Sat April 2, 2011
Music Interviews

Vittorio Grigolo: A Rising Tenor Takes His Time

Vittorio Grigolo is a man in demand. From the Met to La Scala, the finest opera houses around the world clamor to have his voice resound through their halls, and he's one of the handful of rising tenors to have been touted as "the next Pavarotti."

That's a heavy comparison to live up to, but as Grigolo tells Weekend All Things Considered host Guy Raz, he is thankful just to be mentioned in the same breath as the late opera star, who has long been his idol.

"People need heroes, in music and every aspect of life," he says. "When a great star and a hero like Luciano is missing, people want always to find somebody else to deliver."

He adds, "It's nice because it's not [just] 'the next Pavarotti' — it is 'Vittorio Grigolo will be the next Pavarotti.' They don't forget my name."

Like his hero, Grigolo loves performing work by Italian composers. His first solo album of operatic material, authoritatively titled The Italian Tenor, is just that — a sampling of the great works of Verdi, Puccini and Donizetti. He says his approach was not unlike that of a painter's to a new canvas.

"I had opportunity to color this beautiful landscape," he says. "I have all the colors to make all the little shades. My body and my voice is ready now."

Grigolo began his rise to fame early. At 23 years old, he made his debut at La Scala — the most storied opera house in the world, which opened its doors when America was still in the throes of the Revolutionary War. It was a banner day in the budding star's career.

"The president of Italy was there," recalls Grigolo. "Press, flowers all over. The stage — big, huge. This little piano, the excitement, adrenalin, the sweat."

The performance, however, wasn't without its hiccups: Just before he went on, Grigolo realized he didn't have the correct score with him. With no time to waste, he was pushed on stage and instructed to look on with the woman next to him. The quick fix caused a little confusion.

"I had to look at her score, but from the TV, it looks like I was looking at her breasts," Grigolo says laughing. "My mom said, 'What's going on? He's not even singing! He's looking at the breasts of the girl.'"

Plenty of tenors have started young and risen to fame quickly, sometimes taxing their voices and bodies to the point of burnout. Grigolo says he's been extremely wary of subjecting himself to the same strain: "You cannot stretch, stretch, stretch. It's like a spring: When you pass the maximum point, the spring won't come back anymore."

That said, he's excited to keep developing his instrument. "I think voice is like a good wine," he says. "If you work it well, it will mature." Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.



Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.

(Soundbite of song, "Quando le sere al placido")

Mr. VITTORIO GRIGOLO (Singer): (Singing in foreign language)

LYDEN: This is a voice in great demand right now. The finest opera houses around the world clamor to have this voice resounding through their halls. It belongs to Vittorio Grigolo.

(Soundbite of song, "Quando le sere al placido")

Mr. GRIGOLO: (Singing in foreign language)

LYDEN: This is from Vittorio Grigolo's first solo album of operatic music. It's titled, simply enough, "The Italian Tenor." Guy sat down with him recently when they were both in Los Angeles.

GUY RAZ, host:

Vittorio, you should know, is something of a sex symbol in the world of opera. He came into the studio wearing designer sunglasses, a white shirt buttoned just past his belly button along with a shade of stubble on his face.

But aside from his good looks, he's also considered a great new hope in the world of opera, the next Pavarotti. And like his hero, Pavarotti, Grigolo loves performing work by Italian composers. So on the new record, he deliberately chose pieces only from Italian operas.

Mr. GRIGOLO: I'm dealing with composers that come from my country, like Verdi, Puccini, Donizetti. For me, it's like, I want it really - you said this is my first album, classical, of course. It's something that was in my dreams since I was a little kid, since I was in my room performing like crazy all the arias of everybody.

It's something that I felt my body and my voice is ready now to deliver.

RAZ: Right.

Mr. GRIGOLO: And now that - as a painter, I had opportunity to color this beautiful landscape and add all the color to make all these little shades.

(Soundbite of song, "Quando le sere al placido")

Mr. GRIGOLO: (Singing in foreign language)

RAZ: What does an Italian singer bring to these compositions that other singers might not obviously - I mean, obviously, you have the language, but is there a feeling, a sensibility that you bring to that because you are Italian?

Mr. GRIGOLO: I think it's the way I feel the pause in between music. I know the time I need in between a word to another to make it effective. If I say, for example: You're a very funny guy. You're a very funny guy. Or if I say: You know what, you're a very funny guy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GRIGOLO: You know, it's - in music, as in acting...

RAZ: Yeah.

<r. GRIGOLO: ...the most beautiful things is the pause in between.

RAZ: Right.

(Soundbite of song, "Quando le sere al placido")

Mr. GRIGOLO: (Singing in foreign language)

RAZ: My guest is the opera singer Vittorio Grigolo, and his latest album is called "The Italian Tenor."

You'll be performing in Italy again in June. You'll be in Milan for "Romeo and Juliet" at La Scala, the most storied, famous opera house in the world, a place that opened when America was still fighting its revolution. You first performed there when you were 23. Describe what it is like.

Mr. GRIGOLO: I was very excited. And the president was there, president of Italy there, press, flowers all over, the stage big, huge. You know, this little piano, you know, the excitement, adrenalin, the sweat. You can hear the people, you know, checking time: three, two one.

And the guy, you know, said: Okay, you have your music? I checked my music. I had the wrong score.

Oh, my god. I was so - I said Max, Max, it's not possible. I have to take my other score. I can't do this. No, no, it's not possible, no time. Look on the score of the other people.

I actually had a girl next to me, okay? She has a big cleavage, you know? And I had to look at the score of her. But from the TV, it looks like I was looking on the boobs, you know, on the breasts of the lady. And my mom said all the time, said: What's going on? She said: He's not even singing. He's looking at the breasts of the girl from the TV.

And everybody said - and then when I went home, I said: Mom, I was not looking at the breasts. I was looking at the notes because I forgot my score. But nobody knows, of course. So it was a very strange story and a very funny story about my debut in La Scala.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. GRIGOLO: (Singing in foreign language)

(Soundbite of applause)

RAZ: I want to hear another performance from the record. This is from the first act of Puccini's "La Boheme."

(Soundbite of opera, "La Boheme")

Mr. GRIGOLO: (Singing in foreign language)

RAZ: Here you are performing as Rodolfo. Just about all the arias on this record cast you in the romantic lead. And there is another part of you that is a big part of who you are. I mean, you are - and this is radio, so I should describe you. You are a very handsome guy. You are a big sex symbol, and yet, you're also...

Mr. GRIGOLO: I'm blushing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: Do you - does that make you feel uncomfortable, or do you just kind of have to embrace that and, you know...

Mr. GRIGOLO: You want to embrace it?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GRIGOLO: It's okay. You know what, if I need to perform "Romeo and Juliet," you need to have a good body. You don't want to see a big bulge jumping around like (unintelligible) and pretending to be Romeo, you know? Of course, people want, today, it requires not only a beautiful voice, but it requires acting. It requires trained bodies. That's why sometimes careers also last a little bit less, and they got shorter.

RAZ: Rolando Villazon, who's another young tenor, he had to have surgery to remove a cyst from his vocal chords a few years ago. Some say that he overworked his voice. How do you deal with the demands of your job, of what you do?

Mr. GRIGOLO: First of all, it's important to have a teacher that stays always with you. I had the same teacher since I'm 17. And maybe this was the key, you know? Of course, three years ago starts really my, how you say, my jump, my race, no?

RAZ: Race, yeah.

Mr. GRIGOLO: Yes. So I had to learn quickly a lot of roles, and that was the moment I could have put my voice in danger because the requests that people want to talk, the TV, the album, everything is so tight. I think voice is like good wine. If you work it well, it will be - it will mature, yeah.

RAZ: Yeah. That's the opera singer Vittorio Grigolo. His latest album is called "The Italian Tenor."

Vittorio, thank you so much.

Mr. GRIGOLO: Thank you so much.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. GRIGOLO: (Singing in foreign language) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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