“Riccardo Muti Conducts Italian Masterworks,” featuring concerts recorded live in June 2017, is the latest release by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on its own CSO Resound label. The physical recording is available now at international retailers, including the CSO’s Symphony Store and symphonystore.com. Digital downloads and streaming versions are available at iTunes, Amazon and other digital platforms. The disc will be released Jan. 4 at North American retail outlets.

“Italian Masterworks,” led by Zell Music Director Riccardo Muti, features the CSO and Chicago Symphony Chorus in works by 19th-century Italian composers Verdi, Puccini, Mascagni and Boito, whose works epitomize one of opera’s most important periods. The program was recorded live in Orchestra Hall during the final concerts of the CSO’s 2016-17 season. On the recording,  the Chicago Symphony Chorus, prepared by Duain Wolfe, is heard in choruses from Verdi’s Nabucco and Macbeth, as well as in Boito’s Prologue to Mefistofele, along with acclaimed Italian bass Riccardo Zanellato as soloist and the Chicago Children’s Choir, prepared by Josephine Lee.

The CSO and Chorus have performed many landmark works in the Italian repertoire under Muti, one of today’s most important interpreters of Italian music. Throughout his tenure, he has led the CSO and Chorus in performances of Verdi’s Requiem, Otello, Macbeth and Falstaff as part of his ongoing survey of Italian masterworks. Muti believes that performing Italian opera is important for large orchestras because “orchestras learn to develop the concept that every note must be sung.”

“Italian Masterworks,” Muti’s ninth recording on CSO Resound, features multiple works by Verdi, including the overture and the opening chorus “Gli arredi festivi” from Nabucco, followed by the chorus “Patria oppressa” from Macbeth and the overture to I vespri siciliani.

The remaining works on this release point to Verdi’s musical influence on other important Italian opera composers of the era and include Puccini’s intermezzo from Manon Lescaut, Mascagni’s intermezzo from Cavalleria rusticana, and Boito’s Prologue to Mefistofele. The concluding work by Arrigo Boito, better known as Verdi’s librettist for the composer’s final operas Otello and Falstaff, represents an important musical achievement. Its grand drama unfolds in one extended episode that opens with a chorus of angels, followed by the devil Mefistofele addressing God defiantly about his quest to win the soul of Faust. A combined chorus sings a song of praise to conclude the work.

From its very first season in 1891, the CSO has performed operatic music, including the intermezzo from Cavalleria rusticana, which it also played on its second program in 1891. In that same season, Theodore Thomas, the CSO’s first music director, led the orchestra at Chicago’s historic Auditorium Theatre in a month of performances by the touring Metropolitan Opera of nearly a dozen operas, including Cavalleria rusticana. Since that time, the CSO has returned to operatic repertoire regularly, and in particular since 2010, when Muti became music director.

In its review of the June 2017 concerts, the Chicago Tribune declared that Muti is “close to unassailable in this repertory,” and added that the “polish and impassioned commitment of the performances undeniably brought ample blood and operatic thunder to close the orchestra’s 126th season.” The New York Times affirmed Muti’s mastery of this repertoire, hailing him as “the King of Verdi conductors.”

The recording was produced, edited and mixed by 16-time-Grammy Award winner David Frost and was mastered by two-time Grammy winner Silas Brown. The recording was made possible through the generous support of the Davee Foundation.

TOP: Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in the Italian masterworks program in June 2017. | ©Todd Rosenberg Photography 2017

The trailer for the album: