This recording of Turandot, Puccini’s spectacular final opera, marks a number of important firsts. Before the recording sessions in Rome in February and March 2022, Sir Antonio Pappano had never conducted Turandot – though he is a masterly interpreter of Puccini with La bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, Il trittico and La rondine in his Warner Classics discography. Sondra Radvanovsky, the soprano in the soaring title role, and Jonas Kaufmann as her fearless suitor, Calaf – who, of course, sings ‘Nessun dorma’ – had not previously performed the opera. And while the catalogue contains a number of famous studio recordings of Turandot, none had included the entire, crucial final scene of the opera as completed after Puccini’s death in 1925 by the younger composer Franco Alfano.
The success of the entire project was confirmed by a public concert performance, greeted with a standing ovation, that took place at Rome’s Auditorium Parco della Musica a few days after recording had been completed: “Stunningly beautiful,” was the view of Opera magazine, “Pappano brings out the dramaturgical sense of every moment of the score, and this in turn served to confirm the wonderful rapport he has established with the forces of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia … The singing was outstanding.” Il Corriere della Sera wrote that “First and foremost, this Turandot will be remembered as the highest-quality musical performance of recent years in Italy thanks to Antonio Pappano’s absolutely inspired achievement … It really felt like discovering a new Turandot.”
Antonio Pappano explains the story behind the Alfano completion, and the additional music that make this complete recording unique:
“Puccini’s health [the composer was suffering from throat cancer] and eventual death thwarted his ability to finish the final duet in which Calaf at last wins Turandot’s love. The scene was instead completed – or to be more accurate largely constructed (Puccini left only limited sketches at his death) – by Franco Alfano. Yet the conductor Arturo Toscanini [who conducted the premiere at La Scala, Milan in 1926] lodged loud complaints and had Alfano modify the structure and make a cut of over 100 bars.
“It is Toscanini’s ‘version’ that we hear most often today, but I managed to convince Sondra Radvanovsky and Jonas Kaufmann to accept the idea of recording Alfano’s original version, despite its stylistic flights of fancy. The melting of the ‘ice princess’ Turandot is somewhat more gradual and therefore better explained in this original version. I think Alfano had caught on to the more Germanic concept of opera characters undergoing a cleansing, by means of a psychological working-through of what has troubled them, so that they can be released from their demons. I was thrilled by how excited Sondra and Jonas were singing this! You have to have the very top singers here, as the writing is fearsome. I was very fortunate to have such an ideal cast for this opera, each character coming alive.”
Following the concert performance, Il Messaggero described Sondra Radvanovsky as “A magnificent Turandot, full of temperament … interpreting with great intensity,” and praised Jonas Kaufmann for bringing a prodigious palette of vocal colours and an abundance of emotion” to ‘Nessun dorma’. La Repubblica wrote that “Sondra Radvanovsky emerged triumphant. Imperious of expression, she projected brilliant notes over the orchestra, but was also capable of delicate, elegiac quiet singing of a kind that is rarely heard,” and that “As might be expected, Jonas Kaufmann displayed great vocal mastery, rising with assurance to every challenge of the role [of Calaf].”
The central couple were joined by the Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho as the self-sacrificing slave girl Liù, who is desperately in love with Calaf and inspired some of Puccini’s most exquisite and touching music. “Ermonela Jaho was a wonderful Liù, with her distinctive dark timbre,” wrote Il Corriere della Sera, while Forum Opéra enthused over the “radiance and subtlety of Jaho’s quiet singing and her long-breathed phrasing in Liù’s arias …The fragile slave is perfectly suited to her hypersensitive temperament and vocal style.”
The cast also includes: bass Michele Pertusi as Calaf’s blind father, King Timur; Michael Spyres – a star tenor taking on the character role of Turandot’s father, the Emperor of China; Mattia Olivieri, Gregory Bonfatti and Siyabonga Maqungo as the court officials Ping, Pang and Pong, and the bronze-toned Michael Mofidian as the Mandarin whose grand proclamation opens the opera after its arresting, percussive orchestral introduction.
