Riccardo Muti the other night in Rome conducted "Nabucco" at Opera di Roma and, since March 17 will be the 150th anniversary of Italy's unification (originally a monarchy under the Savoia, the country became a Republic in 1946 after a referendum) he not only gave an encore of "Va' Pensiero", Italy's unofficial national anthem, but he turned and conducted the audience -- everybody stood up and sang, creating a particularly large chorus for the performance.
Muti tells all about this strange choral encore ("a one time thing"), and more, in this interview with Corriere della Sera where he advocates more government support for the arts and he calls cuts to the culture budget "a crime against society".
When the time comes for the famous "Va Pensiero" that made patriotic hearts beat faster a century and a half ago, people in the audience wondered, will he give an encore? He did more: after "Va Pensiero" he turned toward the audience and said, "I am very saddened by our situation, I'm not doing this only for patriotic reasons: we truly risk to lose our beautiful country, as Verdi warned. If you care to join, we can all give an encore together". And the entore audience stood up and sang together with the chorus onstage.
And by the way, Muti's famous tradition-breaking encore of Va Pensiero at Scala in 1986 is preserved here in all its coolness:
Oh, and what really strikes you, after 25 years, is that the Scala performance especially shows how deeply Muti understands this piece: really not an anthem, but a prayer.