(photo: Fredrik Stehn)
Early today in Sweden's capital under the twinkling chandeliers and gold leaf of the Royal Swedish Opera, Riccardo Muti addressed the press as incoming 2011 Birgit Nilsson prize laureate, an award that comes with a dizzying 1 million dollar purse. Muti declined to address such details, but hinted that any funds, including funds extended philanthropically, would be made under the veil of anonymity. Aside from Muti's legions of super-fans, president of the Birgit Nilsson Foundation Rutberg Reisch and the RSO managing director Birgitta Svendén were on hand to congratulate the Neapolitan conductor (photo above, more here).
"You realize that maybe you've done something important with your life and that people around the world recognize the work that you've done as a musician," Muti said during the press conference from his most recent perspective as 2nd year MD of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Honorary Director For Life at Opera di Roma.
The award commemorates the deep impressions that Muti's slashed across the landscape of opera and classical music over the past two decades -- champion of rare works from Paisiello, Cimarosa and Martucci; fostering young talent through his Orchestra Giovanile Luigi Cherubini kids; and outreach initiatives in conflict areas (prisons, too).
An award ceremony was held later in the evening at the Royal Swedish Opera, attended by H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf and H.M Queen Silvia. Sondra Radvanovsky sang Tacea la notte placida accompanied by Gianandrea Noseda and the Royal Swedish Orchestra, followed by a stirring Va, Pensiero from Verdi's Nabucco.
A gala dinner was held at Stockholm's City Hall to toast Muti and Birgit Nilsson's extraordinary legacy -- Salome, Isolde, Turandot, Brunnhilde, Elektra -- reminding us that Birgit drank your milkshake. She drank it before you even ordered it. Even young Muti, when he was Music Director at Maggio Musicale, sacrificed his cherished leisure to take a train from Florence to Rome to hear Birgit sing Leonore in a concert version of Fidelio conducted by Lenny Bernstein, an honor reserved only for the Swedish dramatic soprano. More tomorrow after OC's refuels on fresh herrings.