Italians in a spin over what to call a woman conductor

Italians in a spin over what to call a woman conductor


norman lebrecht

March 08, 2021

Beatrice Venezi has stirred up a storm on Italian TV by demanding to be known as direttore, rather than the feminine direttrice.

The row blew up at the San Remo Festival and has turned political.

Venezi, 31, is backed by the hard right of the italian spectrum.

The Times reports it here.



  • Anon says:

    That’s easy!
    A maestrx.

    • Anthony Sayer says:

      Love it.

    • Rogerio says:

      I identify as the leader of a band of marauders in a post-apocalyptic desert wasteland.
      I identify as The Lord Humungus.
      And if you don’t mind;
      2nd-person pronoun: my Lord
      3rd-person pronoun: our Lord
      Thank you for respecting my feelings.

    • Mike Gibb says:

      A maestrx italianx?

      • Rogerio says:

        A little-known fact;
        Spaghetti is plural for spaghetto (not spaghetta).
        Because… long thin penis…
        It’s just how people thought in antiquity.
        And how people think in Texas today.

  • Fabio Luisi says:

    Well, I am by all means not at all from the hard right, nor I care about a political aspect of this issue (political aspect? really?), but I agree with Ms. Venezi. She is a “direttore d’orchestra”, like the actual Senate’s President, Ms. Casellati, is “Presidente” (and not Presidentessa). And I also strongly dislike “sindaca” and “ministra”. And additionally, she has the right to chose how she wants to be called, I think.

    • Been there, done that says:

      What if a male conductor wanted to be addressed as “Direttrice” ? I realize how ridiculous this would sound in Italy, but why is it that a woman being addressed as “Direttore” would, or might be accepted, but a man being called “Direttrice”? No way, this will not happen. I see it as a paradox that a woman that wants to be addressed as a man would be seen as being feminist. Or maybe “direttrice” implies that you are not as good as a man. Why would that be? A woman is just as capable as a man when it comes to directing. Referring to a profession by using the male gender, is machismo in itself. But that is how the language works in this case. Paradoxical…They would have to invent a new word, like spokesperson, in order to be PC. Not likely to happen.

      • Novagerio says:

        Been there: job titles like Doctor, Professor, Judge, Counsellor, Attorney, Senator, President and Maestro are GENDER-LESS.
        Only in Italy they have Dottoressa, Professoressa, Maestra, Direttrice etc. Utterly silly.

        • M2N2K says:

          Not “silly” at all. As an Italian word, ‘maestro’ is NOT “gender-less”, but clearly masculine. And for a female conductor, ‘maestra’ makes perfect sense.

        • Ashu says:

          How is it utterly silly? It’s a gendered language. To a native speaker, “la direttore” sounds as wrong – linguistically, not ideologically – as “me is”. This is an aspect of the problem that Anglo monoglots can have no conception of.

    • nina says:

      Well said. I completely agree!

  • RW2013 says:

    watch the video

  • Greg Bottini says:

    Gender equality is not yet a “thing” in Italy….

  • Opilec says:


  • SVM says:

    Interesting point — of course, in English, terms such as “poetess” are obsolete (even “actress” is becoming unfashionable). But I understand the French are trying to go the opposite way (and have job titles that vary according to the gender of the postholder), whilst the German language has always been very gendered when it comes to job titles.

    I wonder whether the conductor would also object to being congratulated with “brava!” (as opposed to “bravo!”)… although personally, I shout “bravi!” at an orchestral concert, in order to include the whole orchestra in my applause.

    • Don Vroon says:

      “Bravo” is an interjection in English. There is no such thing as “brava” or “bravi”. Interjections don’t get declined. It is pretentious to shout “brava” because the singer is female.

      • Greg Bottini says:

        Technically, Don is correct about the usage, if not about his assertion that ‘ “Bravo” is an interjection in English.’ It is definitely an Italian word.
        But general usage embraces “brava” and “bravi”, and as an American-Italian, I don’t see any problem (or pretentiousness) with saying – or shouting – those words.

      • SVM says:

        “Bravo” is not an English word, thus we should endeavour to follow the grammar and declensions of the word’s language of origin, which is Italian. So yes, there is such a thing as “brava!”, “bravi!”, and indeed “brave!” (which denotes approbation for a group of women).

        Is it pretentious to want to use words from other languages correctly? And, for that matter, is it pretentious to make a point of including the whole orchestra/ensemble in one’s approbation, rather than just the /primo uomo/? Personally, I think that using the correct declension is a vital tribute showing respect for the language (we are, after all, committing an act of appropriation) and respect for *all* the performers on stage (and/or in the pit)… unless, of course, you wish to imply that *only* the male conductor/soloist is ever worthy of approbation (having said that, it *is* appropriate to utilise a singular declension during a “solo bow” when the other performers remain seated)?

  • Does Italian even have the possibility of ungendered job titles as English does, like “fire fighter” instead of “fireman” or “flight attendant” instead of “stewardess”?

    Or do the “fighter” and “attendant” always have genders too?

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    She should be called the Direttrice, of course. That’s a grammatical issue.

  • Player says:

    She presents herself as very, even classically, feminine on her website (the pictures, videos…) – so what, apart from publicity, could she gain from complaining of being identified as female?

  • Zandonai says:

    How is this different than the English “woman conductor” , “woman vice president”, “woman mechanic”, etc? I don’t feel they’re derogatory terms. People have such thin skin these days.

  • Zandonai says:

    if they want gender equality, abolish the masculine and feminine nouns and pronouns in their language.

  • Martin Geraldi says:

    To say that Ms Venezi is ‘backed by the hard right’ is somewhat disingenuous at best, implying that there might be a shared interest. The two right parties that have commented thus far have done so in the mistaken view that this is a stance by the conductor against a modern, pc-crusade. It is nothing of the sort and it is clear that she does not align herself with this view. Rather, that the term ‘conductor’ has non-gender-specific origins, given it pertained only to men when first coined and that there is no need to ‘modernise’ it to take account of women now practising it.
    As to the comment stating that we can call her and her colleagues a ‘woman conductor’; why? Does that mean we must call Rattle et al a ‘male conductor’?
    There is a also a misunderstanding in a further comment about her appearance being feminine. Should we infer that, if she were to wear a tail-suit, no make-up and spend no time on her hair, that it would then be appropriate for her to be ‘seen’ as male (which she clearly does not wish to)?
    For those saying that this is purely a matter of linguistics or semantics, bear in mind that there are far fewer female Italian conductors being afforded opportunities in their own country than in most others. Bravo to the ORT for now having a complete roster of female conducting posts!