Antonio Pappano’s Rome

The UK-born, US-raised conductor of Italian origin is music director of both the Royal Opera House in London and the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia orchestra in Rome

Image: Fabio Massimo Aceto

My apartment in Rome is five minutes from the Parco della Musica – the auditorium where I work – in a part of town called Parioli, a residential area north of the centre. It’s very hilly and a good place to walk, so on Saturday morning, I head out on foot with my wife [American vocal coach Pamela Bullock] to get some exercise. But first we go to one of the cafés on Via San Valentino, because that’s what everybody does at the weekend. I don’t have a particular favourite – I find almost every bar in Italy appealing – it all depends where we can find a space.

Italians don’t really do breakfast, but if I don’t eat, I can’t function, so I’ll have a fruit salad, a spremuta [juice], ideally of blood oranges, and some tramezzini, these terrific little sandwiches. Maybe tuna with artichoke, or just egg salad. They don’t sound fancy, but they’re delicious.

Then we’ll go for that walk, before, eventually, taking the 52 bus into town. I spend my life looking down at music, so what I love about Rome is being able to look up at all its magnificent edifices. There are certain places we always seem to end up. We love the Palazzo Altemps with all its Roman statues, and the church of San Luigi dei Francesi, which has three Caravaggios that take my breath away. You put 20 cents into a machine and the lights come on; I look at the faces, the play of light against dark, the colours. It’s opera. I also love the Bernini sculptures in the Galleria Borghese. Musicians do need feeding with other art forms. We tend to get caught up in the music, but we also need to look outwards occasionally.


For lunch, we often go to Ristorante Cesare, off Piazza Cavour. They do wonderful fish and vegetables: wild chicory; friarielli, a sort of Neapolitan broccoli that’s quite bitter, but special; or just spinach cooked with garlic and olive oil. At certain times of year they also have mushrooms called ovoli, which they serve raw in a salad. They’re unbelievable.

Then maybe we’ll go shopping. I love Ermenegildo Zegna’s new place on Via Condotti. Or for food and flowers, we’ll go to the market on the Campo de’ Fiori. It’s so full of life and colour. The vegetables! The very sight of them feeds me. And my God, the cheeses. I’m very particular about cheese, and I prefer pecorino Romano to Parmigiano on pasta.

On Saturday evenings, at 6pm, my orchestra gives concerts at the Parco della Musica, and we’ll usually go even if I’m not conducting. It’s a magnificent place designed by Renzo Piano, and it contains a great bookstore, so afterwards we’ll browse for a bit – it also sells CDs, DVDs and sheet music – before thinking about dinner. There’s a good Sardinian restaurant called Ai Piani nearby, which specialises in fish – fantastic marinated anchovies and these wonderful little octopi called moscardini – as well as every sort of pasta known to man. Its wines are good, too. I particularly love the whites of Campania, the region my parents emigrated from, as well as soaves and wines from Friuli. But the best cellar I know is the one at Agata e Romeo, near to Termini station. It’s not the most glamorous location but Mamma’s in the kitchen, and her cooking is sublime.


My orchestra also gives family concerts on Sunday mornings and when there’s one of those, we’ll go. They’re a lot of fun and you get a lively audience. Mostly, though, Sunday is a day to see friends. Or perhaps we’ll head out of town to the coast, to Fregene or Anzio, where there’s a little restaurant by the water called Da Pierino. It looks very unassuming, but it serves the best fish ever. Afterwards, we walk by the water and look at the boats. The sea air clears my mind and allows me to breathe, and that gets me together for the week ahead.