Born in Naples on July 28, 1941, he first studied the piano at the Conservatory of San Pietro a Majella under Vincenzo Vitale, graduating with distinction, before considering conducting.
He was awarded a diploma in Composition and Conducting by the Conservatory Giuseppe Verdi in Milan, where he studied under the guidance of Bruno Bettinelli and Antonino Votto.
His carrier started in 1968, after winning in 1967 the Cantelli Prize for young conductors, as principal director and music director of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino (until 1980).
In 1971, he was invited by Herbert von Karajan to conduct at the Salzburg Festival, the first of many occasions, which led Muti to celebrate thirty years of artistic collaboration with the Austrian Festival in 2001.
In 1974, he was appointed principal conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra in London, succeeding Otto Klemperer.
From 1980 to 1992, Muti was named music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, which he led on numerous international tours and recordings.
From 1986 to 2005, he was Music Director of the Teatro alla Scala (principal director from 1987).
He received with the Scala Philharmonic Orchestra the Viotti d'Oro in 1988.
Alongside the classics of the repertoire, he brought at La Scala many less performed and neglected works to light (Gluck, Cherubini, Spontini, Poulenc, Verdi’s I due Foscari, Salieri’s Europa riconosciuta to open the restored Scala in Dec.7, 2004 (link to Italian reviews), the same opera that was performed on the inaugural opening night in 1778.).
He also conducted the concert for the third re-opening (since its inauguration in 1792) of La Fenice on Dec.14, 2004 (concert released in DVD).
Read about La Scala controversy which led him to resign, in 2005, under the demands of 700 staff members.
Apart from La Scala, Muti has conducted operatic performances with the Philadelphia Orchestra, as well productions in Munich, Vienna, London and New York, at the Ravenna Festival, Roma, Bussetto, Piacenza and many more.
In 2004 Muti founded the “Luigi Cherubini” Youth Orchestra, consisting of young musicians selected, by an international committee, from some 600 instrumentalists from all over Italy.
Why I love Riccardo Muti
Ok, as a human being, he’s an infamously temperamental workaholic, perfectionnist, arrogant and contemptious at times.
As passionnate people, he was deeply affected and depressed by the situation at La Scala in 2005; "I really don't know if he still has the will to work," his wife Cristina Mazzavillani told the Italian edition of Vanity Fair at the time.
Beyond the character, Muti is maybe the last charismatic conductor, as the Toscaninis, Von Karajans or Klemperers.
He has offered unforgettable interpretations of almost every Verdi’s opera, with a unique thrilling art of nuances, getting the best of everybody, not only the singers and the orchestra as a whole, but each and every single musician, how small his score might be.
The orchestra under Muti does things I have never heard with anyone else, such as an amazing musicality and expression.
Not only is he a reference in conducting Verdi, but his work on Gluck’s pieces is also truly incredible and he’s said to be a great servant of Mozart’s scores (I couldn’t tell, I’m allergic to Mozart).
After listening to one of Muti’s interpretations, all the others seem boring and uninspired to me, or too simplistic, or not using well enough all the ressources of the orchestra.
A few YouTube extracts:
- Verdi’s Nabucco, overture, Scala
- Verdi’s Rigoletto, finale, Scala 1994, Renato Bruson, Andrea Rost, Roberto Alagna
- Verdi’s Attila, end of act I, Scala 1989, Cheryl Studer, Samuel Ramey
- Verdi’s Il Trovatore, “Il balen del suo sorriso“, Scala 2001, Leo Nucci (the cellos are hypnotic)
Orchestra e coro del Teatro alla Scala
- La Forza del Destino, EMI 1986 recording, Placido Domingo, Mirella Freni, Giorgio Zancanaro
- Attila, EMI 1989 recording, Neil Shicoff, Cheryl Studer, Samuel Ramey
- I vespri siciliani, EMI 1991, Giorgio Zancanaro, Chris Merritt, Cheryl Studer
- La Traviata, Sony Classics 1993 (live), Roberto Alagna, Tiziana Fabbricini, Paolo Coni
- Don Carlo, EMI 1994, Luciano Pavarotti, Samuel Ramey, Daniela Dessi
- Rigoletto, Sony Classics 1995 (live), Roberto Alagna, Andrea Rost, Renato Bruson
- Il Trovatore, Sony Classics 2002 (live), Violeta Urmana, Salvatore Licitra, Leo Nucci
Philharmonia Orchestra of London, Ambrosian opera chorus
- Nabucco, EMI 1978 recording, Matteo Manuguerra, Renata Scotto, Nicolai Ghiaurov
- La Traviata, EMI 1990, Alfredo Kraus, Renata Scotta, Renato Bruson
- Iphigénie en Tauride, Gluck, Orchestra e coro del Teatro alla Scala, Sony Classics 1993 (live), Carol Vaness, Thomas Allen, Giorgio Surian
- Orfeo ed Euridice, Gluck, Philharmonia Orchestra & Ambrosian opera chorus, EMI 1997, Edita Gruberova, Agnes Baltsa, Margaret Marshall
- Manon Lescaut, Muccini, Orchestra e coro del Teatro alla Scala, Deutsche Gramophon, Maria Guleghina, Jose Cura, Lucio Gallo
- Tosca, Puccini, , Orchestra e coro del Teatro alla Scala, Sony Classics 2001 (live), Salvatore Licitra, Maria Guleghina, Leo Nucci
- Guglielmo Tell, Rossini, Orchestra e coro del Teatro alla Scala, Philips 1988 (live), Giorgio Zancanaro, Chris Merritt, Cheryl Studer
Teatro Victoria Eugenia Di San Sebasian, photo Contrasto