Photo by Silvia Lelli

Muti: I’m taking the Academy to Korea, and I’m considering China…
I’ll teach Verdi and Italian opera, as my great masters did with me

Riccardo Muti will spend July 28, his 75th birthday, working on his mission: passing on to young people all that he learned from the great masters of the past, that is, the best possible loyalty to Italian operatic scores, especially Verdi’s. The second season of the Riccardo Muti Italian Opera Academy (Ravenna, July 23-August 5 – will focus on La Traviata. Last year’s season was dedicated to Falstaff. Verdi it is, then. It is no coincidence that The New York Times dubbed Muti “the King of Verdi”.

In the name of Verdi, Muti, one of the foremost interpreters of the composer’s genius, will take his Academy to Korea, (May 22 to 29). This is a model that can be exported, then. “Of course. We might build a similar bridge from Ravenna to China next year, with a new Academy season abroad.” The experience was born from the idea of teaching the Italian repertoire to young conductors, opera coaches and singers. “Mozart, especially Mozart’s Italian operas, will also be included. But Verdi is obviously the core: in historian Bruno Barilli’s words, he was ‘a greatly misunderstood composer'”. What do you mean? “The so-called Italian tradition is often based on the perpetuation of bad habits.” Too often have we exported a false image of Verdi-bombastic, full of sound and fury – but there is a totally different approach to Verdi, based on a definitely more accurate analysis.”

Are you a loyal interpreter of Verdi’s scores? “I do not hold the truth, but one of my teachers, Antonino Votto, was an assistant to Toscanini at La Scala in the ‘20s. I do not want his suggestions and directions to be lost when I’m gone: I intend to pass them on to young conductors, in Italy and abroad.”
For Muti, “the interesting thing is that the rehearsals will not be for students only: they will be open to the public. This is the most important element. Both in Ravenna and in Korea, and I hope in China next year, my sessions will be simultaneously translated for the audience, who will see how an opera is realised.” What about the wrong interpretations of Verdi? “He himself complained that his scores were often misunderstood by conductors and singers. He lamented the fact that his music was being shouted to the wind… Millions of his musical and expressive intentions are never performed. Verdi’s operas are performed with little respect of his directions, which were extremely strict and very detailed.”

What would Verdi say about you? “I cannot say. But I know that I have been trying to understand his message for more than 40 years. No one holds the truth, but I have never used Verdi or any other Italian composer for a theatrical or dramatic effect. I try to observe the letter of his directions, as closely as possible.”

How are Verdi and Italian Opera taught at the Academy? “I’ll sit at the piano and explain how each character should be interpreted. These ideas are then passed on to the orchestra: this is exactly what should be done when producing an opera in a professional theatre. First, the singers are coached at the piano. Then, all that was decided in terms of interpretation is passed on to the orchestra, where the young conductor takes care of the instrumental ensemble according to an idea of interpretation and phrasing (or of the musical phrase), the tone, the meaning to be attributed to every single note and sentence, so that music and orchestra are always at the service of the word. In Verdi’s words, ‘you are to serve the poet rather than the musician.’ Time is often wasted paying more attention to the vocal effect than to the musical substance”.

What is the Academy to you? “It is an opportunity to pass on to young people, to younger generations, all that I had the good fortune to learn from my contacts with great singers, great conductors, and great soloists. When I was young, I was very lucky to meet the greatest opera performers. Young people are not as lucky today: they do not have an opportunity for getting in touch with the closing period of a glorious past”.

Any dreams you want to realize? “I have a wish rather than a dream: I hope Europe will not lose track of its great culture, a fountain from which such emerging countries as China and Korea drink. Japan has been doing this for a long time. I hope that the governments in our continent will not forfeit the values of our culture, which are the cornerstones of our society. I hope that we are careful not to minimize, not to underestimate the importance of culture, which is an element of our Europe. I wouldn’t like this continent to become a museum. It must be active. This is what I would like to see, but all this is in danger. There is a general confusion, which leads to a loss of values. Values that are rooted in the respect and nourishment of our great culture. Which, instead, is now a rather generic term, deprived of its true meaning. For decades we have talked about providing school children with this cultural heritage, which is part of our millenarian history. If they lose their roots, it will be hard to think about the future”. (ANSA)

uturo”. (ANSA del 10 maggio 2016).