“Most of my own eyes and ears went with Grigolo, partly because of his sheer energy. This was a rejuvenated Faust whom you could believe in…..but the commitment, strength and vocal mobility that made him last year’s Covent Garden wow in Manon still rang through the house”
“Vittorio takes the cover of September’s “Style Magazine” – the art and fashion supplement of Italy’s leading Newspaper – Corriere della Sera.
The article begins “With the sensitivity of the romantic hero and the gaze of a seducer, he won over La Scala, the New York Met and Covent Garden. For critics, the 34 year old is the new opera star. For the public he is a true pop divo. “Big Luciano” predicted a great future for him; he lives his life outside the theater with a passion for riding his motocycle, building engines and getting his hands dirty with grease. A happy combination for Vittorio. A little bit of “Cavaradossi” and a little bit of “Fonzie”.
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NEW YORK — When the rising opera star Vittorio Grigolo was a child prodigy, a very famous man gave him some sound advice.
“This is what Pavarotti said to me,” Grigolo, now 33, says. “‘Charisma is something you either have or you don’t.’ He said that you can learn to sing better, but that sense of energy is something you can’t be taught.”
Granted, it was Grigolo’s technical ability that earned him the nickname “Pavarottino” in his boyhood, when the Tuscany native first earned attention as a soloist in the Sistine Chapel choir. His voice has since flowered into an agile lyric tenor with a brightness and sweetness of tone that have only encouraged comparisons with that late icon.
But Grigolo’s dynamic presence also has been integral to his progress. His album The Italian Tenor, released in October, spent three weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s classical chart, fueled by acclaim for his recent, dramatically astute performances at New York’s Metropolitan Opera and London’s Covent Garden.
“I feel comfortable with the public,” says Grigolo — proving the point by taking his interviewer’s recorder and nestling it in his jacket, so that he can speak softly. (“I have a cold,” he explains.) “When an audience starts clapping for me, I’m not shy; I ask for more. I have always been able to communicate better with music, to attract people to me and bring out their emotions.”
It doesn’t hurt, of course, that Grigolo is impishly handsome, the antithesis of the outdated stereotype of the fat man singing. Grigolo’s good looks nearly landed him a high-profile crossover career. He was an original member of Simon Cowell’s “pop-era” boy band Il Divo but dropped out after a few trial recordings. “It was a matter of (valuing) prestige over money,” Grigolo explains. “I may not be rich; opera doesn’t pay that much today. But I have a certain recognition and respect, and that is more important.”
The singer does enjoy listening to pop music. “I love all great bands. I like Queen a lot,” he says, impetuously crooning a few bars of that group’s 1981 hit with David Bowie, Under Pressure. (“Freddie Mercury was a tenor, you know.”)
He also continues to admire Cowell’s business acumen, and his notorious confidence. “Did you know that he has a statue of Superman in his office, with his own face (superimposed)?” Grigolo asks, chuckling. “The guy has a big ego. But I think that’s good.”
Indeed, Grigolo comes across as extremely self-possessed in his own right, though his playful sense of humor suggests that his boasting is at least partly in jest. Asked if it’s true that his family had him excused from military service in Italy on the grounds that his voice was “a national treasure,” he responds, “Yes — and it’s still a national treasure. Only now it’s even more valuable.”
Now appearing in Manon in Valencia, Spain, Grigolo is scheduled to appear at leading opera houses throughout Europe next year. “I’m actually booked through 2017, which is just crazy,” he says. “I feel like I’ve gotten up the mountain, and now I want to cool down and enjoy the panorama.”
That won’t be easy, given Grigolo’s growing profile and obvious ambition. Of the Pavarotti references that still pop up in his press, he says, “I don’t think it’s a bad thing to be compared to one of the greatest singers of his era.
“At the same time, I know that if I’m smart and make the right choices, there’s a chance that one day they’ll point to another guy and say, ‘Ah, he sounds like Vittorio.’ ”
Youthful male passion is the natural element of the Italian tenor hero. He is often a young man possessed by a longing so sincere and intense that it can only be expressed in lyric form. Even the mendacious Duke of Mantua can inhabit this mode; as he courts Gilda, he incarnates the trope of innocent yearning so convincingly that he succeeds in fooling himself. Vittorio Grigolo thrives in this territory. The Duke’s “Parmi veder le lagrime,” des Grieux’s “Donna non vidi mai” and the big arias from Luisa Miller, L’Elisir d’Amore, Favorita, Bohème and Trovatore, all included in this recital, are ideally suited to Grigolo’s fresh lyric tenor and open-hearted approach.
