Airborne Twice

a cello and piano recital unexpectedly


I thought I had seen it all in the field of music in the air. At the beginning of the 1970s, when the era of jumbo jets began and I worked at the World Bank, I was allowed to fly first class for long flights. I remember an American Airlines flight from Washington to San Francisco. (After a good night's sleep I was scheduled to go to Kuala Lumpur.) I found a piano bar set up in the front of the plane where stewards, air hostesses and willing first class passengers showed off their skills - rather wishful thinking - while strumming and drinking beer. About five hours of torment.

On the evening of 16 July 2019, I began to watching and listening to, on TV, Mozart's The Abduction from the Serail - the 2013 Salzburg Festival production. The opera was staged at the Austrian city's airport: the orchestra in Hangar No 3, singers (with microphones) walking between planes, trolleys and suitcases. Viewers-listeners were walking too. Of that Festival I remember beautiful performances of Norma, Don Carlo and Meistersinger) which I reviewed for this online magazine's predecessor. After fifteen minutes of that Abduction at the airport, I changed channel.

I had a surprise, instead, on the morning of 17 July - and a good surprise! I was accompanying a foreign guest to Leonardo da Vinci Airport, where Italian and international passengers depart from Terminal 3. I found myself and my guest involved in an extraordinary and unexpected initiative which had been organized by the airport authority, in collaboration with the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.

Travelers from around the world were able to attend, between the check-in desks for international flights, an exceptional performance with Antonio Pappano at the piano with Luigi Piovano playing cello. Pappano is musical director of both London's Royal Opera House and the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.

Luigi Piovano and Antonio Pappano performing at Rome Airport on 17 July 2019
Luigi Piovano and Antonio Pappano performing at Rome Airport on 17 July 2019

Pappano played a splendid grand piano decorated for the occasion by the airport authority in the center of the hall in Terminal 3. The passengers were quite excited to listen to three beautiful pieces of musical literature for cello and piano performed by the duo. After the Sonata in F, Op 1 No 2 by Baroque composer Benedetto Marcello, Piovano and Pappano approached two pieces by French Romantic composer Camille Saint-Saëns, an avid traveler who had been very attached to the city of Rome. The first was The Swan from The Carnival of the animals, perhaps Saint-Saëns' most popular work. The second was the Allegro Appassionato, Op 43.

Luigi Piovano and Antonio Pappano performing at Rome Airport on 17 July 2019
Luigi Piovano and Antonio Pappano performing at Rome Airport on 17 July 2019

This was a unique show in a very unusual setting. 'Fiumicino Airport, for an institution such as the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, is a physical place but also a metaphor, whenever our orchestra and our choir, ion numerous international tours, take the values and the soul of this city to the remotest corners of the world', commented the President/Academy Superintendent Michele dall'Ongaro.

Many travelers filmed the unexpected performance with their cameras and portable phones. My friend was airborne twice.

Copyright © 20 July 2019 Giuseppe Pennisi,
Rome, Italy



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