Conductor Antonio Pappano
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie
As I post this interview, it is now 2011, and Antonio Pappano is
no longer a "young" conductor. Born in London at the very end of
1959, he is still youthful, and he will never shake off the impression
of having attained major positions at an early age. But now, as
he settles into maturity, his early development has shaped his ideas
and directions, and this interview sets the tone for many of these
He goes from strength to strength,
and has provided
many evenings of fine music making in both opera houses and concert
halls in Europe and America. In
Chicago, Pappano has been on both sides of town, so to speak, leading
stage works at Lyric Opera on the west side of the Loop, and the
Chicago Symphony at Orchestra Hall on Michigan Avenue close to the
In December of 1996, Pappano was back at Lyric to conduct Salome. I was planning on
playing his recording of La
Bohème on WNIB at the end of the month, so we arranged to
meet in a conference room to have a conversation about various musical
topics. The day was, as always, busy for him and he had been
hearing young voices in the house just before coming upstairs into the
office suite . . . . . .
You've just come from a round of auditions... auditions
Antonio Pappano: General
house auditions; different categories,
different voice types, mainly women today, actually.
BD: So you were just
lending an ear, saying, "This voice is good, this voice has potential."
AP: Yeah. I'm Music
Director of an opera house in
Brussels, and so I look for up-and-coming talent or talent that I don't
about, since I'm so seldom in America. It's very interesting for
hear what's here, what's around.
BD: Oh, so you were listening
maybe going to steal one of our singers?
AP: Uhhh, well, most
likely! [Hearty laughter]
BD: When you
listen to a singer audition, what do you listen for?
AP: To make it easy
for oneself, you have to first take care of the important
intonation, musicality, rhythm, basic
musicality, the quality of the voice —
and then interpretive things. Those things you have to
look at very
clearly. Then you sit back, and if the
intonation is good, if the musicality is good and the interpretation
is interesting, if the quality of the voice, the color of the voice
pleases you, then you see if this person is interesting; if
there's something that comes across the footlights. That sounds
like a long list, but in five seconds you've
basically got it.
BD: So it's really just
AP: It can be; it often
is. Some singers are not
very comfortable in audition, and therefore you have to see
them warming up to the process of auditioning. It's a cruel
affair, you know, just with a piano. You come out and you have to
deliver. Some people are terrific auditioners; some people are
horrible auditioners but great performers. Some people are better
in audition than they are in performance,
strangely enough, so you have to try and work out who's really got the
goods. It's a fascinating process, actually.
BD: Have most of your
decisions been correct about that?
AP: I think I've got a
pretty good track record;
yeah, I'm okay there. [Laughs]
BD: In this kind of
audition, are you ever looking for
specific roles? Knowing you're going to do a certain opera, are
looking for a specific character?
AP: Oh sure. I
have some things that I'm doing in Brussels and some things that I'll
be doing in other
places, and I need a tenor for this or a soprano for that. I'm
keeping my ears and eyes open for any eventuality. There are
about five roles that I'm looking for over the next four years, some
important, some secondary.
BD: Should a singer come
in thinking they're auditioning
for a specific role, or are they just auditioning for you?
AP: Today, for example,
it was a house audition; they were auditioning for Bill Mason, Bruno
Bartoletti, Matthew Epstein [the General Manager, Music Director and
Artistic Advisor of Lyric Opera of Chicago] and myself. So with
Matthew and myself there, it was not only the
house, but sort of a broader spectrum; so it's
interesting for them! When I'm in Brussels, I have people come
to audition for me for specific things. Otherwise it's just a
waste of time since we only do eight or nine operas a year.
BD: You're Music Director
in Brussels; how
much of that is in the office and how much of that is in the pit?
AP: I do at least three
a year, two of them new plus a revival. This year
I'm doing four; two years ago I did four —
two new productions and
two revivals —
plus three to four orchestral/symphonic
programs with the orchestra that is normally in the pit. And
I'll do a big park concert outdoors at the end of the year, plus some
touring. We went to the Vienna
Festival last year and did a Schoenberg evening. My contract says
five months, but I'm there almost seven. Some of that is in the
office, meaning personnel issues vis-à-vis the
orchestra, auditions, planning programs, planning the schedule,
planning the rehearsal schedules for three to four years in advance.
BD: How do
you decide which operas you're going to do this year and next year
and the year after, etc.?
AP: The way it's set up
in Brussels, we have a General Director and a Music Director and a
Casting Director. We all have
certain dreams and often the dreams have
coincided. We wanted to do Tristan,
we wanted to do
Peter Grimes, we wanted to do Pelléas et
Mélisande, we wanted to do more
Strauss. We look at what has happened
before we got there; you have to look at that. It was very heavy
Mozart, so we've done Mozart but not a
lot. There was no Puccini, so we've done some Puccini; there was
no Britten, so we've done Britten; there was no Strauss,
so they left us certain avenues to explore.
BD: So you're really
looking for balance.
AP: Yes, balance.
It's a combination of
dreams. We balance what's been played with what needs to be
played, and that's how it works to make a season that has a certain
coherence on one
hand and contrast on the other. You can't play all the Russian
tragedies, or you
can't just play Verdi and Puccini. You have to balance the works.
BD: How many performances
of each opera
get done in a season?
AP: We do about nine
year with about ten performances each, plus maybe one or two
productions in a smaller venue house.
BD: So that's roughly
comparable to Chicago.
AP: We play stagione; we don't have a
repertoire system at all. That's because we don't have the
backstage space to
store anything. We
open in September sometime and play through the end of June.
BD: Are your seasons
planned a couple of years
AP: Yeah, we've planned
right now through '99 and 2000, with some things between 2001 and 2003.
BD: I often ask singers
if they like knowing that on a
certain Tuesday three years from now they're going to sing a
certain role in a certain house. From the point of view of the
Music Director, are you happy to know
that a certain voice —
which is going to be used for the next three
is then going to be coming to your house for that certain
on that certain Tuesday?
AP: I try to keep tabs on
what's going on with certain
singers, especially if we're taking perhaps a small risk by giving them
something that is a big step for
them. And when I won't see these people for two or three
years, then I keep my ear very much to the ground because if I sense
problems, then I have to intervene in some manner. But all
opera houses and all directors will have to do that. For a
while, people had gone off this planning so far in advance, but now
it's come back again because to get the really good
people you have to plan in advance, or else they're taken already; it
becomes a competition to get the
good people. Also you have to have forethought to see, "Yes, in
five years, that one, will be able to do that; she'll be
perfect." And yet it is a risk, 'cause you
don't really know. It is a
combination of having the courage to make a decision, and then
following it through to follow the career of somebody. You have
really be interested.
BD: You really can't be
thinking about the here and now, if
you engage someone today for a role years from now.
AP: Yes, but when I get
to the opera house
and start working on a production that's happening now, I try as much
as possible to
forget everything that's the future. One of the dangers of this
business is to live constantly in
the future! If you think only about the future, you forget that
people are paying for tickets and you're there to create a product that
of the here
and the now. That's what's important!
BD: Let me turn the
question around. Why
are you in the opera house?
AP: Because I like
theater, because I like music and
theater together. I like the type of theater that is so
strong that it makes people sing. That's why I
like opera. It's something different than concert, and I think
it should be treated as something different than concert. The
combination of a
good stage director and a good conductor and a good cast can make
an opera evening overwhelming, as opposed to only well sung
or only well conducted or, "Well, the singers and the conductor
were good, but the production was no good," or a combination of those
elements with one of them being negative.
BD: Is there ever a time
when it gets to be too much to keep
all of these plates spinning at once?
AP: No. When the elements
are good, everybody makes
the effort. It's very hard to get all of the elements
correct, all the elements right in an opera, because there are so many
elements. Some operas have choreography in them to add to the
complexity of the thing. Difficult lighting, difficult settings,
chorus, all this can take extra work, of
BD: Is there ever a night
when everything works?
AP: Yeah, but not as
often as one would like; I'm
talking about those magic evenings, but that's if you've got high
expectations for your job. I
think that's true in any field. If you ask Michael
Jordan how many magic nights he has, they're
probably fewer than you think because he's
thinking about an ideal that we don't know about. People who are
dedicated to opera
are thinking about something that's really of a higher
quality, and so it's very much more difficult to reach.
BD: I assume, though,
that you're always striving for that.
AP: We try. When
you walk into the pit or when you walk onstage and you see a
lot of people who have come out and paid money to see you, and you're
doing the music of a great master, if you're involved in a good
production you have a certain responsibility —
responsibility, an artistic responsibility —
to at least try.
BD: You used the word
"great"; do you only
do great works?
AP: Frankly, for myself
can say absolutely with a cool head, yes. [Chuckles] I'm
allergic to anything else. But it depends, you know. Some
people don't think that Pelléas
is a great work; I think it's a masterpiece. I didn't used to
think that; I thought it was a crashing bore until
I did it in the theater and learned it and became completely
wrapped up. There is a matter of taste involved. Some
people can't stand Tristan und Isolde,
love Nabucco. Taste has
an influence; that's
something else. I've been lucky to have had the
opportunity to be really close to some great masterpieces, and I'm
grateful for that. Having an Italian last name sort of branded me
for awhile into doing only the
Italian repertoire. In the last five years that's changed
enormously, so I've had a chance to do a broad
spectrum of the repertoire. When you're
surrounded by the masterpieces, you're in safe hands. You take on
a tremendous responsibility, but therefore
you learn a tremendous amount.
BD: The experience with Pelléas —
that you didn't think was worth doing —
does that encourage you to maybe make a few more experiments?
AP: Oh, sure,
absolutely. I did that
Schoenberg evening, which was an evening of theater. Erwartung to start with, which is a
one singer on the
stage with a huge orchestra —
then film music which was done with film, and then Verklärte
Nacht with ballet. That's kind of a weird evening, and a
risky evening for
the public, but it turned out to be wonderful... sort of being
assaulted by Erwartung and
then being released into this world of beauty of Verklärte
BD: Did the public
respond to it?
AP: Oh, absolutely!
BD: On any evening
when you're in the pit, are you conscious of the audience that's ranged
out behind you?
AP: You can feel it,
strangely enough, when people say
that there's a great atmosphere in the house. That has a lot to
do not only with your
performance and the performances coming from the stage, but how the
audience is reacting to it at the moment. You do feel a
certain sensation. [Inhales deeply through his teeth, as if
goosebumps] You feel the silence; you feel the type of
silence. You also can feel the coughing, the boredom; you can
sense that things in the atmosphere are maybe not quite right.
That is the audience, too. I'm fascinated by that, somehow.
When you know it's there, there's
this very special atmosphere. That's why people come to the
that [inhales deeply through teeth, as if shivering] frisson.
BD: You obviously take
that into account when you have the
baton in your hand. Do you take that into account when you're
sitting behind your desk in the office?
AP: Yeah, very much
so. I think we're all trying to avoid
boredom in life, and I think in the theater boredom is
not allowed! [Laughter] Leaving some room for different
people's tastes, I
think you have to preoccupy yourself with how to stimulate the
audience. Now that doesn't only mean to entertain them.
It can mean entertain
them in the opera house; some people don't think
that, but I do. I think "entertainment" is not a bad word in the
opera house, but you have to stimulate them. You have to make
them listen to great singing, make them see great drama or intensity,
great conflict —
like an issue that is
worth fighting about on the stage. Perhaps it's this
young girl who's so obsessed by this man, so in love and yet
angry and manipulative of her parents that she wants to have this
guy's head chopped off and brought to her on a platter to make love to
him. That's a terrible issue, but it's a fascinating one, isn't
it? And if you can present that with
great singers and people who make the story so lurid and disgusting
that it gets the audience involved, that's important for people to come
BD: Is opera reality?
AP: I think it can
be. It's a magnifying glass,
sometimes, for certain aspects of the human condition —
usually the extremes of
the human condition! Verdi operas
tend to deal with the higher classes —
the kings and the
queens that we don't see every day —
and the terrible human
conflicts, real human conflicts that these people who we think
are superhuman have. These operas present basic problems such as
the father and daughter, the mother who has died, the wife who is in
the son or the son who's in love with his the
stepmother. Opera can reflect the human
condition, taking an aspect of it and magnifying it
and bringing it to our attention.
