The Opera House in London is towering. The white façade stands against Convent Garden market Inside, the bright red seats shine on the golden frames of the dais. Yet, the best vision is from a narrow, dark and incredibly high-ceilinged corridor, where the auditorium’s gold and red seem almost in miniature, enlarging as one moves closer, as if they are becoming real. Continuing on to the other end of the corridor all this disappears leaving the scene to stage props, mannequins wearing costumes, large wooden cylinders piled full of scores of pallid pink tutus. Finally, at the end, there is a door where, under four portraits of Puccini, the Director of the Royal Opera House stands – Sir Antonio Pappano.
The youngest musical director ever of the Royal Opera House, he is also head of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome and has conducted some of the most important orchestras in the world, such as the New York Philharmonic and the Berliner Philharmoniker. A long path to success, but Antonio had music in his blood since the very beginning
His parents met in Italy, both coming from a tiny town near Benevento, Castelfranco in Miscano, with less than a thousand people and not many opportunities. In 1957 Antonio’s mother decided to go to London, joining a sister already working in the UK, and in 1958 his father followed. It was there they married, and there where Antonio was born.
The community was solid, people helped each other and had positive relations with both British and other foreign people living in London. «There was not an “us and them” », he says. An Italian woman helped his parents find jobs in the household of a diplomate, even if they did not speak a single word of English. His father’s desire, however, was to keep playing music, singing as a tenor. He returned to Italy to study in Milan and Mantova, but travelled between Italy and the UK while his mother held down three, four jobs to support the family.
When Antonio was six, his father started teaching him music at home on the piano they have managed to acquire. Despite seeming more interested in football at the beginning, he saw potential in his son and persisted. At ten, Antonio is so good he accompanied his father on the piano when he was giving private singing lessons. He used to get out of school, run to catch the bus and join his father at the studio, playing until after nine p.m. Now living in the US with his parents, this was Antoinio’s life until he was 21, when he starts working with musical directors in Chicago and in New York with the City Opera. It was not long before he becomes a director himself.
His Italian heritage strongly helps him in his activity. On the one hand, knowing the language most used in opera gives a more intuitive, immediate understanding of its rhythm. On the other, he believes that the very art of singing itself is firmly related to being Italian. «Singing is fundamental to the Italian character. Italians feel the necessity to sing, or at least experience this more deeply».
It is a sort of intuitive unity then between the art of singing and the singer that encapsulates what he believes to be the maximum success of a director: total harmony of all the components of opera, from the performance to the orchestra, the singing, in fact the work and collaboration of everyone involved, not only on stage but back stage and even beyond. He recalls the feeling of his first show, Ariadne auf Naxos by Strauss. The work is an ensemble, as it does not have individual protagonists but several roles of equal importance. His perception was that, in that show, this feature of complete concordance went beyond what was happening on stage, encompassing all the staff, who worked as a single body. Indeed, an ensemble.
— Photo: Carolina Maggio at work in the Lollipop Gallery in Shoreditch.