Riccardo Muti implores president to reopen Italy’s theatres

Riccardo Muti implores president to reopen Italy’s theatres


norman lebrecht

October 26, 2020

He has sent an open letter:

Dear President Conte,

While I understand your difficult responsibilities in this long and tragic period for our country, and with the urgent need to safeguard the health of our fellow citizens, I am impelled to make a heartfelt appeal.

Closing concert halls and theatres is a grave decision. The impoverishment of the mind and spirit is dangerous and also harms physical health. To define theatrical and musical activity, as I have heard some government representatives say, as “superfluous” is an expression of ignorance, and shows a lack of culture and sensitivity.

Such a decision does not take into account the sacrifice and suffering of thousands of artists and workers from all sectors of the performing arts who are insulted by this decision and are left fearful for their futures.

I ask you, confident that I’m conveying the thoughts not only of the artists but also of much of the public, to give life back to theatres and musical activities so they can provide the spiritual sustenance without which society is becoming more and more brutalised.

The theatres are governed by people who are well aware of the anti-Covid regulations and the safety measures indicated, and rules have always been meticulously respected.

I hope that you will listen to this appeal,

With warm regards,

Riccardo Muti

It’s a damn good letter.


  • SL says:

    Grazie Muti

    • Gustavo says:

      Bravo Maestro!

    • Irene in Washington says:

      Oh my! Look at all of the downvotes so quickly in the triple digits.

      So many purportedly educated voters putting down the idea of working for a living.

      So goes the left to their sheepish death just like they did voting for Hillary. To think on Ms. Clinton’s birthday, Trump just swore in a truly qualified woman to the Supreme Court. Poetic justice.

  • Charlie says:

    Pontificating again? Not focused on the right issue.

    • Laura says:

      Nothing new about that!

    • He’s not pontificating. At least not this time. He has an orchestra of young professionals and an opera academy, both operating in Italy. Respect him for these activities (which he may help subsidize) and understand what the shutdown means for the musicians affected. Recognize that he has clout in Italy. Be aware that Conte acted suddenly the other day after a period of ginger returns to operations, and Muti is reacting to that abrupt move. Are these words you disagree with? “L’impoverimento della mente e dello spirito è pericoloso e nuoce anche alla salute del corpo. Definire … come «superflua» l’attività teatrale e musicale è espressione di ignoranza … .” Surely not. It’s unclear what issue you think he should be focused on.

      • Jorge says:

        I am sorry, do you believe he does all these activities out of a good heart for the young musicians? Some sort of charity maybe? They are very useful to him – checkout http://www.riccardomuti.com and get a good sense of how the work of the young musicians goes to fill his pockets. Or do you believe the young musicians are appropriately paid? Let’s not be naive, please. In addition, calling other people “ignorant” is typically not a sign of magnanimity and a way to earn respect. Let’s leave it at that.

  • Federico says:

    Da che pulpito ….. !

  • James says:

    Honestly, a more humble letter from someone in the field who was personally affected IN THEIR FINANCES would carry much more weight. Muti has millions in the bank, he is simply totally insulated from these problems. I’m getting sick of moneyed musicians getting PR for making big statements that, actually, cost them nothing and whose existence depends not at all on the outcome of whatever action for which they’re calling.

    • Tristan says:

      Not only that, but this gentleman is no moral authority

    • Firing Back says:

      Spot on.
      Like wheeling out Rattle and the usual screaming suspects in the UK – all worried about their own positions, whilst virtue-signalling that they care about ‘poor artists’. They don’t.

      It’s PR companies pushing their clients forward ‘Yay, let’s get so-and-so to say they care about the whole industry’.
      It’s like a toxic food chain: PR companies are desperate to stay relevant, the ‘celeb’ musicians are like cheap whores etc etc.

      And they all seem to think the general public gives a fig about them. (Spoiler: the public does not).

      As Norman said re Rattle’s latest ‘intervention’ (Observer), it’s all PR driven.

      • Rachel says:

        I don’t think Muti use a PR firm.

      • Tristan says:

        comparing overrated Rattle with Muti, never heard a better joke. He was horrible in Berlin!

        • Matt says:

          Did you hear a Muti’s concert in the past couple of years? No, even if you were there, you probably fell asleep. An Austrian friend after the 9th in Salzburg said something like: “”Beethoven hatte Glück. Nur 1.000 im Publikum erlaubt.” (Pardon my German mistakes).

