Now 71, he said he brought to Chicago, his long experience of ‘‘life, orchestras, music, theaters.’’ Praising that city’s symphony orchestra for its ‘‘mixture of virtuosity and sensibility,’’ he ranks it as one of the world’s three best, along with the philharmonic orchestras of Berlin and Vienna.
He’s also in love with Chicago itself. ‘‘I believe it’s the most beautiful city in the U.S.’’ architecturally. He also gushed about its ‘‘light that comes from the north, from the lake, a brilliant light.’’ And its ‘‘tough and friendly’’ people, Muti said, switching from Italian to English to pick his adjectives.
With Chicago so satisfying, did he linger too long at La Scala, from which he resigned in 2005 in a labor dispute that wrote the coda on his nearly two decades there?
Muti sighed and mentioned ‘‘my friend, Jimmy Levine,’’ meaning James Levine, whose conducting at New York’s Metropolitan Opera has spanned some 40 years.
In America, he said, ‘‘it’s possible. Here, we have a more dramatic, more polemical world.’’
‘‘Here, when you reach 15 years, it’s the maximum,’’ he added — an indication, perhaps, that he felt his 19 years at La Scala were indeed too long.
Muti made a melodramatic exit from La Scala after a dragged-out controversy over artistic and programming differences with management and open rebellion by musicians.
Wary about stepping into any La Scala controversy now, Muti sidestepped a question about its season opener.
Some Italians are fuming that La Scala’s gala opening night next month is featuring the German composer Richard Wagner’s ‘‘Lohengrin,’’ conducted by Daniel Barenboim, and not an opera by Verdi, the Italian composer so identified with La Scala.
Next year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of both composers.
‘‘They were both giants,’’ said Muti, rising from the couch to descend to the orchestra pit to lead Teatro dell'Opera’s orchestra in a rehearsal to go late into the night. ‘‘They made the mistake to be born in the same year.
‘‘It’s their fault,’’ he added with a twinkle in his eye.