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By the Editor
Having missed out on the Nobel Peace Prize for which he was nominated this year, Daniel Barenboim can console himself—not that the chronically overachieving conductor and pianist probably ever had time to give much thought to winning it—with his new post as Music Director of La Scala. As we report in Newsdesk (‘Appointments’, p. 1445), this is an upgrade from the honorary title of Maestro of La Scala, which he has held since Riccardo Muti’s abrupt departure in 2005, and overdue recognition of the lustre Barenboim continues to bring to a theatre that in recent years has lost some of its shine. This month, he opens the Scala season—as per tradition, on December 7—with a starry cast in Robert Carsen’s new production of Don Giovanni, and is due to spend 15 weeks a year in Milan until the end of 2016.
That is a huge commitment given his workload elsewhere (principally with the Berlin Staatsoper, Berlin Staatskapelle and West-Eastern Divan Orchestra), and even if his critics have a point when they say that not all his performances are equally good across a wide repertory—whose are?—this represents good news in a musical world not exactly overstocked with happy developments. One of the few artists in the world today truly deserving the ‘legendary’ appellation, he is surely the greatest all-round musician of our time. And what he doesn’t know about peacemaking already from his forays into the Israeli-Palestinian dispute he will almost certainly learn at La Scala. As his most recent predecessors—Muti and Claudio Abbado—will testify, life there is seldom peaceful, and Barenboim faces the added challenge of Italy’s sweeping cuts to the arts. Making this canny appointment, the Sovrintendente, Stéphane Lissner, has gained a powerful ally, as he admitted: ‘With Daniel Barenboim, La Scala today has one of the greatest musicians of our time, and in a moment of great confusion, of great crisis, he is a humanist who can bring us a lot through his ideas.’
Being Barenboim, he’ll probably also challenge Lissner with some of those ideas—the opposite, it seems, of what Peter Gelb is banking on at the Metropolitan Opera, where he is lining up Fabio Luisi to succeed James Levine. Going where the New York Times fears to tread, Mark Swed in the Los Angeles Times recently questioned the wisdom of an appointment that has already been made in all but name, pointing out that Luisi is counting on the job and has burned bridges elsewhere in the scramble to fill in for Levine (his trail of cancellations include Covent Garden and Rome Opera, which is threatening legal action, and several orchestras, including his own, the Vienna Symphony). Swed asks whether the musically dependable Luisi will really ‘be the best choice for the Met or merely the best choice for Gelb, a pliant conductor who will serve a general manager’s agenda rather than set his own? Are Rattle, Barenboim or Muti out of the question?’
Ah, Muti. He’s just walked off with music’s own ‘Nobel’, the $1 million Birgit Nilsson Prize. Unlike the first recipient, Plácido Domingo, the Million Dollar Maestro has given no indication of how—or on what good cause—he is going to spend it. It is a large sum of money (though, to get things in perspective, it wouldn’t buy a decent-sized house in many parts of London), so it is a pity that the prize looks designed to go to those artists who need it least. But such is the provision of Nilsson’s will, and the Nilsson Foundation now faces a tough challenge in administering it wisely.
Opera, December 2011