Today is Antonio Pappano’s last day of quarantine after arriving in Italy to conduct a live-streamed performance of Mendelssohn’s Elijah on 29 January with the Orchestra and Chorus of Santa Cecilia in Rome. It will be one of only three concerts in the orchestra’s season that has an interval.
We have to have an interval – he said – though not for the reasons we had an interval before the pandemic: we need to sanitise the concert hall and so we’re forced to take a break.
The virus has forced us to reschedule the season. I won’t be able to do The St Matthew Passion because it needs two small choirs next to the orchestra, and the players felt uncomfortable about being so close to singers who wouldn’t be wearing masks. We’ve been forced to cancel many contracts, and we had to give up two big concerts in Rome’s Piazza del Popolo with Beethoven’s Ninth and a concert of Morricone’s music. In Rome I’m not collecting my salary as Music Director [his position since 2005]; for the concerts, I’m taking a significantly reduced fee; and for the three concerts that we streamed at Covent Garden, I worked for free.
The news from the UK is increasingly gruesome with the enormous rise in deaths. The country seems divided between those who reason and care for others and those who couldn’t care less. So there’s chaos and fear. And let’s not even talk about my theatre, The Royal Opera House, which has been closed since December – at least in Italy we continue with streaming. The economic damage is indescribable, but Petrenko, Gatti, and Gardiner have all come to work at Santa Cecilia, which are important signs of encouragement.
We are not used to difficulties. Since the 1950s there has been extraordinary social development and my generation, the 60-year-olds, have not suffered like our parents did. The lockdown has led to fatigue and suspicion, and then in the UK there is always the memory of the Empire, leading us to believe that we can manage on our own.
And when this has died down?
I think signs, even subtle ones, will remain. Some small organisations will collapse. I am happy that Santa Cecilia is working; I didn’t expect this when I saw that things were going from bad to worse. If you don’t work as a team you’ll open up the abyss, and in the theatre there is a great need to feel part of a community, to share, maybe it’s something that we’d taken for granted in the music world, but it’s something that needs to be worked at.
At the beginning of this period, music that was languid or contemplative would come to mind, then later it was music that was joyful and lively – Elijah has both these characteristics. The prophet is harsh on the starving people of Israel, like a kind of virus, and then there are moments that embrace faith, lyricism, angels singing, and there is a search for normality, for hope. It’s a situation that has to do with us today. It’s a dramatic piece in which Mendelssohn, a Lutheran from a Jewish family, expresses a link with his religious past. He rethinks the oratorio, a baroque creation, with a romantic sensibility.
I don’t know how the concert will come off with the physical distancing. It is an experiment, a risk… but I wanted to do it.
Top photo: Antonio Pappano in rehearsal for Fidelio, The Royal Opera © 2020 ROH. Photographed by Lara Cappelli.
Antonio Pappano was talking to Valerio Cappelli for the Corriere della Sera