Riccardo Chailly hits back at Ukraine demand

Riccardo Chailly hits back at Ukraine demand


norman lebrecht

November 13, 2022

La Scala’s music director has rejected a demand from the Ukrainian consulate to cancel Musorgsky’s opera Boris Godunov on the grounds that it served Russian propaganda.

Chailly said: ‘We are all with Ukraine waiting for the conflict to end, but politics and its consequences cannot be coercive for culture… Pushkin and Musorgsky are elements that created the art and music of the nineteenth century. Touching them would be like doing the same to Dante or Shakespeare. Boris Godunov is a work that tells of a character who will pay a price for the murder committed to reach power, first with madness and then with death. When you see the opera, in the interesting direction of Kasper Holten, you will realize that there is no propaganda for Putin.

‘A month after the start of the war, with one hundred musicians and an international cast we took the stage to express the participation of the theatre in defense of Ukraine. On 4 April we conducted Rossini’s “Stabat Mater” and that Amen, In sempiterna saecula was the Milanese cry of pain against the war. An evening without fees and with the funds raised (380 thousand euros ed) in favour of Ukrainian refugees. To remove a masterpiece from listening, which ends with the madness and death of the Tsar, is to penalize culture. The idea is to link “Macbeth” with “Boris”, linking them to the abuse of power that consumes and leads to madness. Do we want to abolish Shakespeare? In January we will perform Tchaikovsky, then a concert for the 70th anniversary of the death of Prokofiev, a Ukrainian genius. There is a lack of objectivity with respect to art. Art must not pay for the destruction of what has happened since February 24th.’


  • Concertgebouw79 says:

    Of course Chailly is right.

  • G says:

    Bravo, Riccardo!

    I think that aggressive activists should be punished for humanitarian terror they push.

  • Fernandel says:

    The only tenable position.

  • Roland says:

    Bravo, Maestro! Wonderfully spoken!

  • Chicagorat says:

    Bene detto, Maestro! Riccardo Chailly has the moral authority to comment on these Russian matters; unlike Muti, the Italian Stallion, who makes speeches against Putin but is the recipient of a Putin award, which apparently he has not retroactively refused.

    In the meantime, in his native country, the said Bill Clinton of classical music (a.k.a. the Chicago Symphony Orchestra soon-to-be Music Director Emeritus for Life), and Chailly’s nemesis, has now become the stuff of cabaret.

    A critically acclaimed comedian, Checco Zalone, launched in Florence his new tour, titled “Amore + IVA”, a satire of unethical (and hypocritical) machismo. Zalone’s new work has been praised by major Italian papers, across the ideological spectrum.

    The core of the show are skits with impersonations of carefully selected characters that are models for machismo, including two notable ones: Putin and Muti.

    A very short clip of the show is available here, with a glimpse of the Muti skit shown at minute 0:30 ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BFkwc-75ZOc )

    Here are a few lines uttered by the Muti character on stage, as reported by Repubblica and Corriere:

    – “I detest exaggerations, just call me genius”

    – “Do Italian theaters allow women under 70 years old to enter? My pianist friend, Memo Remigi (a), talked to me about this pop audience”

    – On “Pierino e il Lupo” (“Peter and the Wolf”): “No, it is ‘Pierino and the substitute teacher’ with Alvaro Vitali (b)”

    – “Chopin killed himself with pugnette (c)” “His Nocturnes were for right hand or left hand”

    – “Given how the evening is going, I’d talk about a guitar player, Segovia” (d)

    – “What the f*** are these crazy women talking about? … I don’t give a f***, I am paid a shitload of money anyway”

    (translations largely based on Google Translate and the help of one Czech friend based in Italy)

    See related articles here:



    A native of Capurso, in the Bari metropolitan area close to Muti’s home town of Molfetta, Zalone must know Muti very well. These satirical punch lines are meant to be taken by the audience as representative of a “behind the scenes” typical conversation with the real Muti, offering a window into the true character of the crass, vulgar, sexual innuendo loving “Maestro”. In this show, the “Emperor” has no clothes and show us his ugly and dirty underbelly.

