Don't shoot – and don't patronise – the cocktail-lounge pianist. You never know what might become of him. Three decades ago, in a New England bar, that guy who slogs through the show-tunes to earn a bored smattering of applause might well have been Tony Pappano, from Epping and Victoria by way of Bridgeport, Connecticut. Today, on an early-summer morning in Rome, Sir Antonio Pappano – knighted by the Queen in 2012, and also a Knight Grand Cross of Italy's Order of Merit – talks in his office about his latest gig. In front of a 2,800 full house in the main hall of Rome's Renzo Piano-designed Auditorium Parco della Musica, Pappano has rounded off his latest season as musical director of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia with a barnstorming concert performance of Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera. "I'm not used to doing Italian opera in front of any Italian crowd," he says, relaxed and in jeans now but also pretty informal – and stick-less – during the concert. "My God! The emotional thing… it's like, ownership. I was also nervous about that. I thought they were going to start booing." In fact, "it was amazing". A casual listener might assume that a Verdi blockbuster and a Roman orchestra might bond like pasta and ragu, but no: "Opera is not this orchestra's bag by nature – they have the DNA; they just don't have the knowledge. So I had to work very hard on the Ballo to get the result I got".
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