Summing up after the concert performance in Rome, Forum Opéra wrote: “Antonio Pappano’s interpretation will become a landmark … characterised by powerful contrasts and constant attention to the notes and their colours … A perfect sense of theatre … encouraging the cast to give of their absolute best.”
“Rossini’s Messa di Gloria is a mass of light,” says Sir Antonio Pappano. “It’s a Mass that praises the glory of God. It does not include either the Credo or the Crucifixus, with their darker elements, which would be heard in a full Mass. It was premiered in 1820 in a baroque church, San Ferdinando in Naples. When you listen to it, you can imagine the light of the church and the music fusing together beautifully.”
Pappano, as Music Director of Rome’s Chorus and Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, has built a notable discography of Rossini on Warner Classics: the epic opera Guillaume Tell, the Stabat Mater, the Petite Messe Solenelle and an album of operatic overtures. Now, with the Messa di Gloria, he expands it with the only liturgy-based work that Rossini wrote before his early retirement from composing opera, in 1829 when Guillaume Tell had been premiered in Paris and he was just 37 years old.
More rarely heard than the monumental Stabat Mater and the idiosyncratic Petite Messe Solenelle, the nine-movement Messa di Gloria requires five virtuosic vocal soloists. Here, three Italians – soprano Eleonora Buratto, mezzo-soprano Teresa Iervolino and bass Carlo Lepore – are joined by two Americans, Lawrence Brownlee and Michael Spyres, who celebrated Rossini and the star tenors of his era with their thrilling recital album Amici e Rivali, released in 2020. Spyres describes the Messa di Gloria as “some of the most difficult vocal writing Rossini ever penned. He really wanted to glorify the Church and the Word, showing the entire range of every single voice as he did so. It is truly bel canto at its height.”
Pappano is in agreement on the ambitions of the score: “Rossini makes high demands on his orchestra, but in the Messa di Gloria he gave the vocal soloists challenges that even by his standards were extreme – for agility and also colour. I was so lucky I had such a wonderful team of singers … The soloists need to sing with great spiritual fervour and also powerful confidence as they convey the fearlessness of Rossini’s relationship to God.
“This work is a tribute to virtuoso playing and singing, and also a celebration per se, praising God’s glory …With this treatment of the Latin text, the operatic virtuosity in the orchestra and the voices becomes something more than just pyrotechnics: it does and should bring a smile to the listener’s face … I don’t think Rossini was setting out to defy any perceived conventions of sacred music – he just composed this Messa in his natural way, connecting vividly to his audience in his inimitable fashion.
“Despite the speed with which he wrote it, and the obvious bel canto conventions in the singing, this Messa, like all his work, is always surprising ... All the way through there is such fertile inventiveness, and it is glorious to hear the way the Santa Cecilia Orchestra captures Rossini’s lightness. He is a composer who has become very important to me for his elegance, precision, wit, irony and panache … Unlike the Verdi Requiem or the Mozart Requiem, where the fear of God and the Day of Judgement is so intense, fear is not really present in Rossini’s Messa di Gloria. This is a beautiful quality to experience – Rossini is just open eyes, open face, and open arms to God.”
Antonio Pappano conducts the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in two works from the earlier phase of Richard Strauss’s career: a comparative rarity, the Burleske for piano and orchestra, with Bertrand Chamayou as soloist, and the epic tone poem Ein Heldenleben, one of the composer’s orchestral masterpieces. Composed when Strauss was in his early twenties, the Burleske carries echoes of Brahms, Schumann and Liszt. Ein Heldenleben, premiered in 1899 when Strauss was 34, shows him at the spectacular peak of his early maturity.
