The opera lovers who are lucky enough not to be plugged in the constant unnerving drama that happens behind the scenes at la Scala usually wonder: how is it even possible that as of now la Scala has been without a Music Director for about three years and a half?
The short answer can be read in the very unusual interview that Daniele Gatti just gave to la Repubblica daily newspaper, where the conductor explains that he's been asked to work more often in Zurich and he could accept the post of Music Director at the Staatsoper in Munich once Kent Nagano's term expires in 2013.
The "money quote" here, is this:
"I'd be so happy. As a Milanese, how couldn't I? But these are proposals and decisions that need to be taken carefully -- not too much carefully, though -- and the choice must not be felt as a marriage-for-life. On the other hand I don't think that you can select someone who will be universally liked: an artistic manager is good if he's capable of convincing the skeptics".
The message couldn't have been stated more clearly.
Gatti had become the front runner to the Music Directorship. Now his future is unclear, after the high-drama of the December 7 "Don Carlo".
Why, you say? Much more after the jump.
The long answer to the "why no music director" question is that in 2005 then-new General Manager, Stephane Lissner -- who had just arrived in the chaotic situation that happened after the long tenure of Muti foe Carlo Fontana and the stillborn reign of Muti ally Mauro Meli -- strongly hinted that a few select conductors would work very often at la Scala in the coming two-three seasons and the one who ended up with the best artistic results and the best working relationship with the (famously cranky) orchestra would be eventually named Music Director.
Daniel Barenboim would be Maestro Scaligero, a largely ceremonial guest conductor title that had belonged only to his hero Wilhelm Furtwaengler in the early 1950s. And just like Furtwaengler back then, Barenboim's role was -- and still is -- free of administrative burdens. He has to work with the orchestra, add some much needed German repertoire, experiment with that most Italian orchestra trying out his trademark dark Mitteleuropean sound. In essence, a glorified guest conductor but for so many reasons -- his commitments in Berlin, his piano career, his other extracurricular passions for book writing, advocacy for human rights and interest in Middle Eastern politics, figuring out where did he put all his passports -- Barenboim was never a candidate for Music Director.
(As a not-so-unimportant footnote it's always nice to remember that the past Scala music directors have been De Sabata, Toscanini, Cantelli, Giulini, Abbado and Muti).
And in fact, as per Lissner's 2005 plan, conductors such as Riccardo Chailly, Daniele Gatti, Daniel Harding and Myung-Whun Chung have worked consistently with the orchestra during Lissner's tenure.
Harding's name had never been actually been in play for the post but these past three seasons he has been -- also thanks to his good personal relationship with Lissner, with whom he had worked often in the past -- very successful at the prima of December 2005 with Idomeneo (Lissner's first season opener), a welcome new face who achieved good notices with "difficult" (for la Scala's very conservative audience) Bartok and Dallapiccola operas, and performed solidly in symphony concerts with the Filarmonica. But again, the shortlist had always been Chailly and Gatti, with Chung as odd man out, never with much of a chance of getting the job, but a solid conductor well liked by the audience and by the orchestra (and also, as the former student and biggest admirer of still beloved Carlo Maria Giulini, Chung enjoys a lot of preemptive goodwill around la Scala).
Most people expected the choice to be either Chailly (slightly older than Gatti, longer career, but also carrying some baggage with the Scala orchestra) or Gatti (slightly younger, admired by Abbado nostalgics who still make up a sizable and sometimes noisy chunk of the loggione, honored by Bayreuth as the first Italian since Sinopoli and only the fifth ever -- De Sabata, Toscanini and Erede the others -- to conduct there).
Chailly did a good, aggressive "Rigoletto", a solid "Aida" at the prima in 2006 -- but three days after that show, Roberto Alagna famously lost his plot and was literally booed off the stage, never to return and ruining Chailly's party -- and a veryvery interesting Trittico this past season, for the Puccini year. And it is widely whispered that Chailly, after the Trittico, got quite impatient, considering the "courtship" between himself and the theater kind of completed -- and with his resume it's hard to deny he did indeed have a point. But no call for the Music Director post ever came from Lissner, no signal. If anything, the silence seemed to mean a disappointing "thanks but no thanks" (OC holds Chailly in high esteem
and is sorry he wasn't chosen; he does Italian opera very well, with great passion, and is a wonderful Mahler conductor and he's a champion of great composers such as Zemlinsky and Varèse who deserve much more exposure at old dusty Scala.
Gatti -- who, as a huge Internazionale Fc fan roots for the same soccer team as Opera Chic and thus automatically belongs to the he's-always-right category -- conducted a really splendid, memorable "Wozzeck" at la Scala, a performance for the ages of stunning insight and intelligence. Then, this past December 7, his big night with "Don Carlo" was ruined by Giuseppe Filianoti's controversial December 6 firing, by a not that great cast, and by many -- very unjust, in OC's view: Opera Chic was there and she was truly sorry to see him mistreated, he did make the orchestra sound so beautiful -- boos from the loggione.
And now, the value of Gatti's shares has taken a big hit.
No call from Lissner for the Music Director job either. And what people were whispering for a long time seemed to be more than gossip, seemed to be a correct analysis -- Lissner, as General Manager and de facto Artistic Director enjoys almost complete power over the theater and he's not going to give that up easily. Especially as long as he enjoys -- as he does -- decisive political support from Milan's conservative millionaire mayor, Letizia Moratti.