mon 17/06/2024

Opera Italia, BBC Four | reviews, news & interviews

Opera Italia, BBC Four

Opera Italia, BBC Four

Royal Opera music director Antonio Pappano communicates the full magic of opera

Pappano in Venice: the man born to communicate the full magic of operaBBC

The backlash begins here with the first of Flavia Rittner's three documentaries: not an operatic wannabe or a gushing celebrity outsider to present, only a conductor who knows and loves his job inside out and a parade of gorgeous, energetic singers all at the very top of their hard-working game in state-of-the-art productions.

It was a tall order for irresistible Royal Opera music director Antonio Pappano to whizz his way through Monteverdi, Handel, Mozart and Rossini in one hour, but by going straight to the heart of each matter, choosing a scene from a key opera and working on it in the most engaging way possible, he has delighted even us know-alls.

Only a man who commands so much respect in the profession would be allowed to introduce so many of those foreign words which usually scare media supremos (even on Radio Three at one stage we were forbidden to use Italian musical terms). Recitativo, da capo, coloratura, opera seria, opera buffa: Pappano defines them all on the hoof, usually as he sits at the piano or the harpsichord playing and singing with immense elan. So let's add another not too alien word to the vocabulary: vivacità. It informs the way he romps through Rossini set pieces with the Figaro of Pietro Spagnoli and the no less exuberant Joyce DiDonato's Rosina, his strolls through Italian cities where BBC cameramen let the light work its magic and an especially delightful lunch the day after a show in Pesaro with the Rossini tenor ne plus ultra Juan Diego Florez. These singers aren't faking a luvviness with Pappano: they know how hard he works, and they genuinely adore him.

Setting up the origins of Italian opera as an intellectual revival of sung Greek tragedy when the punters are wanting their Verdi and Puccini - to follow in two more programmes - was never going to be easy, but it's done with the same brio. It was clever to focus on a period performance of Monteverdi's L'Orfeo before setting before the viewer, and without comment, a sequence of updated productions to ravish the eye as well as the ear. They're all excerpted from unmissable DVDs of the complete operas in question, but this isn't lazy TV: Pappano gets sexy communicator Danielle de Niese into the rehearsal room with peerless mezzo Sarah Connolly to sing and talk about Roman courtesan Poppea's boobs as they go through two scenes from Monteverdi's last masterpiece.

Only connect: De Niese and Connolly star in David McVicar's award-winning production of Handel's Giulio Cesare, so here's the perfect opportunity for Pappano to take us through the three sections of the da capo aria, with Connolly's ferocious Caesar unleashing extra venom in an even more florid repeat. Handel? Mozart? Italian opera? Of course. Pappano confirms Mozart's impeccable sense of the melodies inherent in the language as we zoom on to McVicar's Covent Garden Marriage of Figaro, which Pappano directed so unforgettably from the harpsichord. Here are more good-lookers, Erwin Schrott and Miah Persson, to put across the naturalness of a feisty love match (our conductor-pianist begins to take us through the three main orchestral lines of the opening duet and again, amazingly, TV lets him go on). Then we learn most of what we need to know about the art of the ensemble in a whistlestop tour of the Act Two finale.

b00n6t8q_640_360The Barber of Seville grand finale is irresistible, too - stemming from an evening of pure delight streamed live across the UK (Royal Opera production pictured right). What better introduction to comic opera than Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser's Day-Glo production? Could anyone charm the pants off a first-timer better than Florez and DiDonato? And that's without more than a glimpse here of Alessandro Corbelli's consummate Bartolo and Ferrucio Furlanetto's Don Basilio. Pappano doesn't need the handful of experts - and "experts" - wheeled out to tell him what he already knows and add supposed gravitas to the proceedings. It's quite enough to have the contributions of the directors, the singers and their energetic renaissance man, largo al factotum, call him what you will. Don't miss the second and third instalments.


Really enjoyed this programme, looking forward to the next two, including my favourite composer....Verdi! Pappano really knows his stuff, and manages to condense all the information really well. Excellent series.

Fantastic. I love this series, there has to be a DVD release.

It is something I’ve expected from many years. I barely wait till Monday to see the next episode. Congratulation BBC and Mr. Pappano.

June 4th. 2010. 10.00 pm I wish to give heartfelt thanks to BBC 4 television for the Opera Season. I am 84, a professioanl author with 64 novels published and still working. I am an opera fan and starved of such programmes. I belong to The University of the Third Age, U3A and for the past 7 years have held a monthly meeting at my house, showing a a video of an opera, a ballet or Gilbert & Sullivan to a Passiin For Opera group. 82 showings in all from my large collection. Will it be possible to buy your season on DVD? I can't record on my new system as yet. Again, many many thanks. Yours sincerely, Jeanne Yarde.

I don't know a great deal about italian opera except that I adore it. I loved the first part of this excellent series and am looking forward very much to the next installment. A wonderfull introduction to the colourful world of Italian Opera. Grazie Mr Pappano and the BBC

this series so good would dearly love to buy a DVD of it. Please let me know if this is possible.

Christina, Jonathan, concerning a DVD release - you can see on the BBC website's Frequently Asked Questions this unhelpful answer to the question: Unfortunately, BBC Four programmes are rarely available on video or DVD. Please check with local or online retailers to see if the programme has been or will be commercially released.

Thank goodness for Pappano's documentaries on Italian Opera, the Opera Italia series and Pappano's Essential Tosca in particular. Let's hope there are lots more coming on Puccini from this conductor - perhaps one hour specials on all of Puccin's works.

I saw this series back then, and would love to see it again. If there is to be no DVD will it at least be reshown regularly?

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters