Secret history: Claudio Abbado’s prison chorus

Secret history: Claudio Abbado’s prison chorus


norman lebrecht

July 06, 2015

Two or three years before he died, Claudio Abbado began visiting prisoners in Bologna jail. He formed a group, which he named the Pappageno Chorus, and began putting on concerts in the prison chapel. Hearing that Abbado was conducting in prison, people clamoured to attend and paid high prices for the tickets.

Since his death in January last year, the project has continued under the directorship of Abbado’s daughter Alessandra and an association called Mozart14, supported by the Ministry of Justice. Our friend Valerio Tura, who attended yesterday’s concert, sends this exclusive report to Slipped Disc:

abbado prison chorus

This afternoon I had the opportunity to hear a really exciting concert by the Papageno Choir, a chorus of fifty inmates of Dozza, in Bologna. In searing temperatures, a group of prisoners, women and men of all ages, along with some external singers, gathered in the chapel of the prison for the kind of concert that allows you to entertain some hope for the fate of the world.

Beyond the repertoire prepared with patience and directed with great commitment by the talented Michele Napolitano, who joined the so-called classical music compositions with arrangements and harmonies of folk songs from various backgrounds and in different languages, and pop music, the deep sense of this concert was the desire and purpose evinced by inmates to seize the musical practice, in particular in its choral practice, as a positive opportunity for redemption and rehabilitation.

One can never emphasize enough the importance of choral singing a a driving force of civilization, as a formidable engine of ethics, an irreplaceable guide to living together, sharing, listening, respect, not to menti0n beauty.

This choir was created by Claudio Abbado, one of the greatest conductors of all time, a few years before his death. It was my good fortune to know him personally. Claudio…. was a tireless catalyst of musical intelligence, a midwife of young talent, and an unstoppable ‘instigator’ of initiatives that made music ‘necessary’. I am convinced that this chorus of prisoners, the choir Papageno, is undoubtedly one of his most extraordinary ventures.

The emotions I felt listening to the concert today go far beyond the beautiful music I heard. I hope the choir Papageno can thrive and continue its activities, but to do so it needs help. I have made ​​a small contribution.
I hope that those who read these lines will do the same:

IBAN IT61 L 05387 02412 000002172274 – BIC BPMOIT22XXX – Banca Popolare dell’Emilia Romagna – Causal Project Papageno.


  • Greger Hatt says:

    Amazing, heart-warming on many levels. Thankyou for reporting about this initiative, so seemingly far removed from the socially isolated classical music scene.

  • Theodore McGuiver says:

    Do they have Unchained Melody in their repertoire?