Every once in a while Opera Chic thinks about a story she heard about the late Giuseppe Sinopoli: how once he met a fan just before the show started, and the fan was a carpenter who had made a baton as a gift for the maestro. Sinopoli, deeply touched, took the baton in his hand and said: "This is the baton I will use to conduct tonight, then". And thanked the music-loving carpenter profusely.
This grace, this warmth, are not the only reasons why he is missed so much, almost eight years after his passing (even if it's hard to think of a more civilized, polite conductor less into the whole divo thing than Sinopoli), but they are indeed part of what still makes Sinopoli's music so special -- because with all due respect no conductor, at least in modern times, has matched Sinopoli's brilliance and boundless intellectual curiosity -- Darmstadt-educated composer, musicologist, licensed medical doctor, amateur archaeologist who got himself a doctorate in it, criminal anthropologist... Such awesome intellectual firepower and Sinopoli's humanity made him -- despite some evident technical limitations, nobody here is defending his stick technique as the most flawless ever seen by an orchestra, but then if the merciless precision and clarity of the beat is all you need to be a great conductor, Toscanini has been the greatest conductor who'll ever live, period, and he obviously isn't -- one of the most interesting conductors Opera Chic has ever had the privilege to listen to.
Sinopoli's deeply idiosyncratic Mahler, his revolutionary Bruckner, the trademark warmth of his string sections especially when conducting Puccini -- his beloved Puccini, so strange for a conductor and a composer so steeped in "avanguardia", but then how couldn't he love a fellow genius of orchestration -- and his deeply felt Wagner are all important interpretations that will still be listened to and studied in the future.
But if Opera Chic had to choose one recording, just one, made by this giant of the podium, she would chosse his Ariadne Auf Naxos, either the unofficial Scala b00tleg -- with inferior voices but with amazingly thought-out, daring tempi -- or the official recording with Voigt (back when she rocked vocally and couldn't really fit into tight little black dresses), Dessay, and Heppner, all in their prime (there's the original DG edition, more costly and with libretto here, and a bare-bones, monstrously cheaper European edition via the UK here).
It's a slow, exhausted, metaphysical Ariadne that, for all its idiosyncracies, remains memorable for the sheer beauty of the sound, and stunning in the force of its artistic invention. As far as Sinopoli recordings are involved, it's Opera Chic's desert island Sinopoli; and one of the greatest Strauss interpretations she has ever heard.
Opera houses plan very much in advance their future seasons: it'd be very fitting if an Italian opera house had the grace of staging Sinopoli's own opera, the wondrous Lou Salome, to remember the tenth anniversary of the maestro's passing, that will happen in 2011. It's two years from now; it's the least Italy can do to remember her fallen genius.