Strauss’s first great operatic success was to come with Salome (his third opera) in 1905, but as Pappano – Santa Cecilia’s Music Director since 2005 – points out: “Strauss always thought dramaturgically. When you are recording his music in Italy, the link has to be through opera, with all its theatricality, temperament, contrast and colour. I think the cantabile, singing quality of this Roman orchestra matters a great deal, because Strauss was such a great melodist: you need a certain charisma in the sound, which these players achieve. When you look at score like Ein Heldenleben you might think it seems almost impossibly complex, but Strauss was incredibly sure-footed in the way he used the orchestra. It’s highly virtuosic. When everyone knows exactly what they are doing, the orchestral machine is really a wonder to behold.
“Ein Heldenleben – A Hero’s Life – is a fascinating piece. It’s strongly autobiographical. You get the feeling that Strauss is presenting himself as the hero.” It is not by chance that the hero’s theme is presented in the key of E flat – also the key of Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Symphony. “The score paints a complete picture of a human being… There’s his home life with his wife Pauline, who as ‘The Hero’s Companion’ is characterised by a solo violin played by Roberto Gonzales Monjas. As we can hear, Pauline could be both temperamental and sentimental. You almost feel like you are a voyeur on their marriage with its tensions, conflicts and reconciliations. But the piece is also about a man striving to achieve extraordinary heights, about our hero going into battle as he is attacked by critics, portrayed by cackling woodwinds.” In the section ‘The Hero’s Works of Peace’, Strauss quotes from his own works, including the tone poems Don Juan, Tod und Verklärung, Till Eulenspiegel and Also Sprach Zarathustra. “It’s as if he’s reliving his life,” says Pappano, “so that in the end he can say goodbye with calm and resigned positivity.”
Two years before his death in 1949, Strauss conducted a concert for the last time, at London’s Royal Albert Hall. The Burleske, written nearly 50 years earlier, was on the programme. Bertrand Chamayou feels it shares the mercurial spirit of Schumann’s Carnaval and Humoreske, as its title might suggest. “There is a sense of surprise – even the way it is fashioned in a single movement: it’s not really a concerto, though it lasts 20 minutes, and you never quite know where it’s going. Not only does it have a sense of humour, it has a sense of the absurd.”
Strauss originally conceived the Burleske for the pianist Hans von Bülow, a pupil (and son-in-law) of Liszt, who in 1875 had given the premiere of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1. Von Bülow found the Burleske excessively challenging in technical terms and dismissively refused to learn it. It was eventually premiered by Eugen d’Albert, another Liszt pupil. “Von Bülow, who had small hands, said it was impossible because the hand position had to change in every bar,” elucidates Chamayou. “It actually sometimes changes two or three times in each bar – your hands need to be as agile as a cat! Maybe this is all contributes to the element of surprise. The way composers wrote for the piano in the 20th century has accustomed us to technical demands of this kind, but the Burleske is still challenging for a modern pianist.
“Mozart saw a concerto as a dialogue between soloist and orchestra, but by the time we reach Brahms it has become more like a sinfonia concertante.” (Like Brahms’s mighty Piano Concerto No 1, the Burleske is in D minor.) “There is something Lisztian about the spirit and form of the Burleske too. Perhaps it is best described as a kind a symphonic poem with a soloist who is quite a hysterical character – maybe even a little crazy!”
The German Record Critics' Association has awarded Sir Antonio Pappano's already-acclaimed Aida its annual prize for the most outstanding albums of the year across all genres.
"It's rare to hear such a flawless Triumphal March on disc," opined Opernwelt of this all-star studio recording from Rome featuring Anja Harteros in the title role, German tenor Jonas Kaufmann, Ludovic Tézier, Ekaterina Semenchuk and Erwin Schrott.
"This is a dynamically complex studio recording with outstanding qualities," wrote the Schallplattenkritik jury.
Pappano's Aida already took home Recording of the Year at the BBC Music Magazine and the French Diapason awards, Opera Recording of the Year in the Gramophone Awards, and The Times UK's Classical Album of the Year - just to name a few accolades.
