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Tuesday, 3 September, 2002, 11:02 GMT 12:02 UK
Tony Pappano: Opera's young pretender
Tony Pappano
Mr Pappano is the youngest director in the ROH's history

Tony Pappano, 42, has a formidable track record - he has conducted opera all over the world, and was at the helm of the Theatre de la Monnaie in Brussels for 10 years - and expectations are running high.

He has taken over as artistic director at the Royal Opera House from Bernard Haitink, 73.

Dutch-born Haitink was recently made an honorary Companion of Honour in recognition of his 14-year spell at the house, in which he championed young singers and welded the orchestra into a critically-acclaimed unit.

"I don't think I'd be human if I wasn't nervous," Mr Pappano says.

Oscar Peterson
Pappano is a fan of jazz pianist Oscar Peterson
"Every job takes a little bit of time and I don't want to be just a flash in the pan, it's a long-term thing. Relationships are being built, slowly."

His soft American accent occasionally betrays English vowel sounds, a legacy of spending the first 13 years of his life in Essex before moving to the US.

His relative youth shows itself in his musical broadmindedness. In his teenage years he was a jazz pianist.


"If I'm flipping on the TV and a good music video comes on, it's important to watch that stuff and keep up with what's going on.

"I think it's important to experience what being "loose" is, musically - what the words funky and swing and jazz mean. Sometimes classical musicians tend to have the blinkers on.

"And music has to swing, whether it's classical or whatever."

But at the same time he is in love with opera's core repertoire - "Verdi is very important to me" - and does not think that there is anything wrong with staging the old warhorses again.

"If something is well sung, well conducted and if something is dramatically alive - if you feel that energy and electricity it doesn't matter how old the piece is."

Royal Opera House
Pappano is thinking of putting on musicals at the Opera House
"I'm not sure that it's so bad that the core repertoire becomes older and older, because there are so few old things in this life that are respected.

"Everything is so disposable these days, and I'm not so sure that that's the right way."

The autumn programme at the Opera House covers all the bases from new works to classics, and Mr Pappano is clearly relishing the chance to employ what he calls "the instrument that Bernard built" - the house's orchestra.


"I'm thrilled. The sheer beauty of sound he got from the orchestra, and the intimacy and continuity of the playing is admirable."

He praises the quality of British singers he is working with. "This is the first time I've been working with Sir Thomas Allen, the guy's a revelation to me, he's fabulous."

But he is concerned about what is happening to opera singers generally. He feels there is an increasing lack of "big voices" in the field.

"Big voices need time, but everybody's in a rush and if there's a very young talented singer who's going to be terrific in the dramatic repertoire, that singer needs to be carefully handled, put away somewhere.

"Sometimes the singers have been around for two years and they're on at the Met, but you need experience to sing at big houses and you force your voice too early."

Tony Pappano
"I like football, too - does that mean you can't like opera?"
"It's the speed-up of life, and of how a career should be managed."

And he believes it is part of a wider problem: "We're living life much too quickly now. How much new do we need?

"The attention span of children isn't helped by TV.

"One thing about music videos is this almost sick restlessness - even with the most beautiful people on the screen, you don't have more than one second to look at them.

"I think this is bad, very bad - there's not feeling of continuity, and I do think this has an impact on kids growing up, on their attention spans."

If he is concerned about the whether or not a new generation will have the attention span for opera, there is one aspect of modern life that Mr Pappano is happy to deal with - musicals.


"I'm a big fan of musicals, though whether they should be in the opera house is another discussion. But I think it's our job to expand the vistas of what is and is not musical theatre.

"I think it's our place to start getting into more Baroque things, but perhaps to look into musicals too, to stretch the bookends a bit."

He has spoken of his wish to stage Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd at the Opera House one day - using "enhanced sound", the theatrical euphemism for amplification.

"With pieces that have that much dialogue and are that wordy you need to understand every word, so they would be enhanced.

Bernard Haitink
Pappano praises "the sheer beauty" of Haitink's sound
"This is a very important area and it has to be extremely well done. Sometimes on Broadway and in the West End things are too loud - I do believe we have to be very, very careful with that."

It can be hard to tell whether Mr Pappano is a young conservative or a cautious radical.

His tastes include Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and jazz pianists like Bill Evans and Oscar Peterson - as well as Michael Jackson and Joni Mitchell.

"I like football, too - does that mean you can't like opera?" he asks.

"There will always be a certain image of what opera is, but I wish people could come and see Ariadne and see how modern and hip it is.

"And live music is something you can't replace - it's a visceral experience, seeing people singing without microphones, from their guts and portraying emotion."

Tony Pappano's first production at the Royal Opera House, Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos, opens on Friday.

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