`I knew when I read Solti that it was the job for me'

Stephen Fay talks inspiration with Antonio Pappano, the new music director of the Royal Opera House

Antonio Pappano, who becomes music director of the Royal Opera House in 2002, had an uncanny experience last summer. He was reading the autobiography of Sir Georg Solti, who had become music director in 1961: "I got to the chapter on Covent Garden," he says, "and when I read it, I felt I was going to be offered the job. It came into my mind that this is for me. This is what I want."

Pappano is music director at the Theatre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels. It is a prestigious position, but other names, like Christopher Von Dohnanyi, Simon Rattle (always rumoured, never available) and Mark Elder were ahead of his on most shortlists for the Opera House. Pappano heard nothing until December, when he was finally interviewed. "I didn't hear anything for over a month after that, and then I heard a lot," he says. The formal announcement that he would succeed Bernard Haitink came last Wednesday.

Solti's compelling memoir must have suggested to Pappano that, as aspiring young men, they had plenty in common. Both learned conducting in opera houses by working as repetiteurs with singers. Both loved the theatre; both had an explosive temperament, a reluctance to suffer fools gladly; both were perfectionists.

And they liked the idea of working in London. When Solti was offered the job, the great German conductor, Bruno Walter, told him: "The English will love you. They love talented people - but you'll hate the climate." Pappano's talent has still to be judged by the Covent Garden audience, but at least he is used to the weather. He was born in Epping, lived in London until he was 13, and first visited Covent Garden as a boy to see Visconti's legendary production of Il Trovatore.

Solti is the hardest act to follow, but the choice may well prove to have been inspired: "He's got the stubbornness of the English, with the charisma of the Italians," says Anne Evans, who sang a memorable Isolde for Pappano in Brussels.

Pappano does not yet look the part. He has a shock of black hair, deep, dark brown eyes, and a quick and easy smile. He is fresh-faced and stocky; he dresses neatly in a grey sports coat and flannels. In the US, they think he talks with an English accent. Back here, the accent sounds American, but discreet. He speaks fluent Italian, French and German.

Scenes from the life of Antonio Pappano:

In Castelfranco, in the Campania region to the east of Naples, Pasquale Pappano, the son of peasant farmers, is a talented enough tenor to be admitted to the Milan Conservatory. His wife is from the same village, and in 1958 her emigrant sister suggests they join her family in north London. Pasquale teaches at the Trinity College of Music. His son, who is born in 1959, is at the age of 10 already accompanying his father's voice students. At 12, he gets high marks in his exam results from the Associated Board in London when he is a pupil at Pimlico Secondary School: "That was the turning point. I knew then I wanted to be a musician. It was like switching on a lightbulb."

When his family moves to Connecticut, Pappano finds a piano teacher named Norma Virrella: "There was an immediate rapport. She really created me." (Anne Evans says Pappano can make the piano sound like an orchestra.) At 21, he is an assistant at the New York City Opera. He wins the Julius Rudel Award for young conductors. Beverly Sills, the diva who runs the place, offers him a performance of Bellini's Norma, with no rehearsals. "Instinctively I knew this was not right. I said `No' - much to her chagrin. I protected myself."

Aged 22, Pappano is coaching a Danish soprano, Inga Neilsen, who pushes him into conducting her in a number of concerts in Scandinavia where they like what they hear. He makes his debut as an opera conductor, aged 28, in Oslo with La Boheme. He becomes music director of the Norwegian National Opera in 1990.

He fears being labelled. "The name Pappano has the Italian repertoire written all over it. When I started conducting, I couldn't go near Wagner. So I learned to speak German and I worked there, and in Barcelona where they perform a lot of Wagner. If you have a musical personality, no matter where you come from, you can bring something to any kind of repertoire."

He finds a mentor. Daniel Barenboim, who is conducting Wagner's Ring in Bayreuth, hires Pappano to assist him: "Somehow he knew I was innately operatic, and I could translate his ideas to singers. Perhaps he sensed my curiosity about music, and my willingness to learn."

At 32, he becomes music director in Brussels, where Anne Evans finds that he works line by line, note by note. She enjoys rehearsals: "He's got strong ideas of what he wants."

Pappano's confidence makes him prima donna-proof. Perhaps because of his age and parentage, he is one of the few conductors who works amicably with opera's golden couple, Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu. "We speak Italian together."

Pappano also studies by listening to records, and the conductor who impresses him most is Herbert Von Karajan: "That sound! But what's so special about him is that he conquered every part of the repertoire. He was the greatest Italian opera conductor, and one of the great Strauss and Wagner conductors."

At 39, Pappano thinks he has got the Covent Garden job at the right time: "I'm not too young, not too old." It's what he wanted. He is in the mood to succeed.

Pappano is in the process of reviving his British citizenship. How about "Arise Sir Antonio"? In about 10 years' time.

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl

First look at Oscar winner as transgender artistfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month

TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel

film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Oscars
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
music
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
film
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
architecture
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower