Craving ‘serenity,’ Riccardo Muti quits as Rome Opera conductor

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By Andrew Patner/For Sun-Times Media

Even fiery Italian conductors need serenity to do their work.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director Riccardo Muti has withdrawn as the regular lead conductor of the Rome Opera after six years in the wake of continuing funding, management and labor chaos in the Italian capital.

In a letter to the director of the troubled opera house, Muti withdrew from planned productions of Verdi’s “Aida” starting this November and Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” set for spring 2015.

“There are no conditions [there] to ensure the serenity necessary to my leading successful productions,” Muti wrote, according to the Italian national news service ANSA Sunday.

“Unfortunately, despite all my efforts to contribute to your cause,” Muti wrote, problems of state and city funding, management authority and labor peace “have emerged [again] in just the last few days.”

Muti said that he would dedicate his time “in Italy” instead to the Luigi Cherubini Orchestra that he founded for young professional musicians in his homeland.

The Naples-born conductor, 73, said he had reached the decision “with the greatest regret, after long and troubled reflection.”

Rome mayor Ignazio Marino thanked Muti in a response, acknowledging that the acclaimed musician made“a choice no doubt influenced by the instability facing the Opera from ongoing protests, internal conflicts and strikes lasting months.”

The mayor said that cancellations in the past season led to “serious disruption” for both Italian and international ticketholders, but that the city’s work in the past year had taken “one of the greatest cultural institutions in the country [from] a state of economic disaster, with a deficit of around 12 million euro [$15.4 million]” to one that “allows us now to work for the revival and renewal” of the company.

Carlo Fuortes, general director of the opera, joined the mayor in expressing the hope that Muti would return “once we can overcome the problems that still plague us, and the music system in Italymore generally.”

Muti, music director of the CSO since fall 2010, launched his fifth season in Chicago this week with performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (which continue through Tuesday), a free all-Tchaikovsky concert in Millennium Park that drew 20,000 people and a gala concert and dinner Saturday night. He is slated to lead two more weeks of concerts here this fall and then to head the CSO on a two-week, five-city tour of Europe Oct. 20 through Nov. 2.

He was music director at Italy’s leading opera house, La Scala in Milan, for 19 years until a highly controversial falling-out with the company in 2005. In 2008 Rome invited him to lead operas there with no administrative duties. In the last two seasons operas to be led by Muti often faced the threat of cancellation at the last minute due to staff strikes or management lockouts with no way of knowing from day to day if the shows would go on.

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