    It is a shame that this show was not written in English, and not available on the Internet, where it would be welcome. The Italian Stallion is a master at manipulating ignorant journalists and ignorant fans alike into believing that he is a messiah of culture; his manipulation is quite effective and often (incredibly) he is depicted by Chicago and Austrian papers almost as a reincarnated Da Vinci.

    Congratulations to Zalone. He delivers pricking satire that exposes a powerful and deeply unethical man, whose misconduct in Chicago goes well beyond sexual innuendos.

    And congratulations to the CSO Board and Jeff Alexander for showing great judgment in picking a man of unassailable character as Music Director Emeritus for Life.

    (a) Memo Remigi. an octogenarian singer once very popular in Italy, was recently fired by the Italian RAI national television for having groped a colleague and co-presenter, Jessica Morlacchi, during a live TV show. The video is available on youtube

    (b) Pierino is an italian variation of Little Johnny. Alvaro Vitali is the most famous actor in the Italian erotic comedy genre. A sample Pierino movie billboard here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierino_contro_tutti

    (c) “pugnette” is vulgar slang for male masturbation

    (d) A pun on “sega”, vulgar slang for male masturbation

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      It’s clear you hate maestro Muti. May we know why?

    • Novagerio says:

      Rat: Man, you never miss any opportunity, do you? Muti-bashing = “vocationem vitae meae” (!)

    • Micaela Bonetti says:

      Mr Chigagorat,

      I’m not used to write this kind of commentaries on commentaries, nevertheless here is an exception.
      I will be very happy the day you will stop writing long considerations, critics, gossips on Riccardo Muti (whom I happen not so higly appreciate).

      Really boring, again and again, pardon me.

      I sometimes wonder, pardon me again, if R. Muti one day arrived first in the heart of a woman you were in love with…
      Mi scusi.

      I’m sure you have much more interesting considerations to share with SD’s readers!

    • Gianni S. says:

      Well Italy is the land of Bunga Bunga after all.

      And Muti is to italian music like Berlusconi is to italian politics.

      But there is some light: you can replace the previous two names with Chailly and Draghi, and the statement still holds true.

    • SickOfYou says:

      This was not about Muti at all. You have such a large big up your arse about Muti it seems you actually have a man-crush on him and you write these things because you are being ignored by him. Get over it. Muti brought beautiful, exciting concerts to Chicago for many years. Now he’s leaving. Just stay holed up in your cage until he leaves town. Then you can find another person to belittle and continue your rants.

      • Bob says:

        ” Beautiful, exciting concerts” … uh … what?

        To the “Rat”: you seem to be saying that this comedian is giving us shocking revelations. Really? Do we discover today that the Muti has a penchant for everything sexual and feminine, that his vulgarity, mostly unknown abroad, is highly offensive?

        The old man is what he is, what he has always been. Take him or leave him. I made up my mind a long time ago.

  • anon says:

    I have every sympathy for Ukraine and I hope they win and the war ends as soon as possible. But there’s something quite pathetic about the Ukrainian consulate demanding international help & solidarity because of the terrible war while also having time & energy to worry about what’s on at La Scala.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    I am totally sympathetic to Ukraine, and staunchly anti-Putain.
    But cancelling Boris Godunov “on the grounds that it served Russian propaganda”????
    Good for you, Maestro Chailly!

  • Micaela Bonetti says:

    Che bella risposta, la Sua!
    Grazie, Maestro Chailly.
    Con grande stima.

  • Bulgakov says:

    Right on.

  • Herbie G says:

    This reminds me of those operas that could not be set in modern times and nations so the composer transferred them elsewhere to avoid the censor. Verdi’s ‘Masked Ball’ had to be set in Boston as it dealt with the assassination of a king. His ‘Nabucco’ was set in Biblical times but was surely inspired by Verdi’s nationalist sympathies and meant to fuel the cause of Italian unity.

    As Riccardo Chailly says: ‘Boris Godunov is a work that tells of a character who will pay a price for the murder committed to reach power, first with madness and then with death.’ Precisely. Not only is there, ‘no propoganda for Putin’, as he says, but plenty of propoganda against him. Go for it, Maestro!