The 2016 BBC Music Magazine Awards are now open for public voting: among the nominees are French countertenor star Philippe Jaroussky and Antonio Pappano (and his Aïda cast featuring Anja Harteros, Jonas Kaufmann, Erwin Schrott, Ekaterina Semenchuk and Ludovic Tézier, with the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia).
"Sir Antonio Pappano knows his Verdi – as is in evidence in a performance of the Italian’s Egypt-inspired opera that is as musically brilliant as it is dramatically convincing. The orchestral playing is scintillating, the starry soloists utterly sublime," declared the BBC Music Magazine of Pappano's no-expense-spared studio recording of Aïda from Rome, nominated in the Opera category.
In the Vocal Category, Philippe Jaroussky (along with partners the Ebène Quartet and pianist Jerôme Ducros) is in the running for his eloquent double-album Green. "This labour of love from Philippe Jaroussky is a beautifully conceived and wonderfully sung collection," affirmed BBC Music Magazine. "Jaroussky collates song settings of Verlaine, that most musical of poets, from composers as diverse as Debussy, Massenet, Charles Trenet and Varèse, along with charming rarities in an enticing treasure-trove." (The album also features a duet with French contralto Nathalie Stutzmann.)
The winners will be announced on 5 April at a ceremony in Kings Place, London.
Listen and have your say here. Voting closes 19 February, 2016.
"She is a compelling storyteller: her playing has all the sustained force and perfectly weighted brilliance you could want, but has a glint in its eye, too," declares The Guardian in a five-star review of Beatrice Rana's new album of Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev piano concertos.
The critic singles out her "gripping" cadenza in the dark Prokofiev Piano Concerto No.2 and, in the Tchaikovsky warhorse, "a thrilling cliffhanger to cap a hugely enjoyable disc" in which the orhcestral ensemble - the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia with maestro Antonio Pappano at the helm - is as exciting as the 22 year-old soloist's playing.
Read the full review here.
Discover two of the year's best in classical music, as chosen by Apple Music in its official Best of 2015 guide.
The 24-year-old French virtuoso Jean Rondeau is not your average harpsichordist - if there is such a thing. His award-winning album Imagine, devoted to the music of Bach (and not The Beatles) is indeed a richly imaginative debut with lesser-known works and transcriptions crowned by the towering D-Minor Chaconne.
From intimate solo harpsichord to Rome's premier orchestDiscover two of the year's best in classical music, as chosen by Apple Music in its official Best of 2015 guide.
The 24-year-old French virtuoso Jean Rondeau is not your average harpsichordist - if there is such a thing. His award-winning album Imagine, devoted to the music of Bach (and not The Beatles) is indeed a richly imaginative debut, with lesser-known works and transcriptions crowned by the towering D-Minor Chaconne.
Rondeau's highly-anticipated follow-up, Vertigo, will be released in February 2016.
From intimate solo harpsichord to large-scale opera - as big as it gets. For Warner Classics' colossal studio recording of Verdi's Aïda, Maestro Antonio Pappano conducts Rome's chorus and orchestra of the Accadamia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia (augmented by the police band - La Banda Musicale della Polizia di Stato) and an all-star cast featuring Anja Harteros in the title role, Jonas Kaufmann, Ekaterina Semenchuk, Erwin Scrhott and Ludovic Tézier. The critically-acclaimed complete opera is also top of The New York Times' Gift Guide and Best of 2015, among too many other accolades to list here.
Hear extracts from both these albums in the official Apple Music Best of 2015 Classical Playlist.
During the recording sessions in Rome last February, people were already calling it the opera event of the year. This has certainly been borne out by the starry reviews around the world, the Diapason d'Or for Opera Recording of the Year in France, and its lofty place at the top of the UK Classical charts. Now another laurel: The Times has named Antonio Pappano's Aïda the Classical Album of the Year for 2015.