As a treble, Grigolo was publicized as “Il Pavarottino,” and the disc reveals an interpretive affinity with his illustrious predecessor. He achieves the key Pavarottian virtue of using crystalline Italian consonants to move the singing line forward. More important, his communicative ability — the sense that there’s an appealing personbehind the singing — calls to mind the young Pavarotti.
Not that he soundslike Pavarotti: his is a softer-grained tone — a thing of fabric rather than metal, at least in its lower reaches, although it acquires an appealing trace of squillo as it moves above the staff. Some of the quieter singing here might not carry in a big house. One hopes Grigolo, who made his Met debut this season as Rodolfo, will wait a good long while before treating opera-house audiences to his Riccardo, Cavaradossi or Manrico, all sampled here. Still, it’s a pleasure to hear their music sung so delicately and thoughtfully. In the Act III Ballo aria, most tenors chop the phase “Chiusa la tua memoria/ Nell’intimo del cor” into two, holding the A-flat at the end of the first part, then taking a breath to deliver a forceful attack on the same note beginning the second. But Grigolo takes it all in one breath, sustaining the mood of intimate reflection and suggesting a thought that indeed lies “deep within the heart.”
He is especially impressive in his determination to treat cabalettas as music. The recital includes both verses of the Duke’s “Possente amor” and the cabaletta of Corrado’s Act I Corsaro aria. Both readings are rhythmically alert, with subtle shifts of emphasis that justify the inclusion of the repeats. In “Di quella pira,” he moves the musical line forward through his crisp articulation of the turns that punctuate each phrase. Grigolo reminds us that Manrico is a troubadour as well as a soldier. The familiar showpiece becomes an engrossing musical statement, rather than the usual demonstration of brute force.
Conductor Pier Giorgio Morandi deserves credit for the care with which this recital has been prepared. His tempos are just, and his leadership remains consistently attuned to Grigolo’s interpretive choices. But Sony’s packaging does Grigolo a disservice by omitting texts and translations in favor of a hagiographic profile. The lacuna is scarcely justifiable for the familiar arias in the recital, but without annotation, how are we supposed to comprehend the dramatic context of the selections from Il Corsaro and Le Villi? The assumption seems to be that we are more interested in the performer than in the music he sings. Grigolo is not just an aspiring celebrity but an artist. He deserves better.
It is a few hours before the curtain rises on Puccini’s La Bohème now at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and 33-year-old Vittorio Grigolo, the handsome, increasingly prominent face of international opera can be found resting in a stuffy, decidedly drab dressing room tucked in the basement of Lincoln Center. Making my way through the confounding labyrinth of tunnels before ending up outside his door—assistants are bustling up the corridor, a piano is playing in the distance, somebody is practicing scales, and the air, quite suddenly, smells thickly of an intoxicating cologne. “That’s Vittorio,” an assistant says shyly, pointing across the way to his dressing-room door. “And everyone who works here is dying to know what it is.” What it is, is a bottle of Calvin Klein, but what becomes immediately apparent is that it is not the cologne alone that is causing the reaction. After a warm greeting, Grigolo gets a paper cup of water, only to have it disintegrate in his hands. “I finally make it to the Metropolitan Opera,” he says with a grin in a low, managed, preshow voice. “And I can’t even get a good cup!” Now in the middle of his sold-out run as the lovelorn, writerly Rodolfo, it has been said that the handsome (and, it must be said, the very charming) Italian tenor is being groomed to be the next Luciano Pavarotti, a legend with whom Grigolo shared the stage at the age of thirteen in a pairing that earned him the nickname “Il Pavarottino.”
