Road Show: Nicola Luisotti in Madrid
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Road Show: Nicola Luisotti in Madrid

The Italian-born maestro loves to work and relax in the SPANISH CAPITAL.
by Mario R. Mercado. 

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Luisotti in rehearsal
© Cory Weaver
For Luisotti, Madrid is more than just a place to work.
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MUSEUMS    Double Bar 250   
Paseo del Prado

52 Calle de Santa Isabel

8 Paseo del Prado

122 Calle de Serrano

FOOD & NIGHTLIFE  Double Bar 250   
8 Plaza Isabel II
Café de Oriente
2 Plaza de Oriente

27 Calle Ruiz de Alarcón

16 Calle Reina

21 Calle Barquillo

HOTEL  Double Bar 250   
5 Plaza de la Lealtad

SHOPPING  Double Bar 250   
34 Calle Serrano

11 Calle Jorge Juan

NICOLA LUISOTTI, MUSIC DIRECTOR of San Francisco Opera, has just completed a January run of Rigoletto at Madrid’s Teatro Real at the time of our interview. Madrileños keep famously late hours at such legendary haunts as Bar Cock, a nexus for intellectuals, artists, bullfighters and royalty since the 1920s (Luis Buñuel, Ernest Hemingway, Ava Gardner, Pedro Almodóvar), or the recent Only You Hotel, with its bar-cum-lounge featuring more than thirty types of gin. 

Though Luisotti occasionally goes out after a performance, he prefers a quiet evening with his wife or friends. Still, for him, Madrid is far more than a place to work. During the Rigoletto run, he and his wife, Rita, occupied an apartment with views of the terraced, neoclassical Sabatini Gardens, adjacent to the Royal Palace, which—like the opera house—is located at the Plaza de Oriente. Though Madrid is a great European metropolis—“a city with an open mind” he says—its “centro” is relatively compact. Luisotti enjoys walking through the city’s grand boulevards, plazas and parks.

Luisotti’s orbit includes the extraordinary trio of museums, the Prado, Reina Sofía and the Thyssen-Bornemisza, encompassing the contrasting historical and architectural styles of the capital city, from the Hapsburg dynasty of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to the succeeding Bourbon monarchs. A walk of less than thirty minutes can take you from the Teatro Real, through the austere beauty of the early-seventeenth-century Plaza Mayor, to the neoclassical domain of the Prado, nearby El Retiro Park and the Reina Sofía, housed in a former eighteenth-century hospital. 

The Luisottis relish the Prado’s gallery devoted to Velásquez’s Las Meninas and works by Goya and El Greco. The Reina Sofía houses Picasso’s Guernica. “The first time I saw it,” says Luisotti, “I stood for twenty minutes without saying a word. The horrors of the Civil War, the pain of the people, the horse—you can hear the screams.” In the leafy Salamanca neighborhood, the Luisottis have extended their art walks to the smaller and superb Lázaro Galdiano Museum, a palatial former residence with a select number of paintings and drawings by Goya. 

Café Murillo, handy to the
Prado’s south entrance, is a convenient spot for lunch, an espresso or a glass of wine or beer. Although Spain is celebrated for its viniculture, Luisotti prefers a refreshing Mahou beer, served in an ice-cold glass—a cerveza en una copa fría. “I have to recommend it to everyone visiting Madrid,” he says. At the end of the day, there may be no better treat than drinks and tapas on the terrace of the Hotel Ritz, a landmark.

Luisotti’s schedule makes eating at the apartment practical for him, and he and his wife enjoy cooking. The supermarket at El Corte Inglés, a department store found throughout Spain, offers an array of seafood, Manchego cheese, mushrooms and, says Luisotti, “wonderful Spanish oranges.” The “Gourmet Experience” section on the ninth floor at the store’s Plaza Callao complex includes numerous restaurants and cafés offering Spanish regional cuisine, as well as international fare and even a cocktail and oyster bar. The Luisottis sometimes are drawn from home to its bakery for breakfast pastries. The floor’s bird’s-eye views, up and down the Gran Vía with its iconic neon Schweppes sign, have made it a destination in itself.

Spanish chefs have been for many years at the forefront of global innovation, but Luisotti prefers restaurants—including Taberna Real, with its handsome wood-and-tile interior—that are known for Iberian classics such as oxtail stew and a Basque dish of hake with clams. Steps from the opera house, the Taberna’s bar also provides a welcoming spot for tapas before or after a performance. Café de Oriente is likewise a short stroll to the theater. Its menu includes a particular ham, jamón ibérico de Bellota, that is a Luisotti favorite, as well as new interpretations of traditional dishes such as bacalao al pil-pil and ceviche.

The elegant Salamanca neighborhood is a pleasant place to walk in all seasons, especially spring. Amid its embassies, cafés and international shops (Hermès, Burberry, Massimo Dutti) are Spanish fashion houses of unrivaled taste—the venerable Loewe, for clothing and fine leather goods, and Berwick, purveyor of handmade men’s shoes.

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The Plaza de Oriente, with the Teatro Real at center and the Café de Oriente in the foreground
© María Galán/Agefotostock

Back in the opera-house neighborhood is another of Luisotti’s simple pleasures—artisanal ice cream at the Palazzo on Calle de Bailén. Luisotti says, “Strawberry and mint chocolate are the best.”

Mario R. Mercado writes on music, dance, theater and art. 

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