politicians, and that can hardly be blamed on Covid-19.
      I can assure you that trains and tobacco stores will stay open, and Vasco Rossi and Jovanotti will remain symbols of “La grande musica italiana”,
      with or without a pandemic. It is the pandemic of ignorance Muti points out, in the name of hard working italian musicians who are struggling
      right now.

      And when PM Conte writes “I assure you that, with Minister Franceschini, we are already working to get microphones, spotlights, projectors back on as soon as possible, and to ensure the conditions for an effective relaunch of all entertainment activities, trusting in commitment, energy and on everyone’s intelligence” – it only proves the very ignorance Muti points out. Art is not “entertainment”. Art is cultural patrimony.
      And apparently, PM Conte has never attended an acoustic concert or operatic performance. Classical music concerts and opera performances don’t need any microphones, unless they are being broadcasted of Livestreamed. Conte’s letter, aswell as the entire M5S-movement is an insult to the intelligence of classical musicians and practitioners of the other arts. At least that’s how I read Muti’s words.

  • carlo says:

    Italy here…theaters closed….shopping centers OPEN!!!

    • Gustavo says:

      Germany speaking…restaurants, opera houses and brothels probably closing next week, with hair dressers and hardware stores remaining open – and professional football likely to continue.

    • Novagerio says:

      Costanzo – Giletti Show OPEN – and with a full Live-audience (yesterday morning) – Questa è la RAI. The arrogance of ignorance and stupidity, rather than herd-immunity.

  • Ettore says:

    Bravo President Conte! Your responsibility is to protect Italian citizens, not to appease self-serving, condescending and self-involved maestros.

  • Darrell says:

    So much talk just to say that the circus goes on. The virus will never go away, millions of people will never get vaccinated. You have to learn to live with it. Time to move on.

    • Larry D says:

      How do you intend to force people to go to concerts if they don’t want to? Going out in the street and shouting, “Get over it! Just move on!” is not all that reassuring.

  • Ooooooh! Che Muso!! says:

    Finalmente, qualcuno ha detto a Muti di stare Muto!

  • papageno says:

    classical musicians can go out and get temporary office or street job you know what I’m saying??

    • Elinor says:

      Classical musicians need to shut their ego and find another temporary job if they can’t survive. This is what any other arts industry would do. Not wine and complain. All that energy could be used at the customer service department.

      • William Safford says:

        Many are doing just that.

        Will you be one of those to complain about how lousy you think the orchestras and opera houses sound a couple years from now, once they reopen? Hmmmm….

      • Winnie CF says:

        Your comment regarding classical musicians is highly offensive and demeaning!

        However it IS the reason that the arts should be defunded by governments and universities need to cut all of it from their programs. It’s simply not worth leading students on any longer.

        Student debt alone is now totally untenable. Since there’s no way for anybody to pay it back there’s no reason to charge for it and shouldn’t even be taught. Students are better off with private instruction ONLY!

        As to governments, they’ve all been crying poor years before the Chinese disease. States in the USA like New York only have Cuomo to cry “we have no monneeeeeeyyyyyy” and criticize the Federal government that DOES. Andrew can’t handle money and that’s HIS PROBLEM alone!!

        Any funding should come from donors at this point. In blue states they are clearly hopeless and stupid.

        Classical musicians deserve much more respect for their craft as it is yet if you’re pop or rap you take in MILLIONS since people pay for not only music but all the lifestyle items they sell today in order to be visible and accessible. Classical artists save a handful never do this or see themselves in that arrogant, mainstream light.

        Yes, the entire classical system must be re-formulated if it wants to survive but slamming talented people who must learn so much and actually sound good is not appreciated or appropriate.

        • Elinor says:

          I am living in a purple state, and I came from Europe…so hallelujah to your comment- tell me about it. We cannot rely on government funding otherwise it will crumble. Classical music is a high art form, and those who are willing to pay for it, will. We must weed out those who cannot serve the want/demand system, and we have to get rid of politics in the music industry. Enough of those who are in it for fame and fake government connections. Good music and good music-making will always prevail.

        • William Safford says:

          In the U.S., the arts have been de facto defunded by the government for decades now. Only a tiny fraction of money for classical music comes from the government.

          There is one significant exception to this: the military service bands. This is the closest that America has to the European state-supported model.

    • devin jacobs says:

      Like hooking?

      Who would want to pound your ass a buck papageno??

  • Gustavo says:

    Both letters are very polite and show a high degree of mutual respect.

    Muti and Conte are just doing their jobs. I can understand both Muti’s frustration and Conte’s fear of a second Bergamo.

  • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

    Wait. You mean someone didn’t obey the Maestro?

  • fflambeau says:

    An excellent response to a petulant letter from Muti.

  • George says:

    Why this anger against Muti?
    If those at the top are not fighting for the arts and artists, then who is???
    Big companies have Unions. The world of the arts has practically no one to speak up for it.

    • Surfer says:

      Right. In Italy and Chicago, orchestras have to discover Unions. Dude …

    • William Safford says:

      There is a difference between looking for financial support for out-of-work musicians, other workers, ensembles, etc.; and trying to create what could be superspreader events by bringing back full-scale live concerts prematurely.

      • JLR says:

        Folks still go grocery shopping which has no limits to their occupancy and to plenty of stores.

        • William Safford says:

          I haven’t been in a grocery store in months. I have made other arrangements to procure food and other necessities.

          That notwithstanding, two wrongs do not make a right. Plus, people do need to eat.

  • George says:

    Germany’s Till Brönner has posted a video, which is currently going viral…saying that the cultural sector is dying and that the State cannot just “kill” a whole huge branch of industry while saving car companies etc..