In the 20 years since, his star has been steadily on the rise, even if his focus may have been more varied: After years of focusing solely on opera, Grigolo tried his hand at pop music, musicals (he was Tony on the special fiftieth anniversary album of West Side Story), and even logged appearances on The Bachelor and Dancing With the Stars, before recommitting himself fully to his first love. “I come from an incredibly musical family,” says Grigolo, who is wearing a tight tee shirt, black vest, and jeans. “So this is just part of who I am, who I have always been. The fame that comes? I think fame can be like a drug, yes, but I don’t think you need to get addicted to it.” In the hour before the show, he doesn’t seem to be nervous. Before a grueling four-hour performance, Grigolo eats a light breakfast—coffee and fresh juice mixed with exercise—and then pasta around 2:00 p.m. “After the show, sometimes I’ll go out in the city and get a burger,” he says. “The energy here is like a river: You can just stand in the middle of any intersection and the whole world comes rushing toward you, and I like that. I think life has to be inspiring.” The idea triggers something in him. “I am writing an opera,” he says, walking over to the piano pushed up against the wall. “Can I play some for you?” After a few false starts, he finds his rhythm—beautifully—and within a moment, Grigolo, the muscled, well-coiffed heartthrob, melts away and the passionate musician, the one who got his start singing at the age of four before chosen to be in the prestigious Sistine Chapel Choir in Rome at nine, takes his place. He plays for fifteen minutes (recording the session on his phone to tweak later) and is seemingly lost in the music, interrupted, suddenly, by a crisp knock on the door. “It’s time,” an assistant says. The spell is broken, and Grigolo looks both shy and exhilarated. “I think it’s getting good,” he says quietly. So, is putting on his own opera the next thing he would like to accomplish? “One day, maybe,” he says. “But I can only take things one day at a time. I have small goals. Today, for instance, I want to just have a good show; I want to find something new in it.” And then he pauses, smiles, and shakes his head. “Besides, my calendar is booked every day until 2017. If I think about that too much, maybe I’ll go crazy!”
It’s hard to know how to react to opera hype. No one in 2010 wants to buy into a media construction, but when it comes to opera, the relevant media are so predictable and transparent (a major PR coup for a singer consists of some combination of the cover of Opera News and a profile in The Times) that it is very simple to know who is hyped, and more difficult to know whether the hype is unjustified or misleading.
The photogenic tenor Vittorio Grigolo, the latest singer to receive the “next Pavarotti” mantle, is certainly having a moment. He made his Metropolitan Opera debut in La Bohème on Saturday, hours after his face showed up on doorsteps all over the country on the front page of the Times Arts and Leisure section. Sony released his debut CD, The Italian Tenor (note the definitive article!), a couple of weeks ago. In the scheme of contemporary pop culture, a big-deal profile and a CD launch are hardly objectionable, but in opera, when a small quiver of attention by normal standards equals a major media push, this is a full-court press. No critic wants to seem taken in by hype, but no one wants to stand in the way of a thrilling narrative of success, either.
So what actually happened at the performance? As usual, the hype was a bit much—there wasn’t the “metaphysical connection with the audience” that Peter Gelb said he observed at one of Mr. Grigolo’s rehearsals in London—but the tenor had a very respectable Met debut nonetheless. There are whole sections of his voice, particularly in the middle, that are simply lovely; when he’s feeling comfortable and in his sweet spot, he can spin out gorgeous phrases, easy but powerful. He was clearly nervous (and with good reason; this was one of the big nights of his career), and he bullied Rodolfo’s short but challenging opening mini-aria, “Nei cieli bigi.”
Throughout the first act, certain phrases trailed off toward their end when he seemed to be pacing himself, getting ready for an upcoming high note; he kept doing this in the great first-act aria, “Che gelida manina.” The very top of his voice—particularly high C, the infamous note in the tenor repertoire—is not his strongest suit: Mr. Grigolo’s C is muscular and steely rather than ideally free. But the high notes right below C are often deeply satisfying. And for long stretches, particularly in the third and fourth acts, once the pressure was off a bit, he proved himself one of the rare tenors—indeed, one of the rare singers—these days whom you can just enjoy, without having to worry or make excuses.
Mr. Grigolo’s stage presence is more adorable than ardent; his nervousness translated into hyperactivity. At first it was exciting to see a Rodolfo with a truly teenage impetuosity. When Mimi knocked on his door, he sniffed his armpits, checked himself out in the mirror, fixed his hair and bounded around, all in about five seconds. But the exaggerated physical abandon got a bit tiresome. He has natural stage instincts—when the crucial first-act candles went out, he managed to find a match and relight them, all while keeping up with the score—and it will be interesting to see whether a good director can focus all that talent and energy.
