Dear All:

On Sept. 5, being in Bologna, Italy, I decided to take the train to Ravenna, a city of beauty and history on the Adriatic coast, to listen to an Italian Opera Academy session on Verdi’s Aida, led by Maestro Riccardo Muti.

Riccardo Muti addresses the audience at an Italian Opera Academy session while other students look on. | Photo: ©Silvia Lelli

Our music director is fully engaged with the Academy for two weeks at the Teatro Alighieri with a very intensive schedule, as he shares his incomparable knowledge of Aida after having conducted a new production at the Salzburg Festival last month to critical and audience acclaim.

I must say that he is born to be on stage!

An audience of students, opera lovers, friends and admirers of all ages sat smitten in the opera house. Fortunately for opera lovers, the two weeks of this year’s Academy are going to be filmed, with the aim of producing a DVD.

I also was impressed to see what a “family atmosphere” there was backstage, even when the mayor of Ravenna dropped by to thank Maestro Muti, followed by a crew from RAI News (the Italian radio/TV company), which came to interview him during one of the rehearsal breaks.

Riccardo Muti cheerfully imparts some advice to students attending a session of the Italian Opera Academy. | Photo: ©Silvia Lelli

I had a great time and I learned a great deal, including some tricks of the trade that I would find immensely useful if I were to become a conductor.

On stage everyone was fully engaged, from the complete cast, to the Cherubini Orchestra and the young conductors and pianists; it could not be any different than that, because with what I would describe as eagle eyes and ears, our Maestro had something to say to all of them, from the viola section, the clarinets, the cellos, to Amneris, Radamés, the Messenger or the conductor who was leading the assembled musicians through Act 1.

Two weeks of this intensive, concentrated work could finish off anyone, but I am certain that Maestro Muti will arrive for the start of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s fall season, energized and with a twinkle in his eyes, as it was obvious to everyone that he truly loved working with the young musicians.

For more information on the Italian Opera Academy, please visit its website via

Cristina Rocca is the vice president for artistic planning, the Richard and Mary L. Gray Chair, of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

TOP: Riccardo Muti works with a student at the Maestro’s Italian Opera Academy. | Photo: ©Silvia Lelli