Among Milanese opera fans, the most popular game that does not involve drinking à la Quarters is "Who Would You Choose As Musical Director When In A Couple Years It Will Be Impossible To Keep Pretending That Barenboim's Part Time Job As Maestro Scaligero Is Enough For Such A Big Opera House" (long name, I know, funny Italians -- in the original language it's even longer).
Opera Chic has been subjected to it several unhappy times -- unhappy because it usually ends with bitter arguments, sneering comments, fist-fights, the occasional stabbing in the neck with a broken CD jewel case. And even now that she's temporarily back in the USA, OC hears the question a lot from friends: Who will replace Muti? The orchestra, after all, cannot remain without a Music Director forever.
Well, actually, part of the problem (of General Manager Stephane Lissner's problem) is that the orchestra (many professori, at least, if not all of them...it's far from a unanimous crowd, except when they fire a Music Director, as Claudio Abbado and Riccardo Muti know too well) like the present situation *a lot*: Daniel Barenboim flies-in every once in a while (3-4 times a year, not exactly the same as Muti's notorious military drills), dazzles everybody with his charm, as well as his almost scary genius and his super-stimulating ideas, leads them in super-charged performances that bring the house down, then races back to Malpensa Airport, never to be seen again for months. OC also hears that the famously snappy (during rehearsals, at least) Barenboim very cannily keeps his powders dry whenever he conducts here, never scolding, always suggesting, and heaping lots of praise; no wonder he's crazy-popular with the orchestra: he behaves like their dandy uncle who lives abroad & pops-in for Christmas with an armful of gifts -- or cigars, in Barenboim's case).
It is also true that sooner or later, reality will interfere with the orchestra's wishes, and Lissner will have to appoint a Music Director -- guest conductors and music directors and experiments playing for young young young baby-faced sweet exciting newcomer conductors like Harding and Dudamel only help up to a point. To keep the "La Scala sound" -- a beautiful, precise opera sound, with the Italian repertorio as king, but with the indispensable ability to shift to Wagner, Strauss, and the great symphonic masters -- you'll eventually need another Abbado, another Muti, is the general consesus here (well, Milan, actually...whatevs).
The sad fact is that Maestro Scaligero Barenboim, the natural, perfect candidate (unique background, huge charisma, interest in new music, unimpeachable taste, fantastic experience and ability in the German repertorio) just won't take a full time job as Music Director of La Scala, this is clear. At least for the foreseeable future.
Consider that to replace Muti after his always stormy but often awesome reign you need a rare mix of great talent, a huge international high profile, big brassy brass ballz and at least a tiny bit of those peeple $kill$ that Muti so proudly lacked. You don't really want to hire sonmeone who'll soon lock horns with the orchestra and the press, since the orchestra yields awesome veto power (as I said above, in early 2005 they effectively fired Muti the way they kicked poor Abbado out in 1986) and the press can really make a Music Director's life miserable (it didn't happen with Muti, ok ok, he enjoyed fawning reviews and lots of ink-stained love from the papers, but it doesn't mean the press will accept just anybody -- especially anybody with a lower profile and lower standing that Muti had in the mid-80s.)
Let us now try to handicap the race for the future leader of our beloved opera house, then:
~o~ DANIELE GATTI (aka THE LOGGIONISTI IDOL) ~o~
Many loggionisti love Daniele Gatti with a burning, throbbing, moist passion. heh. His experience at Covent Garden with the RPO and at Santa Cecilia really gives him an excellent edge, and his Lohengrin, as OC reported, brought the house down so hard that there was instant talk of Gatti as the man for the job of Music Director
- OC's opinion: he's really really good, he'd make an excellent MD, he'd bring some seriously needed fresh air. But, who knows, he's from Milan, and studied in Milan and now seems ready and, to boot, he's probably the frontrunner... And we all know what often happens to frontrunners and to those who look so perfect for a job...
- The buzz: he did all the homework, he's got the credentials, the audience really likes him. But some see him as not being either old enough or exciting enough to get the job -- we often hear that he'd be perfect if only he were even more experienced (read: older) or more exciting. Mark my words: if you cannot have someone as awesome as Muti (that'd be Barenboim), exciting is what you need.
~o~ ROBERTO ABBADO (aka THE UNDERRATED ONE) ~o~
Not all Milanese music fans root for Gatti: many are happy to endorse & support Roberto Abbado, Claudio's nephew, an elegant, sophisticated international maestro who knows La Scala well and who, last year, conducted a crystal-clear Lucia di Lammermoor -- seldom being on the verge of a nervous breakdown has sounded -- or looked -- more fabulous, largely thanks to Abbado.
- OC's opinion: he's waaay underrated by most but, frankly, better than the otherwise excellent Gatti. He's just subtler, more elegant -- sometimes reminds OC of Thomas Schippers, another underrated conductor.
- The buzz: "But his uncle Claudio did this", "But his uncle did that", "He's not his uncle". If he doesn't get the job for this reason, some people seriously need to grow the hell up, OC thinks.
~o~ RICCARDO CHAILLY (aka THE PERENNIAL CANDIDATE) ~o~
Riccardo Chailly still has many fans (even if they're not as vocal), despite a too-muscular Rigoletto last year and a correct, but uninspiring, Aida last December. Alagna ruined his standing -- when he pulled out of Aida and then tried to get back in when he got scared of the consequences, we heard from Lissner, from Zeffirelli, even from the half-naked (bless his shiny butt) Roberto Bollé. Chailly waited for two months before speaking up. It looked like Lissner was running the show 100% and Chailly's low profile was seen as either a sign of weakness, or of being kept out of the loop. Even the biggest Muti haters acknowledge that Muti would not have taken the hit of the Alagna tantrum silently, leaving to Lissner the role of the only enforcer in the house. Say what you want about Muti (that's what they do here, anyway) but when the orchestra went suddendly on strike right before a performance in the mid-90s, he barged ahead and turned Traviata into a piano recital (himself at the piano), and went ahead with the singers and the show went on (as the proverb says).
- OC's opinion: Chailly's got a massive international experience and the right profile. Excellent conductor, he'd be an excellent choice. Aida damaged him, though.
- The buzz: he has a good relationship with Lissner, the orchestra doesn't mind him. But the question remains: why didn't they offer him the job last year, then, and went looking for Barenboim's weird special-guest-with-privileges role?
~o~ MYUNG-WHUN CHUNG (aka THINK DIFFERENT) ~o~
Giulini nostalgics madly endorse Giulini's former student and Zen maestro Myung-Whun Chung
- OC's opinion: he's cool, really cool, a thinker and a sweet man who'd never alienate the orchestra. OC loves his ethereal sound. The pros: he's a Giulini clone, and you couldn't clone a greater maestro. The cons: his greatest asset is also an albatross around his neck. He's no Giulini; nobody is, nor will ever be.
- The buzz: he's BEYOND a dark horse, BUT he'd be the first non-European Musical Director in an opera house where visitors from Asia have an ever-growing presence in the audience, and an increasing financial weight, and has a very good American profile. He'd be a very exciting choice, and -- as we said above -- if you cannot have someone as awesome as Muti (that'd be Barenboim), exciting is what you need.
Opera Chic's final recommendation?
All four candidates should be put into an iron cage (inspired by Mad Max Beyond the Thunderdome) and duke it out with fisticuffs!
FOUR MEN ENTER. ONE MAN LEAVES.
Q(o_oQ) Q(o_oQ) Q(o_oQ) Q(o_oQ)