  • Tristan says:

    Finally a voice that makes sense as the world is going absolutely crazy

  • Dana B. says:

    “Such a decision does not take into account the sacrifice and suffering of thousands of artists and workers from all sectors of the performing arts who are insulted by this decision and are left fearful for their futures.”

    Nobody (especially commenters here) has any clue as to how one is supposed to avoid the mass poverty, homelessness and suicides befalling those unable to work!!

    People want the freedom of choice to live as they wish. Those that don’t like it are welcome to exhaust their savings and go homeless living in your own personal fear. A few less of you nuts dragging others down wouldn’t be a bad thing for society either!

    • William Safford says:

      Your comment might make more sense, if COVID were not sickening people by the millions, if it hadn’t already killed over a million people thus far, and if it weren’t sickening and killing increasing numbers of people literally as I type this.

      Your freedom of choice to live as you wish, stops at my freedom not to be infected by you.

      • Karl says:

        If you don’t want to get infected you can stay isolated. Other people who are not worried about the 0.003% chance of dying from covid should be able to live free.

        • William Safford says:

          This pandemic is far more serious than your cavalier post suggests.

          I did just that for months. I remain mostly isolated to this day.

          As of now, five people I know were infected. Three of them are dead. One was hospitalized, and is still recovering months later. The one with the best outcome completely lost her sense of smell and taste for a month.

          I want to remain free from infection, until and unless either a vaccine or a treatment is approved and becomes readily available.

          When I do go out, I am put at risk by the selfishness of others, who treat this as lightly as you do.

          • Karl says:

            I know many people who got it, including me, and none even had to be hospitalized. More people die from smoking than will die of covid this year.

          • William Safford says:

            Then you should know better.

            You again trivialize the over million people dead from this virus, and almost a quarter million dead just within the United States, with the numbers increasing every day, as well as the sickened and permanently maimed.

            Your analogy from the POV of the smoker is invalid: a smoker chooses to smoke, whereas the vast majority of us do not choose to be infected by COVID.

            I don’t smoke, but for a significant part of my life I was subject to second-hand smoke, as were all of us non-smokers who were compelled to be around smokers. I hope I never have to suffer from lung cancer or similar diseases, due to the lack of consideration of others. So, the smoking analogy from the POV of someone near a smoker is applicable.

            In a similar way, why should my life and health be put at risk from people who are infectious, including those who are as cavalier about it as you are.

          • Leon Hubert says:

            So stay in your playpen and stop bothering others William!

          • William Safford says:

            With 220,000 dead in the U.S. from this disease, and well over a million dead in the world, with more people dying every day, that’s all you’ve got? Really?

            If people were individually more responsible, there would be less need for isolation and shutdowns.

  • Oooooh, Che Muso!!! says:

    Che Palle!!!

  • Eagle says:

    Poor Chicago Symphony, stuck with him for who knows how long.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Until 2021.

      • MidwestInsider says:

        Norman, talking about deferential press – this is a man who will not take an interview unless the journalist is a certified sycophant – that’s why he does not do interviews with you!

        • norman lebrecht says:

          On the contrary, he has done several interviews with me, including a programme-length conversation for the BBC.

          • Norbert says:

            NL’s interview with Muti on the BBC was the best of that year, largely because he LET HIM SPEAK, which so many interviewers don’t.

            We could hear the passion, sometimes shyness, and herculean quantities of pride. He also has a great sense of humour.

            What a dramatic contrast with a conductor like J.E. Gardiner for example, who uses his learning and undoubted cleverness to beat everyone over the head and amplify his own glory.

            I loved the way he called him ‘Riccardo’ though. Just had to be cheeky!

          • sam says:

            Why wouldn’t he call him “Riccardo”? He couldn’t very well call him “Claudio”.

          • John says:

            “herculean quantities of pride”? Please don’t get too excited.

          • Silvia says:

            Normal, fair is fair. But I dare to say your manner of British journalism has nothing to do with that of Italy or Chicago. Journalists over there are on their knees. You can save the NYT in the US for a fair review, and that’s about it. (As a matter of fact, I heard the Maestro is not fond of that paper. Just rumors but they were not too kind on him.)