  • I beg your pardon says:

    Bravo. Hit the nail on the head.

  • Andy says:


    An Iron Man.


  • Tamino says:

    I agree with Chailly. Except: Prokofjev is not a Ukrainian genius. Let’s not go down these revisionistic rabbit holes. He himself never identified as Ukrainian, nor did he speak or write the language.

  • MMcGrath says:

    Bravo, maestro.

  • Serge says:

    I miss times with more intelligent people. And sorry dear Ukrainians, this also comes down to some of you. Suggestions like this would have been unheard of even only ten years ago.

  • trumpetherald says:

    Well said,and well done! Boris Godunov is a cri du coer against abuse of power and totalianirism.And actually not much has changed since 17th century…..Boris and Pootin are brothers in spirit.

    • Herbie G says:

      True indeed, Trumpetherald, except that I am not too sure about their being brothers in spirit. Boris Godunov was wracked with guilt for the single murder that he had committed; Putin doesn’t give a stuff about the thousands of victims of his genocidal and totally unprovoked rampage through Ukraine and the murders of countless political opponents both in Russia and elsewhere.

  • Anthony Sayer says:

    Bravo, Riccardo.

  • Rob Keeley says:

    Good for him.

  • Michael James says:

    Chailly did the right thing. The Ukrainian consulate’s demand was preposterous.

  • M Kaznowski says:

    Good for him. Meanwhile it looks like poor old Barenboim in Berlin is very seriously ill. Prob more than first thought. See article in New York Times

  • Mimi says:

    A brilliant reply! Absolutely necessary! With all due respect and immense sympathy for the Ukrainians, there are marks (e.g. in culture) not to be overstepped.

  • Robin Blick says:

    Absolutely right. Instead, why not
    protest the ban on Russian pianist Polina Osetinskaya for opposing the invasion of Ukraine.

  • Exactly says:

    Exactly. Do not boycott Russian music. Do not boycott Russian musicians unless they openly support Putin. And do not boycott Russian music festivals and competitions.

    • Hilary says:

      Unless those competitions are state sponsored like the Rachmaninov competition.

      • Exactly says:

        No, it would be wrong to boycott the Rachmaninoff competition, or even the Tchaikovsky competition.

        These events are celebrations of great composers who have nothing to do with barbaric Putinsm.

  • Lothario Hunter says:

    “E lei chi cazzo e’? Fuori dai coglioni!” / “Who the fuck are you? Get out of my balls!”

    Riccardo Muti, addressing Riccardo Chailly who had attempted to greet the touring CSO MD inside the La Scala MD office which Chailly had graciously lent for Muti’s use during the CSO visit (according to Italian media reports at the time).

    • AD says:

      Actually, the best part of the exhange between Chaiily and Muti was (according to the press):
      Muti: who the hell are you?
      Chailly: the other Riccardo.

    • Fact check says:

      You are wrong. This episode did not happen during the CSO tour. It happened when Muti conducted the Wiener at La Scala, after the theater was reopened for the first time post pandemic.

  • Tamino says:

    How primitive and uncultured, to think a composer‘s nationality defines (and confines) his or her art. That‘s true anywhere. Almost all art(istic expression) is far above nationalistic constructs.
    Even if Godunov us plotted in Russia, it is a universal tale about abusive power.

  • David Spence says:

    I am with Riccardo Chailly on this one. It shows an ignorance of history to cancel a production of this work. this colossal masterpiece, on the basis of current events, politics.

  • buschtrommel says:

    Mh, good reply from Chailly and he should perform what he want. But do not forget that in the meantime Gergiev conducts at Mariinsky/in Russia tons of Mussorgsky in 2022. And Mussorgsky itself as in the opera Boris Godunov expresses some hostility against the “West”. So there could be some moments to think about this. But for god sake the complexity of the content and the score is so much higher and multi-perspective that in 2022 you can play it specially if you perform the “Ur”-Boris. Only do not forget the here and in other moments hided hostility against the West before you white-wash Mussorgsky as an outspoken free Ukraine fan.