BD: Making a study of it?
BD: You mentioned the
word "entertainment." In
opera, where is the balance between the entertainment and the
AP: [Pauses for a
moment] Think about the thrill of a human
voice, the beauty of a human voice, the
loudness of a human voice, or the éclat
of an orchestral
outbreak, the whispery sort
of weird sounds that you can
hear from the pit in Salome,
for instance. There is also the
circus-like aspect of hearing the tenor hit the high C. That's a
part of opera. Whether you like it or not, it can really give
somebody great emotion. When you
hear a great singer open their mouth and project something beautiful,
you feel [whispers] "Ahhhhhh!" That is entertainment! Frank
Sinatra gives people that same thrill, the way he cajoles you with the
different, but it's a little bit the same, and I think
that does belong in opera. The sheer wonderfulness of a
voice can thrill, and why shouldn't it?
BD: Should the opera
houses of the world be trying to
attract not only the opera audience, but the audience for Frank
Sinatra and the audience of Michael Jackson?
AP: I think opera houses should
try to attract everyone! It's an art form that can
offer a tremendous amount of joy and pleasure. I think the
surtitles help. Let's face
it, if Frank Sinatra sang in German, I don't
think that it would be the same.
BD: And yet one can
assume that the audience in Germany likes to hear
AP: Yes, yes, but they're
more bilingual than we
are. You've gotta give in to that. The fact that we are
giving something that people can understand
as they're looking at it, doesn't have to only appeal to just the
cognoscenti. There's a tremendous excitement, a
theatrical aspect to it.
BD: Are you
optimistic about the whole future of opera?
AP: Right now I am.
I'm not sure
about where new operas are going, but what we call "traditional" works
through the 20th century's standard pieces are secure for the
moment. Younger audiences are being found; people are finding out
about opera. There was
an article in Time magazine
about this, and I think it's
happening. I don't know about new composers. If
we're gonna write operas today, we have to have very strong librettos,
and for very strong librettos it's safest —
or the best idea —
stick with great literature, because it's
the libretto and the action that's perhaps going to pull
audiences in before the music will today. So we must fight for
that element. That element
has to be strong.
BD: The Capriccio question, then...
In opera, where's the balance between the
music and the drama?
AP: Today we're a society
that is full of television and
full of movies, and we're used to having music always in
the background. Let's face it, a lot of the 20th century pieces
except for the really
great masterpieces —
do function as a sort of high-class movie music. I
don't think there's anything wrong with that as
long as we're getting the story, getting the text. As long as
these people who are up there selling us
opera are bringing us these big emotions and big intensity, they can
write music that is subservient, if you like, to the text. But
let's have the text be of a certain order that the story is worth
seeing! That's very important, otherwise people are not gonna
come and they're not gonna get it!
BD: [With a gentle
nudge] You mean you don't view opera as being
AP: [Pauses for a moment
and takes a deep breath.] No... [Both laugh]
rehearsal, is all your work done there so that you
have a duplicate at each performance, or do you
leave a certain spark for the individual nights?
AP: You can never
pre-determine everything. Once
you start, once you give the downbeat —
in this case the upbeat —
you are setting in motion a chain of events that has a
life of its own. There are so many factors
involved... the musicians, yourself, the way you feel, the way they
feel, if it's hot or cold in the pit, how the singers feel... If
it's a bubbly audience, you can feel what kind of mood they're
in. There's many
different factors, you know. It's not just a singer and a
piano. [Laughs] A lot of things can affect
the way a performance goes. Somebody may need something a little
bit faster, therefore the tempo is affected. Somebody might have
a great amount of air and they want to go
slower tonight. Maybe you really have a sense of direction and
you want to go forward tonight, so already the tempo is
affected. If you're less nervous than you were
the night before, perhaps you sit back and deal
with different issues of balance to bring the orchestra down a little
BD: But you have to
respond to all of this almost instantaneously!
