Celebrating 22 Years of Antonio Pappano

Reviewer's Rating

Destined to be an unforgettable occasion, this Gala pays tribute to Sir Antonio Pappano after 22 years at the helm as Music Director of the Royal Opera House. Tickets sold out within minutes. Pappano conducted over 700 performances, transformed the ROH, and has been a huge influence on established singers, young singers, Jette Parker young artists, the chorus and orchestra. His insights are fascinating, and perceptive, explaining music at the highest level.

Born in Italy to parents working multiple jobs to make ends meet, his father, a tenor, recognised Pappano’s talent. Aged 10, he accompanied his father’s students, becoming familiar with opera very young!  Pappano’s achievements from such humble beginnings are extraordinary.

We anticipated highest quality singing and marvellous music. Nobody knew until 20 minutes beforehand, that King Charles, a lifelong opera-lover, would attend. British tenor, Freddie di Tomaso said ‘It was one of the most exciting moments I’ve been a part of. It’s amazing the King was here…he said he really enjoyed it’.

Pappano chose the programme of duets and ensembles, and the singers.  Having never conducted Die Fledermaus or Don Pasquale, he includes them tonight. Pappano choses veteran singers and future young super-stars, such as American soprano Nadine Sierra, Spanish tenor Xabier Anduaga and Mongolian baritone Armatushin Enkhbat – already eclipsing the veterans.

Petroc Trelawney hosts the evening, introducing videos from Pappano’s colleagues highlighting his achievements. Pappano is a fierce critic of the Arts Council and their attempts to destroy opera in London.

Pappano takes the podium to tumultuous applause.

Most male singers wear black tie, and female singers wear stunning dresses against the backdrop of the Andrea Chenier set. Pappano allows the chorus and orchestra to shine.

Following Mozart’s bustling overture to The Marriage of Figaro, 29-year-old British baritone Huw Montague Rendall and 27-year-old Russian mezzo Augul Akhmetshinsa sing Rossini’s ‘Dunque io son’ from Barbiere di Seviglia. Rendall perfectly nails the coloratura (unlike most baritones).

40-year-old American soprano Lisette Oropesa and veteran Spanish baritone Carlos Alvarez sing from Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, followed by the Watch duet from Die Fledermaus with German soprano Diana Damrau and German tenor Jonas Kaufmann. Kaufmann usually sings tragedy; he also does excellent comedy!

The chorus sing a moving ‘Va Pensiero’ from Verdi’s Nabucco.

The highlight, introducing a fabulous new generation of stars, is the Rigoletto quartet with 36-year-old Sierra, 28-year-old Anduaga, 38-year-old Enkhbat and Akhmetshina. Enkhbat is a 2015 Cardiff prize-winner with a large, stunning voice. This quality of baritone has been missing since the tragic death of Dmitry Hvorostovsky.

Pappano loves Massanet.  Canadian baritone Gerald Finley and Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho sing from Thaïs.

Canadian soprano Sondra Radvanovsky and Tomaso sing magnificently from Verdi’s Ballo in Maschera.

Welsh baritone Sir Bryn Terfel nastily growls Scarpia’s Te Deum from Puccini’s Tosca.

Part Two starts with an exquisite violin solo by Vasko Vassilev introducing Jaho, Tomaso and Korean bass Insung Sim in a fabulous extract from Verdi’s I Lombardi. Why is Lombardi not performed more often?

Sierra and Anduaga thrill with ‘Signor né Principe from Rigoletto.

Rendall and Alvarez brilliantly nail the patter duet from Don Pasquale. Such fun!

An extract from Verdi’s Forza del Destino follows with Kaufman, Enkhbat, Radvanovsky and Sim. Enkhbat and Radvanovsky sing powerfully. Kaufman, following illness, is not his usual self.

In Strauss’s Rosenkavalier trio, Oropesa, Akhmetshina and Damrau shimmer gorgeously.

The evening ends with Rossini’s Guillaume Tell Finale and a strong message – ‘que ton régne recommence’ (begin your reign again).

The audience erupts with a standing ovation, the King joining those on stage all feting the 22-year era of great maestro Pappano. Nobody will forget the privilege of attending this unforgettable night.

It is sad to say goodbye. He will return as guest conductor. Incoming Czech Music Director Jakob Hrůša has a tough act to follow.

Missing were British baritone Sir Simon Keenleyside and mezzo Dame Sarah Connolly, especially as only one singer represented mezzo-sopranos.

Pappano is overjoyed ‘These kinds of programmes are almost impossible, with so many different pieces from one to the other…everybody wanted to be here, even the King. We had a full house’.

Pappano’s book ‘My Life in Music’ is a fascinating page-turner. It will be released on 6th June.




Music by Mozart, Rossini, Donizetti, Johann Strauss, Verdi, Massenet, Puccini, Leoncavallo, Richard Strauss

Conducted by Sir Antonio Pappano

Photo Tristram Kenton

Cast includes Aigul Akhmetshina, Huw Montague Rendall, Lisette Oropesa, Carlos Álvarez, Diana Damrau, Jonas Kaufmann, Nadine Sierra, Xabier Anduaga, Amartuvshin Enkhbat, Ermonela Jaho, Gerald Finley, Sondra Radvanovsky, Freddie de Tommaso, Bryn Terfel, Insung Sim.

Royal Opera House Covent Garden

16th May 2024

Running time 3 hours 15 minutes with interval


Review by Josi Steinfeld