Claudio Abbado is all over the Italian papers this morning -- interviews in Corriere della Sera and Repubblica -- introducing Fidelio (the 1814 version) that opens at Teatro Valli in Reggio Emilia on April 6. Amazingly, it's Abbado's first Fidelio -- "Certain operas I need to meditate over for a very long time, it took me twenty years to make Boris Godunov after all", the Milanese maestro says. Between now and 2010 the production will also touch Madrid, Baden-Baden, Ferrara, Aix-En-Provence. It's a shame that this Fidelio has not become the occasion for Abbado's return to Milan after his dismissal from la Scala in 1986 (the orchestra, as they always do, fired him the way they had fired de Sabata once upon a time and the way they would vote Muti out in 2005): but the conductor has torpedoed all the plans to stage his comeback to la Scala with full honors, and has repeated even in these interviews that he has no plan to ever return to Milan (the city has been run by a center-right coalition and a center-right mayor since the mid-1990s, and Abbado is famously very liberal, not to mention, for the bafflement of many of his friends, a big Fidel Castro fan).
Anyway there's something to be said for a guy who, after the kind of monster career Abbado has had and after his illness and all that still has the passion to simply go to the movies -- in this case, Vier Minuten -- and halfway through the film to simply think, this director is perfect for Fidelio; then call the director Chris Kraus -- a opera n00b -- and make it happen.
Abbado explains how, when the director has the correct understanding of an opera's dramatic structure, being inexperienced in musical theater is not really a problem for a director. And, more importantly, Abbado explains, Kraus "makes the singers act like real actors".
Another very nice touch is that, this coming October, in Bologna, Abbado will conduct Berlioz's Te Deum in a 5,000 seats hall with a monster team of three orchestras -- his Orchestra Mozart, the Orchestra Giovanile Italiana di Fiesole, and Riccardo Muti's own Orchestra Cherubini.
Many years of supposed bad blood between the two conductors -- the liberal vs the conservative, the champion of 20th century composers vs the champion of the 18th, the Northerner vs the Southerner, blah blah blah -- haven't changed the fact that Abbado was happy to call his colleague and ask him to "lend" him the truly excellent Cherubini kids ("Riccardo did a magnificent job with them", says Abbado). And in fact, even if they're not exactly great friends -- not many conductors love and socialize with their collagues anyway --
they have never hated each other as much as the factions (everything in Italy is split up in factions, it's a centuries-old thang) of their rabid fans would have hoped -- or liked.
So give it up for this pact, in the name of Berlioz, between the two greatest Italian conductors working today, certainly two of the very greatest maestri ever to step on a podium.