Last week OC joined the party in Stockholm as the Birgit Nilsson Foundation presented its 2011 laureate, Riccardo Muti, with the gilded prize.
It's okay if you weren't there -- OC recapped the highlights for her Grazia column, Stasera Esco, which you can read about here.
If your Italian is bootleg, click the link below for some ~magic~.
Million Dollar Maestro: Riccardo Muti's Birgit Nilsson Prize
What does a Neapolitan conductor have in common with a Swedish dramatic soprano? More than you'd think.
Last week, Riccardo Muti became the second laureate of the prestigious Birgit Nilsson Prize, the biggest award in the history of classical music. He follows in the footsteps of Spanish opera legend Placido Domingo who had been awarded the prize in 2009.
Picked from a jury of five opera luminaries, the one million dollar award (€725,481.00 at current conversion) is generated from the funds that Birgit Nilsson, who passed away in 2005, had allotted with no outside contributions or subsidiaries.
The prize is given every couple years to a living, classical music singer, conductor or organization (orchestra, chorus, or opera house) that has left an indelible mark on the art form over the span of at least two decades and has demonstrated a high standard of artistic achievement.
At the core of Riccardo Muti's countless contributions to classical music, he shares the same ethic as Birgit Nilsson -- both artists are unwaveringly devoted to artistic integrity. Both were attentive to the absolute purity of the written score and the meticulous preparation that it takes to present exactly what the composer intended.
In the Golden Foyer of the Royal Swedish Opera House, Riccardo Muti joined members of the press, General Manager of the Royal Swedish Opera Birgitta Svendén, and President of the Birgit Nilsson Foundation Prof. Dr. Rutbert Reisch for an intimate press conference.
The Italian conductor spoke at length about his appreciation of Sweden's gifts to opera -- marked with stellar artists such as Jenny Lind, Jussi Björling, Birgit Nilsson, and Nicolai Gedda -- interjecting his famous wit and wordplay through anecdotes.
Although Muti had never worked with Birgit Nilsson, he recalled a story from the 1970s when he was the young Music Director of Maggio Musicale. One early morning, he gave Nilsson the honor of an early daytrip to Rome -- something out-of-character for a man who prefers to sleep late and enjoy his leisure time – to hear her sing Leonora in a concert version of Beethoven’s Fidelio, conducted by Leonard Bernstein.
Muti's currently the Music Director at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, but his curriculum vitae of the past two decades follows the Birgit Nilsson Prize’s requirements: He championed works by Italian composers such as Paisiello, Martucci, and Cimarosa that had fallen out of fashion; he’s outspoken on issues that currently affect the cultural crisis in Europe’s opera scene; and he supports young artists through his own Luigi Cherubini Youth Orchestra founded in 2004.
But he treasures most his social commitments in countries that have been traumatized by historical conflict such as Sarajevo, Beirut, Istanbul, Moscow, and most recently in Kenya, where he organized a concert with his Cherubini Youth Orchestra.
"In the name of Verdi or Bellini, you can immediately create a sort of friendship with people that are very far away from you culturally speaking. You realize how music can be essential and important in communicating with people of other nations, religions, and languages," he said during the press conference.
The press conference was followed by a lavish award ceremony at the Royal Swedish Opera. Muti was formally presented with the award by H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf. He launched into a moving speech that addressed the legacy of Birgit Nilsson and the fragile state of arts in Europe that needs to be amended.
Milanese conductor Gianandrea Noseda led the Royal Swedish Orchestra in Sweden's Royal Anthem to welcome H.M King Carl XVI Gustaf and his wife H.M. Queen Sivlia, followed by musical performance of "Tacea la notte placida" from Il Trovatore sung by American soprano Sondra Radvanovsky. Later, the Royal Swedish Opera Choir sang “Va Pensiero” from Verdi's Nabucco. Cocktails and a Gala dinner at Sweden's City Hall followed where Muti celebrated his victory to a gourmet meal and traditional arias sung by young Swedish singers.
As for the 1 million dollar prize, Muti refused to share the details, stating that it was a private matter and vulgar to discuss such things. If the money is used philanthropically it will be donated anonymously. No doubt that the maestro will use it towards initiatives to benefit the art he loves so much.