Antonio Pappano discuss the ROH's Meistersinger, Ring Cycle, Tosca on TV and at last mentions Parsifal 2013

Written By The Wagnerian on Monday, 19 December 2011 | 10:05:00 pm

Pappano: "Is that an iceberg I see before me?
The ROH marketing and press departments often remind me of an iceberg: big, slow and cumbersome till it hits you at the last minute with so much that you sink under the weight. Notice their revival of Meistersingers: one announcement and then nothing (just a little ripple) - they don't even have any pictures of previous revivals. But then the production gets so close, you can see it off your starboard bow. It's at this moment that you find you have run-a-bow of them, smack right in the face, where they have lain sleeping like a rather old and unsociable Poseidon, who in all truth, has lost his appetite for the whole thing (maybe he has gone comatose from all those productions of Traviata?) . 

In the past few days they have been hitting us with a number of interviews in the press. One assumes as part of this,  in Friday's Guardian Nicholas Wroe, interviews Pappano (part of which can be found below), wherein he discusses the new Meistersingers, Ring Cycle and, wait for it Parsifal,  in 2013 (actually it would seem to be 2012 from the article but trust me on this - I think) . Parsifal? A new production? From the ROH? Another opera house would be oiling the publicity machine as we speak (there are still far to many tickets available for Meistersinger for such a popular production in my opinion)  but what would I know? And where did you hear about it first, including who will play Parsifal? Well, here actually back in August - unless of course you heard it somewhere else first. 

Anyway, enough from me over to the Maestro:

This year's BBC Christmas treats for opera lovers will be prepared and hand-delivered by Antonio Pappano. On New Year's Day he will conduct a live radio broadcast from the Royal Opera House of Wagner'sMeistersinger. But before then, on Christmas Eve, he presents an hour long television introduction to Tosca, which will be followed by the recent Covent Garden production under his baton starring Angela Gheorghiu, Bryn Terfel and Jonas Kaufmann. Pappano, whose Opera Italia series aired last year, has rapidly become the television face of the art form and his introduction to Tosca sees him enthusiastically exploring the Roman sites utilised by Puccini as well as behind the scenes rehearsal footage.

"So there is plenty of Angela, Bryn and Jonas," Pappano explains. "And having those three together was quite something. They ensure the production is absolutely full of beans. But there does seem a need for a front man for opera and classical music at the moment, so I present the programme and do most of the yapping. To have the chance to get people excited about something you are excited about is a huge opportunity. We keep talking about opera as if everybody knows all about it. But not everybody does, so I think it is part of my job to tell them. Tosca might be a highly compelling story that almost anyone will instantly enjoy, but if you have just a little more historical background, a little more knowledge of what Puccini was trying to achieve, then you really do get so much more out of it."

Pappano, who comes from a southern Italian family and has been music director of the city's prestigious orchestra of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia since 2005, is an ideal choice to talk about a Rome-based opera. But he has an equally strong claim to be a local hero back at his Covent Garden base, where he will celebrate 10 years as music director early next year. He was brought up in 1960s London and even hazily remembers being taken to a Covent Garden Il Trovatore as a child. "It did make an impression in that the very dark staging of the gypsy fire scene has stayed with me. But it was a long time ago. A lot has happened in between."

The circuitous route he embarked upon before returning to Covent Garden to succeed Bernard Haitink as music director took in emigration to America, an education as a jobbing piano-player, and highly regarded behind the scenes work at some of the most prestigious opera houses in the world. But when he did return to London he was almost immediately reminded of his roots. Entering a backstage lift just after being appointed music director he vaguely recognised a stage hand. "We sort of looked at each other and then worked it out. We'd been to primary school together. He was now working in the flies. It was quite a reminder that essentially I was returning home."

Pappano says he can scarcely believe that he has now been in charge for 10 years. "I have to say it's been a wonderful journey, because there have been so many twists and turns. But we have managed to survive and even thrive and now we have an even stronger bond with the audience; we're a very tight-knit family within the house. The hope as a musician is always that you continue to develop and get better over time. That can only happen in an atmosphere of trust such as we have here."

Looking back over a decade of productions he, reluctantly, identifies some key works. He claims great affection for his first London opera,Ariadne auf Naxos, as well as citing a "not universally liked" Lulu, "that nevertheless was very important for us in terms of building teamwork", a "conventional" Marriage of Figaro that was "sort of perfect in its direction and bite", Richard Jones's controversial staging of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, a Wozzeck, Tristan and, this year, Mark-Anthony Turnage'sAnna Nicole, which put drug abuse, boob jobs and octogenarian sex on the Covent Garden stage in recounting the rise and fall of the late playboy model. "There was an element of overcoming doubts and fears with Anna Nicole, but when we began work, it clearly meant everything to everybody. You should have seen the place during that period – everyone was on point and working very, very hard from the same page. But the thing about that list of productions, and many others I could have mentioned, is that they are all very different in style. And that has been a large part of the appeal for me – and, I hope, the audience."

Next week Pappano leads the company in a revival of their much-acclaimed Graham Vick-directed Meistersinger. "For a musician, there is no other piece that gives so much back. It is steeped in the history of German music and you have these two very different styles in a work that will always be somehow contemporary because it contains this conflict between new ideas and old traditions." In a way Meistersinger acts as an appetiser for next season's complete Ring cycle, directed by Keith Warner, which Pappano will conduct for the second time. "It is wonderful to have the chance to bring it back. To develop it further and really work on it. Seeing it all together reveals the amazing logic and cohesion of the whole thing. And it is great to do a house piece in which everyone is involved. It is one of the most satisfying experiences and I'm delighted that we have several large-scale works coming up over the next few years." Pappano's current contract keeps him in London until 2014, but he has already scheduled work beyond then and talks enthusiastically about an upcoming Verdi's Sicilian Vespers, a new Parsifal and Berlioz's vast Trojans, which will form part of the the house's 2012 Olympic year celebrations. "People say it's a bit cheesy when I talk about working like a big family on some of these things. But it is true. And I know better than most what it's like to make music in a family."