During Claudio Abbado’s time as chief conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker, the great symphonic repertoire naturally formed the core of his artistic work, and it was almost forgotten just what an important role the music theatre of his Italian homeland played in his life – after all, he had led La Scala in Milan from 1968 to 1986. Just how special the works of Verdi were to him could be heard in the New Year’s Eve Concert from 2000 which, with famous scenes and arias, rang in the Verdi year 2001 when the music world commemorated the 100th anniversary of the composer’s death.
When it comes to Verdi, Claudio Abbado’s preferences are very individual, promoting lesser-performed works such as Simon Boccanegra and Macbeth, while never conducting the popular favourites Rigoletto and La Traviata. As such, it was a rare pleasure to hear him conduct excerpts from the two latter works for this New Year’s Eve Concert. The remaining works of the evening are closely intertwined with Abbado’s biography. With Un Ballo in Maschera, he celebrated triumphs in the 70s and 80s, such as in a Viennese production with Luciano Pavarotti. And in the case of Don Carlos, Abbado caused a stir when he conducted the little-known French version of the opera. This concert includes the third act ball scene which is not retained in the usually performed Italian version.
The main part of the evening is taken up by three extensive scenes from Falstaff – Verdi’s final opera, with its humorous and forgiving view of life and its brilliantly constructed ensemble scenes. Abbado conducted the work for the first time in 1998 at the Staatsoper in Berlin in a critically acclaimed performance which critics hailed the most important opera production the city had seen for decades.