Riccardo Muti has been conducting professionally for about 45 years. Until a few nights ago, he had only given one encore -- at Scala, for Nabucco's "Va' Pensiero", Italy's unofficial national anthem (there are frequent calls, in the Italian media, to shelf the admittedly lame "Fratelli d'Italia" anthem and replace it with Verdi's immortal music).
The other night in Rome, during the performance of the opera house's season opener, "Moise Et Pharaon", the audience's applause was so massive after the "Des cieux où tu réside" chorus (aka, Dal tuo stellato soglio) that the usually very strict Italian maestro agreed to an encore, driving the opening night's crowd nuts.
In interviews after ther show, Muti said that
"I'm against encores on principle, but with that never-ending applause and thunder of requests after the 'prayer' in the fourth act I felt uncertain," Muti said later. "Then I realised that there was the desire to once again feel an important page of our culture, a page full of emotion and spirituality."
But it really goes beyond that. Muti is the "come scritto" guy who's horrified by embellishments, the guy who broke Toscanini's embargo against encores at Scala only once in a quarter of a century (Toscanini is his idol: by the way, Gianandrea Gavazzeni had broken the embargo before with I Lombardi), the guy who's on the record in an entire career with lean, mean, aggressive performances and the guy who'll visibly frown, in the pit, if the applause starts too early and clashes with the final notes of the orchestra.
Everybody knows that la Scala tomorrow night will open its season with Die Walkuere and the usual Scala drama is already there: singers who slammed the director in the press, the conductor (Daniel Barenboim) and the general manager (Stéphane Lissner) who declined to defend the director effectively throwing him under the bus (Why? Maybe, to deflect responsibility for the likely booing that tomorrow night will salute Guy Cassiers and his videos), etc...
Muti knows that people still remember his 1994 Walkuere, and you know what, maybe that one wasn't worse than Barenboim's will reveal itself to be.
In the meantime, Muti's showing the Romans that the new improved Muti will give you an encore if you ask politely enough and if you clap loudly enough, and, as you can see in the video above, he'll even crack little risqué jokes about his coming to Opera di Roma as Music Director (he won't take the title): "Everybody asks, is he coming or is he not coming, coming or not coming, and given that choice of words it even gets a little embarrassing...". You know, he'll even give you one of his rare -- and famous -- crocodile smiles.
Below, Muti's 1994 Walkuere at Scala, opening night, Meier and Domingo:
(if you look around carefully, the entire 1994 broadcast is available on YouTube)