AP: Yeah, but that's part
of your task as a conductor. That's part of your
training; that's what conductors do. Just to conduct a score like
Salome, your eyes,
ears and arms are working. You're making
split-second decisions every split second. When you know the
score that well
and when you know the singers that well and
you know the production that well, that's what you're doing. It
all becomes a different combination of those things
every night. Certain nights you feel more comfortable than
others, and certain nights you have to work harder because you have to
be clearer for the orchestra. Perhaps the orchestra is maybe
louder one night
than it is another night; perhaps they're doing everything and
you can just sit back in your chair. Some nights, singers are
feeling great, and on others the singers are
not feeling so great. All these are things that
affect you and the one thing you must not do is try to
duplicate the great performance from two nights
ago. The minute you try to duplicate a wonderful
performance, or what you thought was great at the last performance, it
doesn't work that way. You have to make a performance out of how
that first note
is struck and how it carries on. That's the beginning
of a new performance; it's a new world and you must treat it
like that. Otherwise you fall into something that
is worse than routine; it's searching
for that which is already gone.
BD: But you've got to try
and make it as good as you
AP: Yes! You try to
keep it together, you try to not completely swamp the singers, you try
to give the piece a
shape. Those are things that are basic; that's part of
your job. Those things have to be
respected. I'm talking about the magical elements.
BD: But you're still
driving the bus.
AP: Yeah, absolutely.
BD: You've made some
recordings; do you conduct differently
in the recording studio than you do in the theater?
AP: Absolutely not. The
process is completely different,
but it's exactly that theater element that interests me. Too
many recordings have been made where the interest is on the
perfection. When you're making a recording, yes, you do have
to go for accuracy. People are expecting a level of precision
perhaps higher than is normal in the opera house.
BD: Does this mean you
can't take quite as big a risk?
AP: Oh, no! You
have to take the risks... and make them work! That's the point
you have to know what the risks are; you
have to know what the theater is. I say, "I'm the stage director
now," and therefore I'm director of the production and the way the text
is delivered to a certain
degree. It's not a Shakespeare play
we're doing, but I'm going to create the temperature or create the
scene by how these singers interact with one another and how the
orchestra is going to react to them. That's what interests me
opera recording — you can take the time to do it
at the spur of the moment. You know that you have one hour to get
or six minutes worth of music. The
orchestra's never seen the music before, so you read it. Then
you correct it and you tell 'em the story, tell 'em
what's going on so that they know what they're doing. Then you do
it with the singers once, and then you record it.
BD: It's not better to
come with a cast and an orchestra
that had experienced the whole thing together?
necessarily. Maybe ideally, but not necessarily, because with an
orchestra that is fresh and hearing it fresh, when you're telling them
the story there's an improvisatory
air about it that is very exciting. If they're with you
they catch on to the fire. That's what recordings
mean to me, to capture that theater element, but to go for the colors
that you really, really want. What do these words mean? How
does the orchestra color fit
here? Should it be accompanying or should it take
over here? All those
questions need answering because you have a chance to re-listen again;
you have a chance of getting close to a dream you have.
BD: Do you ever get it
AP: A couple of moments
here and there. [Laughter]
It is impossible to get that, actually, but there are certain
things where you say, "Yeah, that worked!" You try to get as
many of those as possible. Of course, you have to
try to hedge your bets; you have to try to get the best cast, the right
cast, the cast that should sing these parts, the
cast that makes sense. Otherwise you're going against nature, and
when you go against nature
in a recording, you're starting to play with fire, I've found.
BD: Does that ever work?
AP: [Takes a breath, but
does not speak]
BD: [Positing a
response] Even rarely?
BD: The new Bohème takes this a step or
two farther by also putting it onto CD-ROM. Is this trying to
attract a new audience, or
deepen the ideas of the current audience, or what?
AP: There's a bit on the
end of the CD that has me
introducing the opera and the characters a little bit. It's an
experiment. It's a first try to get
people to come into the computer age, which is undeniably here to
stay. There's no
question. I even have one. It's a first
experiment that we are trying to get into more homes to show who these
people are who are
singing. It's just to tell a little bit about the character, a
about the opera, about the history of the opera. There
are pictures of the recording sessions for people to become more
familiar with what it is that
they're listening to,
BD: Are they watching
"The Making of La Bohème"?
AP: Not really. We
certainly haven't gotten that far. There are no little televised
shots of the recording sessions; they're stills, mainly, and
biographies of the
singers. The graphics are quite beautiful.