          • anon says:

            spot on, the Chicago Tribune, especially the current classical music critic Howard Reich, is soooo unctuous (not only of il Maestro but also of “his” orchestra), that after reading a review or an interview your hands are dripping with oil.

            The NYT has more lately been much cooler to Muti, and the fact that they of late are championing Cleveland and what they are doing under Frankly Worse Than Most as the best orchestra in the US in terms of playing (don’t even get me started on *that* particular NYT fetish), certainly does not endear Ricky to the NYT

      • Musician says:

        Muti’s Chicago contract was extended through August 2022.

  • J Morris Jones says:

    Yes – a good letter; he might as well have gone the whole hog and quote Da Ponte in Figaro – ‘Che caro Signor Conte! Ci vogliam divertir’.

  • mary says:

    Holy cow, it amazes me that people still think it’s a spiritual battle.

    You’re fighting against a virus! The virus couldn’t give a damn about your soul. All a virus cares about is a warm moist place to reproduce. And that’s your lungs. And a lot of lungs together in an enclosed space is better for a virus than one lung alone in his house.

    Good lord.

    • Gustavo says:

      It’s not a fight against a virus.

      It is a natural cause of death that has gone viral in our human socities because the capacities of public health services are limited and medical doctors are in desperate need of technical solutions to prevent them from having to make unethical decisions defined by religious conventions.

      • Amos says:

        A word salad of crap. It is an airborne infectious virus that replicates by the close unprotected human to human contact.

        • Gustavo says:

          I do not share your reductionist view.

          Human life is not only about mucous membranes and the exchange of body fluids.

          COVID-19 is an illness that has also gone “viral” in a social and cultural sense within a novel environment (the Internet), leading to a worldwide monocausal dispute over the effectiveness of precautionary hygiene measures (including the closure of opera houses).

          If there were no social mass media our awareness and social responsibility would be based more on common sense and individual decisions using local sources of information rather than relying on statistically biased data, artificial intelligence, global power politics, fake news and religion, promoting blind obedience in one way or the other.

          • Amos says:

            Regrettably, a viral pandemic is not the best theme for a Sarte treatise but rather a matter of hypothesis-tested science. Put more succinctly wishing will not make the problem go away.

          • Gustavo says:

            What has the socio-economic and ethical struggle with COVID-19 got to do with scientific hypothesis testing?

            Medicine is driven by the ethical convention of saving or extending human lives on a case-to-case (individual) basis, using evidence-based knowledge as a tool to formulate decision rules.

            However, there is no objective decision rule that could be based on “hypothesis tested science” when it comes to a so-called triage.

            This is why some people feel the urge to prey to God, read Nietzsche or conduct Verdi’s Requiem – because rational scientific content or political rules are not the only ingredients that keep human societies alive and at peace.

    • Alma Regina says:

      The World has always – and will so also in future – be inhabited by a lot of different, mutating Virus populations. This is only one out of… ? Many! Everyone will be infected sooner or later, and the immune system of most people will handle this Coronavirus successfully. I wish you a great and meaningful life while you hide under your bed the next years to come! Good lord..

      • Amos says:

        Learn elementary Immunology then express your polemic.

        • Alma Regina says:

          oh Amos.. what a cocky wise guy you are… I know enough about elementary immunology to have a well-founded opinion! According to WHO, 80% of all Sars COV-2 infections have a mild to undiscovered course, this actually means: the immune system of MOST people (WHO: 80%…!!) handles this virus successfully! The virus also mutates, haven’t you heard about that? This virus has until now produced 12.000 catalogued mutations (research from university Basel, Switzerland).

      • Larry D says:

        In your case, let’s hope it’s sooner, so you can demonstrate to us cowards how brave you are. Oh well, must get back under my bed with the dust bunnies!

  • phf655 says:

    Yes, beautiful sentiments, but can he guarantee that no one – audience member, chorister, solo singer, orchestra member, stagehand – will become ill with the virus because of the inevitable absence of social distancing? Muti, at the age of 79, should be thinking of this too.

    • SVM says:

      Nobody can guarantee that… ever! Even if COVID-19 were completely eliminated, there are many other viruses (now and in the future) out there capable of killing people and spreading in theatres.

      So, the real question is: is the current level of risk acceptable? Evidently, Muti and Conte disagree. I will not venture an opinion here, since I do not know enough about the situation in Italy.

