In her native Italy, conductor Speranza Scappucci stars in a national television show in which she sits at the piano explaining symphonies and operas to viewers, before performing them with an orchestra, to help bring classical works to new audiences.

And soon she hopes to help demystify opera for British audiences. On Sunday the Royal Opera House announced her appointment as its first principal guest conductor in more than a quarter of a century.

It will mark a new era for the Covent Garden institution at a critical time for English opera, amid an arts education crisis, government funding threats and the ongoing “culture wars”. Scappucci will assume the role in September 2025, when the Royal Opera House’s incoming music director, the Czech conductor Jakub Hrůša, will also start in his new position.

“I’m very, very excited about this,” she told the Observer on Friday, having performed for the Italian president, Sergio Mattarella, for the first time the night before.

“When I made my debut in July [conducting Verdi’s Attila in Covent Garden] last year I felt an immediate connection with the orchestra and the chorus.”

She added: “It’s one of the greatest theatres in the world – certainly one with an amazing tradition of great conductors who have been music directors. And now with the incoming new music director it’s also really exciting.”

Scappucci, 50, who will also be the first woman to hold the role, will work on a wide range of traditional repertoire, including bel canto and works by Puccini and Verdi.

But the former pianist and coach, who is currently based between Vienna and New York, also hopes to inspire new audiences to discover the art form, help develop young talent and experiment with different kinds of repertoire.

“It’s exciting to see this new chapter of the opera house,” she said.

The absence of live cultural experiences during Covid had “made us poorer at soul as human beings,” she said. “So we need to not forget how important missing all of that was. What is ahead of us should be something that we want to build and hold on to, rather than [letting] it slip through our fingers.”

Artists and musicians needed to “try to reach out to people rather than expect people to just come to us”, she added. “We can’t just be in our ivory tower; we need to also bring people to us.”

Scappucci, who grew up in Rome, first started going to the opera with her parents when she was six or seven and was immediately fascinated. Depending on the opera, the art form could be appealing to children as young as five, she said.

Until last year, she was music director of Opéra Royal de Wallonie-Liège in Belgium.

In January last year, Scappucci – who has also conducted at the Met in New York, Staatsoper in Berlin and the Opéra National de Paris – became the first Italian woman ever to conduct at Teatro alla Scala in Milan.

Hrůša said he had long admired Scappucci’s work. “She is an energising presence on the podium, inspiring the musicians and indeed everyone around her through her splendid passion, warmth, skill and knowledge,” he added. “I’m delighted that she will be a part of the team for the artistic work that lies ahead to fulfil the Royal Opera’s future dreams and visions.”

Oliver Mears, director of opera at the Royal Opera House, said he was “tremendously impressed by the wonderful relationship she forged with the orchestra” when she conducted there last year.

“Her warmth, matched with outstanding musicianship and breadth of repertoire, make her the perfect addition to the Covent Garden family,” he said. “We are excited about the developments and new collaborations Speranza will bring.”

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