It's good, but it's gonna be better. We're gonna continue to do
it. It's done the right way; now we just
have to get good at it. We've recorded La Rondine which is coming
out in March, and we hope to also have something with that.
BD: Is this, then, going
to become the standard —
that you buy an audio
record and it'll also have the CD-ROM with it?
AP: I don't know.
We'll see what the response is over the next two or
three years. It's a
marketing experiment, there's no question.
BD: Do you hope that this
will translate, that people who buy it
who own computers will listen to it and watch it will then come to
AP: Oh, I hope so.
Yeah, I hope so.
BD: I understand you're also
Carlos, and you've elected to do it in French.
AP: It's done already; we
did a new production at the Châtelet
last January with Luc Bondy, the same producer who did Salome here in Chicago. We
the five-act French version, or rather we did our own theatrical
the French version. We made some
cuts and we made some revisions, but it's a five-hour
evening and it is faithful to a great
deal of the original. With it already being a five-hour evening,
we felt that we did have to make some cuts.
BD: Were those opened for
AP: No. The
recording was made live. It's a co-production with
Covent Garden. I didn't do it in Covent Garden, but I did it in
Brussels. It's been released in Europe, and you'll get it
BD: Are you pleased with
You want me to be
AP: It has a
fantastic cast. EMI France tied it in with the release of La Bohème which was recorded
quite a few months
before. They should've, perhaps, spent a little bit more
time working on it to get it really right. They recorded three
performances, and I felt that it was
just released a little early.
BD: Is this purely audio,
or is there also a video?
AP: There's a video that
was released in
November, and that's better, I think. That I'm pleased with, so
if you have to see something, the video is probably the
version to see.
BD: Does opera work on
the small screen?
AP: It has to be very
and not all productions that work on stage work on the screen.
This was done in high-definition, and it works very well, I
it a great cinematographic experience, or television experience?
I don't know, but I haven't seen an
opera on TV that is, yet. But this one is very good.
BD: I often ask singers
if there's a role that is too close to
their own personality. Are there any operas that perhaps touch
you so much that you really can't do justice to them?
AP: [Thinks for a
moment.] Well, I don't know if I
would have a lot of fun conducting Bohème
in the theater right
AP: It's a piece that I
conducted a lot early on, in the
beginning of my career. I did about 50 performances of that
piece, then there was a five-year hiatus, and then I recorded it.
So right now I'm too
close to it, and I don't want to think about performing
it in a theater.
BD: So you just want to
get away from it?
BD: Will you come back to
it in a while?
BD: You had some
interesting experiences at
Bayreuth; I understand you were Barenboim's assistant?
AP: Mm-hmm, for six years.
BD: Did you learn a lot
from him, and from the theater itself?
AP: Oh very, very much
so. Maestro Barenboim gives his
assistants quite a lot of responsibility. I prepared singers, I
conducted the orchestra when he wanted to
listen — sometimes whole chunks of The
Ring, Tristan or Parsifal. I learned his
repertoire, which is very important, and the language.
BD: When you are
conducting so he can listen, you have to conduct his ideas...
I'm good at that. I was always good at making my statement on it,
but using his tempi.
BD: Do you then keep it
in the back of your mind, "When it gets to be my production I will do
AP: Every conductor who's
assistant has a store of information of having heard things done a
certain way by their Meister
and saying, "Maybe I'll do that a little
bit differently." When I did Tristan
for the first time —
and I'm doing it again next month —
I had to rethink all the things
that I'd heard Daniel do and say, "Does this
work for me?" Certain things were yes and certain things
were no, but that's very important and
you have to go through that process to take
yourself away and make your own decisions about these things.
Otherwise you're just copying. When you listen to recordings,
that's not the issue; the issue is that you have to do your
BD: If you come to a new
production of a work you have already done, do you get a clean score
and start over?
AP: That's a good idea,
actually. I haven't done so many things for a second or third
I've had to buy too many double scores, but that's
not a bad way of approaching it. You know
the score so well that you don't need all your markings anymore, but
yeah, that's a good way of approaching it!
BD: Is there something
special about conducting Wagner?