"Pappano’s Rome orchestra and chorus respond thrillingly to the maestro’s expansive, dramatically temperamental conducting with an outstanding cast led by Jonas Kaufmann’s poetic-heroic Radamès, the ultra-musical Aïda of Anja Harteros and Ekaterina Semenchuk’s barnstorming Amneris."
Van Cliburn competition prizewinner and BBC New Generation Artist Beatrice Rana has just released her Warner Classics debut album: two powerful Russian concertos, with Rome's premier orchestra of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia conducted by maestro Antonio Pappano.
The 23-year-old marks today's release date with a performance of the Prokofiev Piano Concerto No.2, featured on the album, at the Southbank Centre with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
Beatrice Rana: Tchaikovsky & Prokofiev Concertos is out now.
Had you performed with maestro Antonio Pappano before recording with him this summer?
BR: It was our first time collaborating. It was a real discovery, an intense week of work and research and ideas. It was a very positive way of working because we were taking the music very much in the same direction and we were looking for the same thing, which is the most important thing. When two or more musicians are striving for the same goal the results are even better than what you are looking for yourself!
Was it important to you as an Italian to record your first album for orchestra with an Italian ensemble?
BR: I’m very honoured to be together with the best Italian orchestra. Even if Maestro Pappano isn’t really Italian there is a lot of Italian affinity. It’s a great feeling to have and since it is also my first time recording with orchestra it was nice to get the support of all my fellow Italians in the orchestra.
And with this Italian orchestra you chose two very big, very different Russian concertos, starting with the warhorse of the Tchaikovsky! Why did you want to record this repertoire first?
BR: People say that South Italians are very dramatic! It’s the right character for this kind of music because both the Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev are very dramatic pieces. The orchestra was willing to do Tchaikovsky because it’s a piece I’ve been playing for years, then I insisted very much on putting it together with the Prokofiev which it’s not so well known, not played so often; it is also very dark.
There is a tragic story behind the composition because Prokofiev’s close friend had committed suicide – there are a lot of paradoxes in the music that come from a postcard that Prokofiev had received from this friend, that read ‘I shot myself’. There is a majestic sadness and hysteria in the first movement, but the real heart of the concerto lies in the fourth movement in my opinion, where the tragedy can be understood through the heart of Prokofiev.
Do you also feel a strong connection with the Tchaikovsky concerto?
BR: Tchaikovsky’s Concerto in B-flat minor is a very popular piece but it’s sometimes even underrated because when pieces are like this get so popular people think they are meant for the masses, and I don’t agree. It’s pleasant and exciting to listen to of course, but at the same time he also revolutionised the way of writing for piano and orchestra. These two concertos together present a bit of the history of the evolution of piano concertos in the Russian literature.
Did you have to change gears between the two concertos?
BR: It’s a totally different atmosphere, and a different approach with the orchestra, which is why we recorded them on two different days. Two different planets.
What are your memories of the recording sessions in Rome?
BR: It was 39, 40 degrees [Celsius] every day. I was sweating! I’m used to the hot weather but it was very demanding, especially with such repertoire, which is very physical. The recording sessions were very intense. But there were some funny moments because Maestro Pappano just never gets tired!
Italian people we work very hard but we like to enjoy ourselves and we found the perfect balance during those days. Recording is an unreal situation – it’s not like preparing for a concert or a tour. It’s a very stressful situation – any moment could be the right one for the microphone and you always try to achieve more and more and more, so you always ask yourself for even more – that’s tiring. At the same time it gives you so much adrenalin. It’s an amazing experience but you shouldn’t do it too often because it spoils you! Microphones are very sensitive acoustically speaking – but not emotionally speaking. If you project emotions normally, microphones aren’t human, they don’t feel it, so you have to direct your intention even more towards the microphones, to seduce the microphones!
Is recording more stressful than competitions?
