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  • Listen: Antonio Pappano - 'Every note must be theatrical. Every note is important'

Listen: Antonio Pappano - 'Every note must be theatrical. Every note is important'

The Music Director of The Royal Opera on opera in cinemas, the pressure on singers, and his thoughts on concept-led 'Regietheater'.

By Chris Shipman (Head of Brand Engagement and Social Media)

13 October 2014 at 5.43pm | Comment on this article

Music Director of The Royal Opera Antonio Pappano recently spoke to BBC Radio 3's Music Matters.

This Season Pappano is conducting six operas and one symphonic concert, following Season-opener Anna Nicole with the UK premiere of Thaddeus Strassberger's production of I due Foscari, starring Plácido Domingo:

'The main object for me here is to keep my orchestra and chorus interested...It's very important to keep renewing the repertory,' the Music Director told presenter Tom Service. 'This Season we're staging Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny and Guillaume Tell, which hasn't played here since 1990. I due Foscari - which I'm working on right now - is early Verdi but I'm sure most of my orchestra has never played it before.'

Pappano noted that the arts sector has noticeably changed over the time he has been at Covent Garden:

'The whole business of arts funding is a continually difficult discussion and the amount of development work that you need to bring on private sponsors has quintupled since I've been here. Opera is now going into cinemas, and there's live-streaming too. In terms of getting the message out there, this is a fantastic revolution. I believe that you can't replace the live experience but you can go to a cinema relay and more and more of these are live now, which gives an extra frisson. We've embraced, we've adapted, and I'm very happy.'

However, with this opening up of an art form comes increased pressure:

'The demands are more and more tremendous these days. What I mean is the combination of singing, acting, realism, and now everything is being taped. It puts a tremendous amount of pressure on all performers so my admiration for everybody involved - Chorus, Orchestra and the soloists - is limitless.'

'Singers are very sensitive,' says Pappano of the active role he takes in training young singers. 'Things need time. Singers who come to sing opera at the Royal Opera House need a conductor who is aware of what they are dealing with - a vocal line but also words. To get singers to sing softly is a challenge because it's much easier for them to be freer. They don't have to shout, they can coast on the beauty of their voice. With operas that have huge orchestras - Wagner, Strauss, Puccini and some of the later Verdi stuff - the singer has to have a vocal presence to begin with that commands a certain attention, a certain capability to penetrate the orchestral fabric. That doesn't mean that they just trumpet their way through, you have to try and find islands that they're just singing naturally.'

Working with singers, however, is just one part of the job:

'I also have to make the orchestra, which is sometimes considered an accompanying instrument, into something that is interesting on its own. You have to give information on what we're expressing in any moment so that the type of colour that they're making is not just a wooden, basic professionally-good accompaniment but something that creates an envelope for the whole show. Nothing should be thrown away. It's like a pig, you throw nothing away. You're like a butcher and you save everything. Every note must be theatrical. Every note is important in the art form.

The Music Director is enjoying working with Kasper Holten and John Fulljames, who've joined The Royal Opera in the past couple of Seasons:

'Working with younger people who have a very strong theatrical sense is a kind of reinvention of myself. Opera is a difficult, demanding mistress and you have to get every element right and that's what makes opera so fascinating. Of course you're dealing with an element of the public that comes to the opera to be brought back in time and needs that to escape from today's world and therein lies a little bit of the conflict, but I think that every arts organization has to deal with that.'

'When you're dealing with the operatic repertory, and dealing especially with the classics, I think that trying to bring something new is important, worthwhile and necessary. But of course the Italian repertory - Verdi in particular - requires a lot of restraint and discipline. The music doesn't allow for haphazard scrapping of all the historical elements in favour of a kind of concept. It's interesting how abstract painting in the visual arts is somehow much more readily accepted, but in music it somehow provokes a very strong and vitriolic response. I look at it this way - if there's life in the theatre, if there are strong reactions for and against, I'm okay with that. Then I know we're cooking, that something's going on at Covent Garden.'

Pappano also spoke of his position as Music Director of the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, how he unwinds after performances, and gave a hint as to future Royal Opera plans.

During the remainder of the 2015/16 Season Antonio Pappano conducts Cavalleria rusticanaPagliaccia symphonic concert and Boris Godunov.

By Chris Shipman (Head of Brand Engagement and Social Media)

13 October 2014 at 5.43pm

This article has been categorised Opera and tagged Antonio Pappano, BBC Radio 3, by Thaddeus Strassberger, cinema, I due Foscari, interview, listen, Music Matters, podcast, Production, regietheater, singers, Tom Service, training

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