AP: What's wonderful
about conducting Wagner is the
continuity. Having just conducted five acts of Don Carlos
and admiring it so much, yet one of the big frustrations to me is the
fact that it wasn't through-composed.
BD: It is sort of
AP: Terribly. Even though
it's a great masterpiece, one of the great flaws of Don Carlos is that there are so
many different styles. You have the pseudo-Spanish style, the
lighter style, the French
style, the sort of super-dark style
that's almost Russian for the Inquisitor music, and you have the
Italian style. Had there been a unifying element, it would've
kept the thing going and would've made it a great, great,
great, great masterpiece.
BD: And this you find in
AP: Yes. You find
it in Otello, too, and in
some of the other ones. But in Wagner it's his
trademark. What that does for the conductor is it not only keeps
things going, but it puts a tremendous responsibility on how you change
the gears; how you wind down into the slower tempo. Basically
you're not playing on an
automatic, you're dealing with a stick
shift. You have to switch down smoothly so that
people don't hear the bumps in the music. That's the art of
conducting Wagner, and the
greatest exponent in that respect of the transition was
BD: That's why you got
along with Barenboim so much, because he had a hero and that hero was
AP: Yeah. It's this
art of finding
the way through the music without the bumps.
BD: Are you at
the point in your career that you
want to be at this age?
AP: I'm pretty lucky,
actually. In the future I would like to conduct more symphonic
which I'm doing more and more of, but I'm very lucky to be doing what
I'm doing. I'm
conducting a lot of opera, but I'm doing quite a lot of very nice
BD: One last question
is conducting fun?
AP: [Thinks for a
moment] I love it when it is, let me put
it that way. It sometimes isn't
because sometimes it's very hard work. When it's fun, it is the
greatest joy in the world. It is the greatest thing in the
world, but it's a hard job and a tremendous amount of study
Antonio Pappano Conductor
Music Director, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Music Director, Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
Currently Music Director of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden,
Antonio Pappano is the youngest conductor ever to have been invited to
this position. Previously, he has been Music Director of the
Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels and the Norwegian
Opera, and Principal Guest Conductor of the Israel Philharmonic
Born in London of Italian parents but living in the United States from
the age of 13, Pappano’s work as pianist and assistant conductor
rapidly led to his engagement in theatres throughout the world. Most
notably, he was assistant to Daniel Barenboim for several productions
at the Bayreuth Festival.
Antonio Pappano’s operatic debut took place at the Norwegian Opera
where he was soon named Music Director. During this period he also made
his conducting debuts at the English National Opera, Covent Garden, the
San Francisco Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the
Théâtre du Châtelet and the Berlin Staatsoper. At
the age of 32 Pappano was named Music Director of the
Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, where, in addition to
conducting numerous opera productions and symphonic concerts, he
continued his work as a pianist, accompanying many international
singers in recital. In 1999, he made his debut with the Bayreuth
Festspiele conducting a new production of Lohengrin.
Concurrently with his obligations at the Royal Opera House, Antonio
Pappano is Music Director of the orchestra of the Accademia Nazionale
di Santa Cecilia in Rome. He also conducts regularly with the London
Symphony Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles
Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic, the Royal Concertgebouw
Orchestra in Amsterdam and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
In recent seasons at the Royal Opera House, Antonio Pappano has
conducted the complete Ring
cycle, and the world premiere of Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s The Minotaur, and new productions
of Tristan und Isolde and Lulu. This season includes new
productions of Macbeth and
the world premiere of a new opera by Turnage.
In future seasons, he will make his operatic debut at the Teatro alla
Scala in Milan (Les Troyens)
and conduct Il Trittico, Parsifal, Les Troyens and Les Vêpres Siciliennes at
Mr. Pappano records for EMI Classics.
© 1996 Bruce Duffie
This interview was recorded in Chicago on December 8,
1996. Portions (along with recordings)
were used on WNIB later that month and twice in 1999. This
made and posted on this
website in 2011.
broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago
from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of
2001. His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and
journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM,
as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.
You are invited to visit his website
for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of
other interviews, plus a full list of his guests. He would also
to call your attention to the photos and information about his
grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a
century ago. You may also send him E-Mail
with comments, questions and suggestions.