Meeting with Riccardo Muti, lifelong maestro

Riccardo Muti retreated to his home in Ravenna as the pandemic canceled concerts, trips and tours, notably with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, of which he has been musical director since 2010. We met him one morning in July, in this quiet corner of the old town of Emilia Romagna, where the 80-year-old conductor has been living with his wife, singer Cristina Mazzavillani, since 1976. “It will remain a tragic moment in our history, sighs the maestro as he settles down on the large sofa in the living room. Lots of people died. On a personal level, I who yearned to return home when I was abroad for a long time, I must say that in the last few months I have sometimes lived as in a prison. « 

Riccardo Muti did not count the dates that have disappeared from his agenda, but the period has further reinforced the climate of abandonment of art in Italy that he has not stopped denouncing for decades. The conductor, the first musician to conduct a post-confinement symphonic concert in Italy on June 21, 2020, did not hesitate to challenge former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte in an open letter published on October 26 in the Corriere della Sera. « We could have taken advantage of this period when people were forced to stay at home to bring them quality cultural programs instead of the stupid shows which continued to proliferate on Italian television », fulminait le maestro.

Legendary authority

No one has forgotten the historic evening of March 12, 2011 at the Rome Opera, which celebrated 150 years of Italian unity. After having relayed in the preamble the words of the former mayor Gianni Alemanno, denouncing the budget cuts for culture in Berlusconian Italy, Muti, who headed Nabucco, by Verdi, had benefited from the long ovation of the public at the time of the famous Chorus of Slaves, the famous Go, thought, to stop, arms crossed, in front of his desk. He had then resumed his diatribe, proposing to the public to repeat this revolutionary anthem which served as a rallying point for the Republicans, provided it was dedicated to another Risorgimento, that of culture. A standing room and a tearful choir. « It was a magical moment in my career and in my life », recalls Muti, whose images, captured by Arte, have toured the world.

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Ten years have passed but Riccardo Muti, his brown hair barely stained white, has lost nothing of his legendary authority. He took advantage of these long months of confinement to tackle the work he had hitherto avoided: the Missa solemnis, by Beethoven, this « Grail of sacred music », which he conducted in August at the Salzburg Festival with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

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