How could anyone not love Antonio Pappano? I desperately want Intermezzo to market t-shirts with her 'We ❤ Pappano' logo emblazoned across the front of them so I can declare my adoration for the diminutive maestro to the world on a daily basis. OK, maybe not on a daily basis, but you catch my drift.
It may seem like choosing Tony P for the 'Best Conductor' post of the August Opera Challenge is a bit obvious. Since his Opera Italia documentary for the BBC last summer, he's been popping up absolutely everywhere, and is quickly becoming the closest thing to a 'household name operatic conductor' that we're likely to see. But that's exactly why I'm jumping on the bandwagon- has anyone else done more in recent history to turn people on to opera, and isn't an engaging, communactive face of the Royal Opera House exactly what's needed in today's climate of empty purses and ubiquitous TV talent shows?
Of course it's not just the (very lovely) public face that attracts me. It's the music. Oh God, the music. If you've ever seen a bloke waving a baton at the front of an orchestra and wondered what the point of his presence there actually is, get hold of a recording Pappano has made, and then get a recording of the same piece conducted by someone else and have a listen. Now I'm not saying the non-Pappano disc will be worse, but I shouldn't imagine it will make you jump out of your skin in quite the same way.
Of course, this is not a positive experience for everyone. Although she liked Tony's Pergolesi Stabat Mater, Anna Picard in the Independent noted that it would "have the style police reaching for the smelling salts" and on more than one occasion I've heard him being accused of over-egging the pudding. But I quite like my pudding over-egged, and being smacked about the head so hard by a Stabat Mater or a Requiem that you have to reach for the smelling salts is definitely my idea of a good time.
I've actually had a pretty good Pappano year. I saw him conduct Respighi with the Orchestra of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in February, which was absolutely mind blowing. Just as mind blowing was getting my CDs signed post-concert. I even shook the hand that waves the baton (squidgy, well manicured) then in July I saw him conduct three times in four days (Tosca, William Tell, Tosca) which I heartily recommend if you need any cobwebs blowing away. Talking of blowing away cobwebs, have you heard his Verdi Requiem? I'm picking a clip about the making of it, so that I can include both his sensational conducting and sensational chat. Just ignore Rolando talking about ambulances.