  • Alessandro Crudele says:

    It is!
    Well done Maestro Muti!

  • Karl says:

    All theaters near me are closed but bars and liqueur stores are open. I guess science says you can’t get covid if you’re drunk. Yelling black lives matter works too. Follow the science!

  • Papageno says:

    where’s the original letter? some of us can read italian..

  • Papageno says:

    I’m hoping President Kanye will make arts great again.

  • Novagerio says:

    He points out that calling the performing art “Superfluous” is a sign of extreme ignorance.
    A fist right in the eye
    Bravo e grazie Maestro!

  • papageno says:

    Anyone read Muti’s autobiography? A most delightful read.

  • fflambeau says:

    I think he’s a great conductor but wrong about this. The safety of the public is the first concern of all real leaders.

    • Karl says:

      Freedom is the most important issue. People can make their own decisions about their own safety.

      • William Safford says:

        People can make poor decisions about their own safety, and thereby imperil the safety of others.

        We have the right not to be infected by you.

        • Karl says:

          Don’t want to get infected? Then stay home. Stop being a dictator and telling everyone else what to do.

          • William Safford says:

            I have had to do just that, because of people like you, who hold the health and well being of other people in contempt.


        • Hayne says:

          If the virus can’t get out of a mask therefore the virus can’t get in. Why do you care if I wear a mask or not? BTW, a mask against the virus is like stopping a mosquito with a chain link fence. I’m not demanding you stop wearing one. It’s called choice.

          • William Safford says:

            People can also make poor decisions about their choice of sources of information, as you clearly have done, as demonstrated in other posts of yours.

            Part of personal responsibility is making wise choices in their sources of information. I recommend that you change yours.

            Masks help *reduce* the transmission of the virus. They are neither useless nor 100% effective.

            Part of personal responsibility is taking actions not only for oneself, but for others.

            For most people, wearing a mask is a trivially-easy step to take to help reduce the spread of this deadly virus.

            It is sad that many people are so selfish that they refuse to do so.

          • Kendra Hobbs says:

            Glad you’re staying home alone away from others William. Hopefully it is permanent.

          • William Safford says:

            Actually, I’m about to go out the door to vote. But thank you for your thoughtful sentiment. *cough*

        • Alma Regina says:

          Yeah! Let’s stay home the next hundred years until all infectuos viruses and mikrobes have gone away (or vaccines have been found for everything that can cause sickness and disease)! But take care and don’t let the electrician, plummer, carpenter or anyone inside your home since they themselves could have caught a virus on the way to your home and will pass it on to you!

          • William Safford says:

            I have done just that, for that reason.

            BTW, another about four thousand people in the U.S. have died of COVID since NL posted this topic. Another thousand will have died by the time you read this.

            This pandemic is not going away. It’s getting worse.

            The virus is immune to your sarcasm.

  • mary says:

    Muti writes to Conte in English?

    Did he put it on CSO letterhead?

    (remember, when Muti resigned from the Opera di Roma, he wrote his resignation on Chicago Symphony Orchestra letterhead? I thought it was so funny and petty, like, look, I got another job in America, nyah nyah nyah)

  • fflambeau says:

    “The theatres are governed by people who are well aware of the anti-Covid regulations and the safety measures indicated, and rules have always been meticulously respected.”

    No so. Ask Donald Trump & Co.

  • fflambeau says:

    Not a wise move. He’s pushing 80 and I doubt he will be signed again in Chicago (I think they will hire the Austrian, Manfred Honeck who is in his early 60’s). Muti may soon find what it is like to be just another aged conductor without much of a permanent home. Italy has moved on.

    Perhaps the Maestro has not noticed either that Covid numbers are again way up in Italy (and Europe) with many new restrictions being imposed, not fewer? I think the letter is stupid.

  • Joe says:

    I have worked for Maestro Muti and I don’t for a second doubt his sincerity.
    The Man has a genuine regard for the arts and Humanity.
    For all the negative commentators here.
    Where are your letters?
    Where are your ideas for improvement made public?

    • Scourge says:

      Did they teach you when to use capital letters? Or where you influenced by the same decadent-superomistic writing style?

  • Fiddlist says:

    Conte’s reply is far better. More importantly, why do classical musicians (and their grossly outsized egos) think they can change the minds of heads of state?? :0