19 February 2017

Vittorio Grigolo - opera singer

Tenor courted public popularity as way to land 'serious' roles

Vittorio Grigolo in a picture for his album The Italian Tenor
Vittorio Grigolo in a picture for
his album The Italian Tenor
The operatic tenor Vittorio Grigolo was born on this day in 1977 in Arezzo in Tuscany.

Grigolo has performed at many of the world's leading opera houses and is currently starring in Werther by Jules Massenet at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

Yet he has achieved fame as a serious performer after first releasing an album of popular songs and using reality TV shows to put himself in the public eye.

Brought up in Rome, Grigolo was a child prodigy who began to sing at the age of four, his love for music inspired by his father, who liked the family house to be filled with the sound of opera arias.

He won a place at the prestigious Sistine Chapel Choir School by the time he was nine and at 13 appeared on the same stage as the opera legend Luciano Pavarotti as the shepherd boy in Giacomo Puccini's Tosca at the Rome Opera House.  It earned him the nickname Il Pavarottino - the little Pavarotti.

Grigolo's progress continued to be rapid.  At 18 he joined the Vienna Opera Company and became the youngest tenor to perform at Teatro alla Scala in Milan at the age of 23.

Grigolo performs in the role of Nemorino in  Gaetano Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore
Grigolo performs in the role of Nemorino in
Gaetano Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore
But in the years that followed, he felt his career reached a plateau. It was this lull that persuaded him to switch his attention to the pop world, cashing in on the vogue for classically trained voices singing contemporary songs by releasing in 2006 the album, In the Hands of Love, a collection of pop ballads and songs from the musicals.

As part of his promotion campaign, he appeared with Pavarotti and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa at the Classical Brit Awards at the Royal Albert Hall in London, sang numbers from the album at a Miss Universe 2006 evening gown competition in Los Angeles, performed alongside Lionel Richie at the 'Proms in the Park' in Hyde Park, London and sang at a charity event sponsored by Macy's department store in New York.

While in America, he appeared in the third series of the hit show Dancing with the Stars - based on the British show Strictly Come Dancing and mimicked in Italy with Ballando con le Stelle - although not as a competitor but a guest artist.  He also accepted an invitation to appear on the dating game show The Bachelor.

Watch Grigolo perform E lucevan le stelle from Tosca in Verona in 2012

The effect was as he had hoped.  His profile raised, as well as his talent he now had box-office appeal. Better roles at more prestigious venues began to come his way. By 2010 Grigolo had made his debut at both the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden (as Le Chevalier des Grieux in Massenet's Manon) and at the Met (as Rodolfo in Puccini's La bohème).

Grigolo cashed in on the popularity of pop songs performed by operatic voices
Grigolo cashed in on the popularity of pop
songs performed by operatic voices
Known for his exuberant, impassioned performances, it was feared that he would burn out quickly but critics agree that he has managed his voice well despite a hectic schedule.  Not a fan of the faddy diets some opera performers follow, he allows himself a glass of wine with his lunch even when he is singing in the evening, keeping his vocal chords supple by sucking peppermint bonbons.

He has recorded five more albums since In the Hands of Love.  Most consist of opera arias, although one of them, entitled Ave Maria, is of songs he remembers from his time with the Sistine Chapel Choir.

A music lover with eclectic tastes, he has not ruled out future dalliances in the pop world but for the moment his focus is on serious opera.  Not one to bother with false modesty, in one recent interview he claimed he had succeeded Pavarotti as "the Italian tenor, the voice of Italy" and was "proud to carry the flag for Italy" - even though he actually lives in Lugano, across the border from Italy in tax-friendly Switzerland.

Although it may seem Grigolo's destiny was to sing, the world of opera almost lost him to his other great passion, cars.

At the same time as supporting him in his development as a singer, Grigolo's father, a successful designer, also agreed to sponsor his ambitions as a racing driver, helping him progress through karting right up to Formula 3000, a now defunct feeder class for Formula One.

He even tested for Benetton in Formula One after signing up with F1 driver Giancarlo Fisichella's manager, but after an accident left him with two broken ribs and a cancelled concert appearance he had to make a choice.  He plumped for singing.

The distinctive, sloping Piazza Grande is a feature of Arezzo
The distinctive, sloping Piazza Grande is a feature of Arezzo
Travel tip:

Grigolo's home city of Arezzo in Tuscany, situated about 80km (50 miles) south-west of Florence, is a medieval city that has grown into a modern conurbation of around 100,000 people, although the historic centre remains an attractive spot on the Tuscan tourist trail.  The main sights include the sloping Piazza Grande, which sits just behind the 13th century Romanesque apse of Santa Maria della Pieve and was once the main marketplace of the city.  A few streets away, the city's Duomo - the Cathedral of Santi Pietro e Donati - contains among other artistic treasures a wooden choir designed by Giorgio Vasari and a painting of Mary Magdalene attributed to Piero della Francesca.

Travel tip:

The Sistine Chapel is a chapel in the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the Pope, in Vatican City. Originally known as the Cappella Magna, the chapel was renamed after Pope Sixtus IV, who restored it between 1477 and 1480.  As well as being a place of religious activity, the chapel is the meeting place for the Papal conclave, the process by which a new pope is selected. The Sistine Chapel is notable too for the frescos that decorate the interior, most particularly the ceiling and The Last Judgment, painted by Michelangelo.

More reading:

Why Luciano Pavarotti is among Italy's greatest opera stars

Andrea Bocelli - the perfect voice for pop and opera

The musical genius of Giacomo Puccini

Also on this day:

1743: The birth of cellist Luigi Boccherini

1953: The birth of comic actor and director Massimo Troisi

(Picture credit: Arezzo piazza by Enlightenmentreloaded via Wikimedia Commons)


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