New ROH chief gives backing to traditional values

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The Independent Culture

Antonio Pappano, the new music director of the Royal Opera House, has promised there will be no gratuitous sex and violence when he succeeds Bernard Haitink in the prestigious post this summer.

With the English National Opera suffering half-empty houses for a production of Verdi's A Masked Ball featuring homosexual rape, Mr Pappano said he favours traditional stagings for most of the operas audiences know and love.

The British-born conductor is not due to unveil his plans for Covent Garden until later this month. But he revealed some early thoughts on the job to a small audience at a dinner of the Royal Philharmonic Society.

Although he has worked with some of the more daring directors in opera, he made it clear he opposes controversy for controversy's sake.

"With a piece from the 20th century, something like (Alban Berg's) Wozzeck, there is more room to manoeuvre," he said. But "concept productions" of much-loved works such as Puccini's Madame Butterfly were "much more dangerous".

He would not do anything simply to "provoke a reaction", he said. "There are certain pieces that can take it and there are certain pieces that shouldn't take it."

Mr Pappano succeeds Mr Haitink at the Opera House on 1 August at the remarkably young age of 42, after spending 10 years as music director of the Theatre de la Monnaie in Brussels. There, he has become known for dramatic productions with many directors relatively unknown in London. Critics, who adore his high musical standards, had been expecting some provocative work at the Opera House.

But in words likely to soothe any opera-lover alarmed by recent trends towards unscripted sex and violence in productions, Mr Pappano stressed his governing instinct in staging opera was respect for the music. "I have worked to make opera productions mean as much visually as they do musically, but the music is the first element," he said.

Mr Pappano told the Royal Philharmonic Society dinner that he was pleased to be returning to London, where he was born and lived with his Italian parents in a council flat until they moved to America when he was 13. His first production will be Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos.