Riccardo Muti conducts Italian Opera Masterworks

Well, I initially thought I wouldn’t be able to make the last program of the Chicago Symphony’s 126th season, but as luck would have it, I got to attend this afternoon’s 3PM matinee, which ended up being the very last concert of the season! (The series of concerts were also dedicated to the memory of UChicago Professor Philip Gossett, who recently passed away.) The program, of which the first half was given entirely to Verdi and the second to Puccini, Mascagni, and Boito, was the only program of entirely operatic works presented this season, in contrast to last season with the full presentation of Verdi’s Falstaff. Let’s hope that in future CSO seasons, we’ll be hearing more opera because the combination of the world’s best Italian opera (not just Verdi, in my opinion) conductor in Maestro Muti and the CSO is really incredible!

As mentioned, the first half was all Verdi: three pieces from Nabucco (the Overture, Gli arredi festivi, and Va, pensiero), the Anvil Chorus (Vedi! Le fosche) from Il trovatorePatria oppressa! from Macbeth, and the overture from I vespri siciliani. Even though I’ve heard these pieces so many times before, I find that every time I encounter a live performance of them conducted by Maestro Muti, I walk away having heard something new. Maestro Muti led a carefully nuanced performance of Va, Pensiero that was especially revelatory, and considering that I had done an in-depth analysis of this piece for my humanities class way back in the spring of my freshman year (can’t believe that I’ll be a senior this upcoming fall!!), it’s even more impressive that I was (pleasantly) surprised by the various shadings Maestro Muti so clearly brought out from his players and singers. The same applies to the darkly hued Patria oppressa! from Macbeth and the  overture from I vespri siciliani.

After intermission and two wonderful performances of the well-known intermezzi from Puccini’s Manon Lescaut and Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, came the only work that was unfamiliar to me on the program, which was the Prologue of Boito’s Mefistofele, featuring Italian bass Riccardo Zanellato as the titular character. It’s kind of amazing to think that Boito was both the librettist of Verdi’s Falstaff and the composer/librettist of such a dramatic opera in Mefistofele, as the two works are very different from each other – stylistically, thematically, and musically! I know that Maestro Muti has a recording of the work featuring Samuel Ramey as the titular character, but I haven’t gotten a chance to listen to it yet. However, after hearing the opening Prologue, with a strong and convincing interpretation from Zanellato, I definitely have to check the rest of the opera out!

After the concert, Maestro Muti had a CD signing in celebration of the new CSO resound release of last year’s performance of Bruckner’s 9th symphony (which I unfortunately didn’t attend X_X). However, I decided to get one of my old CDs signed – Maestro Muti’s La Scala EMI recording of Verdi’s La Forza del Destino – instead. As usual, Maestro Muti was super, super nice and while we were talking, the conversation somehow ended up revolving around the pronunciation of my first name?! He basically tried to teach me how to pronounce “Claire” in the Italian way, with the “r” being rolled (and the voice’s intonation going from high to low), but sadly, I had never picked up that skill (even from many years of my piano teacher trying to get me to do so). It ended up just being him repeating my name the “correct” way, and me trying to imitate that (all were futile attempts haha). Now, I have a firsthand experience of his vocal coaching 😀

Anyways, I think it’s pretty cool when Maestro Muti spends the time to talk to students like me, which is why I cannot wait to attend his Academy later this summer! All I have to do is get through a couple more weeks of lab work/study for and take the GRE/work on grad school planning stuff, and then I can leave Chicago to visit Italy for the very first time. I’ll be sure to blog about my “study abroad” experience, so stay tuned! In case you are curious about what I’ll be up to, here’s a schedule – most of the days are packed with rehearsals, so I think it’s pretty fair to say that this is a highly educational trip haha, but I’ll definitely have some free time to do some sightseeing and maybe even get to travel outside of Ravenna (hopefully I can make a pilgrimage to Massimo Bottura’s Osteria Francescana in Modena, which has been deemed the world’s best restaurant!).

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