`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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn