A year ago, Parisian audiences delightedly discovered “Maestra” Scappucci at the Opéra Bastille, where she conducted The Capulets and The Montagues with an ideal blend of lyricism and rigor. “It was for me a magnificent meeting with the Paris Opera orchestra, a great understanding, I am happy with this second collaboration! » the Roman conductor immediately confides to us in her dressing room at the Opéra Garnier, where she meets the orchestra for Donizetti’s Don Pasquale (until October 13). This story of an old man caught in his own trap suits Speranza Scappucci’s temperament perfectly: it’s a real “Italian comedy”, light and serious, funny and profound, a sort of Dino Risi film before its time …The ideal setting for the woman who is currently experiencing recognition commensurate with her exceptional talent: she was the first Italian to conduct at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, at the Met in New York and at the Staatsoper in Vienna and will be guest conductor for the 2025-2026 season at the Royal Opera House in London. She even became a star of Italian television with a show called La gioia della musica… A joy that she invites us to share.

Le Point: We know you as a bel canto specialist… What is your opinion of Don Pasquale?

Speranza Scappucci: I think it’s a true masterpiece! At Donizetti, there are opera seria like Lucrezia Borgia or Marie Stuart and then comedies. Here, the story is comic but with a lot of melancholy, very intimate moments that could belong to an opera seria. It’s a reflection on life passing, on what growing old means… There is real compassion for the character Don Pasquale. And at the same time, we are in the tradition of Commedia dell’arte. On paper, it’s simple music, but to play it in a refined, elegant way, you have to be very careful to craft everything. The overture is a true microcosm of the opera. We breathe the air of Italy, the air of the sea… and it mixes with very refined rubati.

Is there still what we called the “Italian school”, a particular way of interpreting these operas in the repertoire?

Being Italian and therefore perceiving all the finer points of the language helps the orchestra to be in constant dialogue with the singers. But ultimately, with music, the important thing is to feel it! No matter the nationality. As I have been a conductor for a long time, I have performed Don Pasquale a lot with different conductors… I have in mind many ways of conducting this opera, as well as the traditions that have been established over time. I always prefer to return to the score, respecting precisely what is on the paper. Comedy is always more difficult than drama in the theater… and with this music in particular, we must keep in mind that Donizetti was a refined musician, not falling into the banal.

The pianist plays the entire score on the piano, has a vision of the entire orchestra, must listen to the voices, know how the singers breathe, understand how they think of the text… When I conduct an opera that I have worked on in this way. way in the past, I feel it immediately: I have more tools to work with singers, to breathe with them. The other day in rehearsal, I felt that the baritone wanted to move forward, I asked the orchestra to adapt the tempo to help him. And since the orchestra here is magnificent, the musicians do it right away.

You are making your debut at the Opéra Garnier: a great emotion?

I actually worked here when I was head of vocals, in 2009. I came as Riccardo Muti’s assistant for a project that he had brought with his youth orchestra. So I was playing in the pit. The other day, as I stood on the podium, I looked at my place: where I was in the pit… At the time, I never imagined I would return here as a conductor. And what a room! We breathe history there, and that inspires deep respect.

You are one of the most famous conductors of our time. Does this surprise you?

When I studied piano in the 1980s, I had never seen a woman conduct an orchestra. In my head, it didn’t exist. And then I was planning to become a soloist, and so I didn’t think about it more than that. A few years later, in the early 1990s, I attended the Julliard School in New York. That’s where I played chamber music, I learned to become a vocal leader… And suddenly, by going to shows a lot, I understood that in fact there was no of women in this position of conductor! The first, the American Marin Alsop, the Australian Simone Young were really considered rarities.

So how did you decide to get started?

I followed a natural path: vocal leader, musical assistant… It was “organic”, as they say, to become a conductor. The moment I felt this fire in me, this great desire, I was lucky that there were already more women. Today, there is still a lot of work but we are clearly moving in the right direction. On social networks, Instagram or Facebook, I receive a lot of requests from young female musicians, eager to discuss the profession. That makes me happy: young women need to feel that it’s possible, that this barrier that prevented them from being conductors no longer exists. The important thing is to study a lot, to prepare… I am the best example: I am not a former child prodigy but a normal person who has worked a lot. It’s a job that you can’t improvise.

Don Pasquale by Gaetano Donizetti. Musical direction: Speranza Scappucci. Direction: Damiano Michieletto. With Laurent Naouri, Julie Fuchs, Florian Sempey. www.operadeparis.fr