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Maestro Muti opens ambitious Rome opera season

ROME--Italian maestro Riccardo Muti opened the Rome Opera season on Sunday with Giuseppe Verdi's “Macbeth” as an opera house little known on the international music circuit makes an ambitious bid for prestige.

The award-winning Muti, who famously quit La Scala in Milan in a dramatic showdown in 2005, was named last month as “honorary director for life” in Rome.

The appointment “means that Maestro Muti attaches his name to the theater, it's a guarantee of excellence,” Rome Opera director Catello De Martino said.

“For its part, the theater has taken on the moral engagement of being up to the challenge and of becoming an international point of reference,” he said.

The 70-year-old Muti, a Neapolitan native with a trademark mane of dark hair, will retain his post as conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

“Rome is a marvelous city!” Muti exclaimed to a group of visiting schoolchildren during a final rehearsal ahead of Sunday's performance, which featured Russian soprano Tatyana Serzhan and Uruguayan baritone Dario Solari.

“Music is good for you, it opens the soul,” the conductor said.

The maestro also accused Italian politicians “past and present” of not paying enough attention to culture. Muti has campaigned for months against budget cuts by Italy's last government under Silvio Berlusconi.

In an unprecedented move at the Rome Opera on March 12, the maestro asked the orchestra to repeat Verdi's famous aria “Va Pensiero” from the opera “Nabucco” — a stirring patriotic ode — to protest the cuts.

The audience rose in a standing ovation and sang along to the aria.

Artistic director Alessio Vlad said 2011/2012 would be a “strong symphonic season,” with eight operas and five ballets including Tchaikovsky's “Nutcracker” produced by Nir Kabaretti and Verdi's “Attila” in May with Muti.

“The season will be all about strengthening ties between the general public and the city of Rome,” said Vlad, adding that the opera house was also hoping to encourage some of the many tourists who visit Rome each year to attend.

The singers this season are all “young emerging talents,” Vlad said.

The opera house, housed in a 19th-century building near Rome's main railway station that was entirely re-modeled under fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, has vastly expanded its international reach in the past couple of years.

Sunday's performance of “Macbeth” is being co-produced with the Salzburg Festival and German theatre director Peter Stein, who received critical acclaim for the performance of William Shakespeare's treacherous tale this year.

Rome is also co-producing a performance in January of Leonard Bernstein's “Candide” with the San Carlo opera house in Naples and in February of Giacomo Puccini's “Madame Butterfly” with the Teatro Massimo in Palermo.

In March, Rome Opera will be working together with the Royal Opera House in London on Mozart's “The Magic Flute” and host “The Art of American Dance” with choreography by Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Jose Limon and Alvin Ailey.

Muti will then return with the Chicago Symphony for a concert on April 23.

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 Maestro Muti opens ambitious Rome opera season 
This handout picture released by the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma on Saturday, Nov. 26 shows Uruguayan baritone Dario Solari during a rehearsal of Giuseppe Verdi's opera Macbeth, public performances of which commenced Sunday, Nov. 27. AFP

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