The esteemed Italian conductor, Riccardo Muti, was born in Naples, where his father was a doctor and an amateur singer; his mother was a professional singer. He studied piano in Naples at the Conservatory of San Pietro a Majella under Vincenzo Vitale. He was subsequently awarded a diploma in Composition and Conducting by the Conservatory "Giuseppe Verdi," Milan, where he studied with the composer Bruno Bettinelli and the conductor Antonino Votto. He has also studied composition with Nino Rota, whom he considers a mentor. He was unanimously awarded first place by the jury of the "Guido Cantelli" competition for conductors in Milan in 1967. From 1968 to 1980, Muti served as principal director and music director of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino.
Since 1971, Riccardo Muti has been a frequent conductor of operas and concerts at the Salzburg Festival, where he is particularly known for his Mozart opera performances. From 1972, he regularly conducted the Philharmonia Orchestra in London. In 1974, he was appointed the orchestra's principal conductor to succeed Otto Klemperer. In 1987, he was appointed principal conductor of the Orchestra Filarmonica della Scala, with which in 1988 he received the Viotti d'Oro and with which he went on tour in Italy and in Europe. In 1991, he announced his resignation from the Philadelphia Orchestra at the end of the 1991-1992 season. He has been a regular guest of the Berliner Philharmoniker and the Wiener Philharmoniker. In 1996, he conducted the latter at the closing of the Viennese Festival Week in a tour of the Far East to Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Germany, and the Vienna New Year's Concert in 1993, 1997, 2000 and 2004.
Apart from La Scala, Ricardo Muti has conducted operatic performances with the Philadelphia Orchestra, as well as productions in Munich, at the Vienna State Opera (starting with Aida in 1973, followed by La forza del destino in 1974, Rigoletto in 1983, Così fan tutte in 1994, Don Giovanni in 1999, Le nozze di Figaro in 2001), in London, and at the Ravenna Festival. Muti is a regular guest conductor at the Vienna State Opera where he continues to conduct Mozart operas such as Le nozze di Figaro and Così fan tutte. He is to return to this opera house in 2008 with Così fan tutte.
A special relationship connects Riccardo Muti with the Salzburg Festival, where the conductor debuted in 1971 with Donizetti's Don Pasquale. In the following years he has been constantly present at the festival, conducting both concerts with the Wiener Philharmoniker and opera productions, such as Così fan tutte in 1983 and Die Zauberflöte in 2005 and 2006. Muti also owns a residence close to Salzburg. From 2007 on, he is the principal conductor at Salzburg's Pentecost Festival. He conducts opera productions and concerts with his Luigi Cherubini Youth Orchestra.
In the USA, from 1980 to 1992, Riccardo Muti was music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, which he led on numerous international tours. In 1979, he was appointed its music director and, in 1992, conductor laureate. Muti stated that his approach was to remain faithful to the intent of the composer. This meant a change from applying the lush "Philadelphia Sound," created by his predecessors Eugene Ormandy and Leopold Stokowski, to all repertoire; however, many of his recordings with that orchestra largely seem to do away with its hallmark sound, even in the works of such composers as Tchaikovsky, Johannes Brahms, and other high romantics. His sonic changes to the orchestra remain controversial. Some felt he turned it into a generic-sounding institution with a lean sound much favored by modern recording engineers. Others believe Muti uncovered the true intention of the works, which had been covered in a silky sheen by Muti's predecessor. Since his departure from Philadelphia, he has made very few guest conducting appearances with the Philadelphia Orchestra, most recently in 2005.
Riccardo Muti has been a regular and popular guest conductor with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. The orchestra's musicians have been reported as being interested in Muti as their next music director, both towards the end of the tenures of Kurt Masur and Lorin Maazel, but Muti had stated that he had no wish to take on the position with the orchestra. On May 5, 2008, Muti was named the next music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, effective with the 2010-2011 season, with an initial contract of 5 years. Muti is scheduled to conduct a minimum of 10 weeks of Chicago Symphony Orchestra subscription concerts each season, in addition to domestic and international tours. He made his Chicago Symphony Orchestra debut at the Ravinia Festival in 1973.
In 2003, there were reports of artistic and programming conflicts at La Scala between musical director and principal conductor Riccardo Muti and general manager Carlo Fontana. Muti did not attend the press conference that announced the new 2003 season. The appointment in 2003 of Mauro Meli as La Scala's artistic director was intended to calm the conflict between Fontana and Muti. On February 24, 2005, the La Scala governors dismissed Fontana as general manager and named Meli as his successor. The musicians sided with Fontana against Muti at this point in the dispute, and on March 13, Muti stated that he would refuse to conduct the La Scala orchestra from that point on. On March 16, 2005, the orchestra and staff of La Scala voted overwhelmingly against Muti in a motion of no-confidence. Muti was forced to cancel a concert prior to the vote, and some other productions were disrupted at the theater because of continuing rifts with Fontana's supporters. On April 2, he resigned from La Scala, citing "hostility" from staff members.
With Philadelphia Orchestra, his extensive recordings include the first L.v. Beethoven Symphony Cycle made for compact disc, critically acclaimed recordings of the symphonies of J. Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Sergei Prokofiev, and Alexander Scriabin, as well as the less known works of composers such as Giacomo Puccini and Ferruccio Busoni.
Muti is considered one of the world's greatest conductors of the operas of Giuseppe Verdi. He also led a series of annual performances of opera in concerts including the works of Verdi, Puccini, Mozart, and Wagner. In 1992, Muti conducted performances of Ruggero Leoncavallo's Pagliacci with Luciano Pavarotti. A recording was also made of these performances. At La Scala, Muti was noted for exploring lesser-known works of the Classical- and early Romantic-era repertory such as Lodoiska by Luigi Cherubini and La Vestale by Gaspare Spontini.
Riccardo Muti was awarded a doctorate honoris causa by the Universitat de Barcelona on October 13, 2003.
Riccardo Muti is married to Cristina Mazzavillani, who is the founder and director of the Ravenna Festival. They have three children, two sons and a daughter.