We are having an early lunch. Antonio Pappano, music director of the Royal Opera House, has blocked off the afternoon for a recording session at EMI’s Abbey Road studios in north London, and needs to be there by 2.30pm. The restaurant where we are to meet is five minutes away, but the choice is not purely one of convenience. L’Aventure, I discover during lunch, is Pappano’s favourite London dining place. He held his 50th birthday party there last December.
The midday sun is out and so are the tourists. Abbey Road, in the leafy suburb of St John’s Wood, has long been a place of pilgrimage for fans of the Beatles, who made most of their recordings there. The tourists are busy snapping pictures on the pedestrian crossing immortalised on the cover of the group’s 1969 album Abbey Road. But the studios’ status owes just as much to the great composers and conductors who have worked there since the 1930s – a tradition Pappano will continue at his recording session after lunch.
Pappano holds one of the most powerful positions in classical music. At Covent Garden, where he became artistic supremo in 2002, he controls the choice of operas and singers. Since 2005 he has played a similar role in Rome, as music director of the Orchestra of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Italy’s premier concert ensemble. He is also one of a dwindling number of conductors to have a recording contract. His recent EMI versions of Verdi’s Requiem and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly (which this week each won a Classical Brit award) have set a benchmark for modern interpretation of these works.