In interviews with singers, we like to ask (at times, off the record) which conductors they've worked with who rank the most honorably: the maestro who invariably rounds out the top three slots is Riccardo Muti for his scholarship, musicianship and his almost anti-establishment disregard for time card punching while grooming singers and musicians in rehearsals for the stage, which sadly, is an artifact of our parent's generation (modernity should offend our parent's generation, not ours.)
Muti, whether digging up heretofore extinct, Neapolitan School manuscripts or writing books on the elevation of Italian arts and culture in the post-1945 era, uses his influence for humanitarian aims, so last week, the Neapolitan maestro cultivated an audience of 2000 kids and spoke for two hours on Verdi's underwhelming legacy, particularly under Italy's regressive arts funding drought. He asked the audience of university and conservatory students and musicians from all over Italy to reevaluate Verdi and his musical valor and to reassert Verdi's foothold of Italian culture to the country's arts-insouciant aristocracy, gatekeepers of funds.
Muti's poised to open Nabucco at the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma this week in the same Scarpitta production that premiered in 2011, used as an impropmtu protest of Italy's deep arts funding cuts. Referencing the opera's patriotic undercurrents, specifically the choral work Va' Pensiero, he's against the popular meme to turn it into Italy's unofficial national anthem: "Some would like to turn it into a national anthem, but it's the song of a population who cries out because they're in exile and want to return to their promise land -- it has to be a song that's sung slowly, gravely and sotto voce. Does that seem like the characteristics of a national anthem to you?"