BR: I’m done with that! [Laughs.] Everything is stressful as soon as you put some expectations on it. Competitions are not always a pleasant experience because the comparison with others and the judgment that’s placed on you can be a lot of pressure. But normal concert life is based on judgment as well. As soon as you go on stage you are judged on the audience, based on comparison with other artists they’ve seen before. But in concerts and recordings you can enjoy the artists one after the other and you don’t have to choose one and give a prize. At this point competitions are still the most democratic way to get to know different musicians, especially young musicians like me.
How do you stay grounded with all that pressure?
BR: The only way to achieve the best in music is not to forget about the music. The main reason we play is not for success or for the career; it’s because we want to make music. That’s the main goal but it can be the easiest to forget!
You were born into a musical family; what are your earliest memories?
BR: I remember all my days filled with music. You know, the first time I moved to Germany to live alone, I was 18 years old in a student dormitory. And I remember I was shocked in the first week by the silence in the university dorm. I was the only musician there. I’ve never been used to silence in the house. There was always my father, my mother, my sister playing. That’s my strongest memory.
Who are your piano idols?
BR: When I was very young, my idol was Martha Argerich, not only because of her pianism but also because there are not so many female pianists at that level. Her refinement, her strength – I was ravished by her playing.
We now have a personal connection that happened by chance. I didn’t introduce myself to her, she found some videos on YouTube and said to a newspaper that she liked me. I fainted on the floor! I went to meet her personally. She’s very generous. She’s too big to be afraid of being surpassed, so she’s not afraid of helping young people and listening to them, which is amazing because very often these kinds of big artists don’t have time to listen. And the fact that she gave me time means so much.
Aside from being a role model as a female pianist, what do you love about her playing?
BR: What I admire in her playing is that sometimes artists put their ego in front of music. When you hear her playing you can hear it’s her, but she doesn’t destroy the score. She underlines the score. She reads the score in a different way but without denying what the composer wrote. That’s what I find amazing. Sometimes you hear some pianists who play the piece but you cannot recognise the piece. That’s not at all the case with her.
Most of the press about you says that you’re an old soul, wise beyond your years. What do you think about that?
BR: [Laughs] My approach to music is very personal and I found in music what I couldn’t find anywhere else, which is expressing myself without fear or without being intimidated. For me it’s very difficult to speak in front of people or do something else, but on stage I have no limits, no inhibitions, nothing between me and the person I’m playing to. I don’t know if this is a wise way of interacting with people, but for me sincerity is the most important value in music.
When you’re not expressing yourself in this way, how do you relax?
BR: Since life with the piano tends to take me away from family and friends, whenever I’m relaxing I like to enjoy my time with them. Then when I’m touring I have time to read books and watch movies and explore cities, but if I’m really relaxing I like to spend time with the people I love.
What inspires you?
BR: Nature, and art. I also get a lot of inspiration from people – even people I don’t like! In this life we encounter so many cultures and ways of thinking. Sometimes you notice that something is so important for some cultures that you never noticed before, and then you look at things in a different way – why didn’t I pay attention to this before? It’s very mind-opening.
Does it bother you – or did it used to bother you – to be described as a prodigy?
BR: I just don’t like to be called a genius because I’m not a genius. We play the music that some genius created, it’s just our facility that brings this music to life. Prodigy is just a way to describe some children playing the piano, but I never paid attention to that.
Do you get stage fright?
BR: Of course – who doesn’t?! [Laughs.] Stage fright doesn’t disturb me if it’s not too much and if it’s dealt with in the right way. Once I played without any stage fright and it was the most difficult concert for me. Not necessarily stage fright but that rush of emotion, that adrenalin before the concert. That gives you the gas you need on stage. We are meant to communicate with a few people at a time as human beings. But if you have to communicate with two thousand, three thousand people, or even more, the adrenalin gives you this supply of energy. It gives you the right value to what you are doing. It’s not normal!
Beatrice Rana's debut album for Warner Classics, Tchaikovsky & Prokofiev Piano Concertos, is out on 27 November.
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