Antonio Pappano: 'There's a different frisson in performing Les Vêpres siciliennes in French'
Our Music Director talks to BBC Radio 3's In Tune about conducting Covent Garden's first staging of Verdi's grand opera.
‘It’s a wonderful opera that was new to me but since I’ve conducted Don Carlo so much, to be back with the Parisian Verdi has been quite an adventure,’ Antonio told presenter Sean Rafferty. ‘I’m very happy we’re doing it in French because the whole colour of the piece takes on something of the unexpected – there’s a different frisson, a different electricity in the French language.’
Antonio also spoke of the look of the new production, which has been updated to the era of the opera’s premiere: ‘You’ll want to take the story with a grain of salt in terms of the period – we’ve updated the setting. Stefan Herheim, the producer, has found a beautiful setting – the opera house of Théâtre Impérial. The story is told very clearly but it’s a discussion not only about the French against the Sicilians, but about art and the raping of art, and how art is used… It’s a beautiful production; visually stunning and musically sumptuous.’
Les Vêpres siciliennes had its premiere in 1855 during the heydey of French grand opera and saw Verdi following in the footsteps of Offenbach and Meyerbeer: ‘What’s amazing about this score is that there are so many dances – a tarantella, a bolero, a barcarole. Verdi reinvented himself when he wrote for Paris. The melodies are unexpectedly longer in their phrasing and the duets, which make the biggest part of the opera, have a structure more like Rossini’s William Tell rather than Verdi’s other operas. These operas take their time and they’re big!’
Antonio spoke to the reasons why the opera is only now being staged for the first time, and its rarity: ‘The piece has a history of being done in Italian. Certain big singers were drawn to it – Maria Callas and many others. You need the top singers. The length is an issue – when these pieces were done by Callas they were cut to ribbons. I believe the cumulative effect of doing almost everything – we’re pruning here and there but very little – pays dividends structurally, in intensity and over the whole evening the experience is richer. The piece does hold up but it needs to be done well.’
Antonio also gave his thoughts on what opera Verdi would have written had he lived longer, how the composer influenced the operatic singing style of today and how he himself runs rehearsals.
You can download the Tuesday 8 October interview with Antonio Pappano from the In Tune Podcast page – files are organized by date.
Les Vêpres siciliennes runs from 17 October – 11 November 2013. The production will also be screened live in cinemas around the world on 4 November and is staged with the generous philanthropic support of Mrs Susan A. Olde OBE, Mrs Aline Foriel-Destezet, Mr and Mrs Baha Bassatne and The Maestro’s Circle.