Next to Mr. Grigolo’s effusive Rodolfo, the Mimi of Maija Kovalevska was well sung but rather generic; there was little fragility in her voice, even in the heartbreaking third and fourth acts. The tenor was not the only debutant Saturday night. Takesha Meshé Kizart, a big-voiced soprano with a tantalizingly unsettled quality to the tone, played the supporting role Musetta, but it is no secret that Ms. Kizart has set her sights on the major parts of Puccini and Verdi. Her voice has the size and complexity to make it possible, and she was partly wasted on the coquettish Musetta, a fun but fairly one-dimensional character, and not a great showcase for Ms. Kizart’s talents. Fabio Capitanucci as Marcello was, like Ms. Kovalevska’s Mimi, perfectly competent but a bit characterless; Roberto Rizzi Brignoli, conducting at the Met for the first time, overindulged some moments, but was just fine. (“Just fine,” though, is pretty remarkable when you consider that conductors leading revivals of standard operas at the Met get all of a rehearsal and a half.)
Saturday night’s Met debut of Vittorio Grigolo in “La Bo heme” was promising enough to suggest the tenor may one day live up to his own hype.
An onslaught of advance hoopla for the 33-year-old Italian singer, including over-the-top kudos from the Met’s general manager, Peter Gelb, set expectations impossibly high. But in Puccini’s love story of artists in 1800s Paris, he emerged as an unreasonably handsome young man with a reasonably attractive voice.
The first notes of his role as the poet Rodolfo revealed a honeyed middle register with a distinctive flicker of vibrato. Later he capped the famous aria “Che gelida manina” with a rock-solid high C, a feat only a minority of tenors accomplish reliably.
Grigolo’s road to the Met began at age 9 in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel Choir, with a brief detour into pop in 2003 as a founding member of Simon Cowell’s boy band Il Divo. He first sang opera at 13, a bit part in “Tosca” opposite Luciano Pavarotti — a detail his flacks have not exactly kept a secret.
So, is this babyfaced tenor the next Pavarotti? Probably not, at least until he stops pushing his voice so relentlessly for volume. Another troubling trait is his hyperactive stage personality, like a puppy hungry for attention. Yet, flaws and all, he should make a valuable addition to the Met.
Grigolo was one of a quartet of new faces in this “Boheme,” the most intriguing of which was Takesha Meshé Kizart as the carefree party girl Musetta. Her megawatt presence automatically drew the eye, though her exotic, voluptuous soprano was wasted on the character’s featherweight waltz song.
Also fresh to the Met was baritone Fabio Capitanucci, a mellow voice in a robust frame suggesting he relinquished his “starving artist” status many kilos ago.
Of the debuting artists, least successful was conductor Roberto Rizzi Brignoli. Though he kept up with Grigolo’s excited yelps early in the show, later he dragged out sentimental moments to Wagnerian length.
The evening’s nominal leading lady, Maija Kovalevska, underwhelmed even as the mousy flower girl Mimi with her pretty, generic soprano.
The real star of the evening — a fixture at the Met since most of these singers were in diapers — was the three-decade-old production by Franco Zeffirelli. After nearly 400 performances, there’s still a burst of applause when the curtain flies up on the second act, revealing a whole city block of bohemian Paris.
Even more impressive, the wintry dawn of Act 3 retains its power to evoke the bleak loneliness of youth fallen out of love.
Saturday was a night of multiple debuts at the Metropolitan Opera when Franco Zeffirelli’s popular production of Puccini’s “Bohème” returned to the repertory. Three of the main characters, as well as the conductor, Roberto Rizzi Brignoli, were all appearing for the first time. But the focus of attention was on the fast-rising Italian tenor Vittorio Grigolo, making his Met debut as Rodolfo.
Handsome, energetic, exuding charisma and blessed with a vibrant voice, Mr. Grigolo was an appealing and impassioned Rodolfo, and a big hit with the audience. For his solo curtain call at the end, he bounded onstage, arms thrust wide, to bask in the ovation, pounding his chest to demonstrate his heartfelt thanks.
At 33 Mr. Grigolo would seem poised for continued success. Still, I had reservations about his voice, which has a bright cast and a narrow, sometimes tight, vibrato that will not be to all tastes. Mr. Grigolo has said in recent interviews that his ventures into boy bands and pop, which made him a sensation in Europe, are over, and that his work now is completely centered on opera. The technical shakiness that characterized his otherwise alluring performance as Gennaro in the Washington National Opera’s production of Donizetti’s “Lucrezia Borgia” in 2008 (starring Renée Fleming) is gone. Mr. Grigolo came across on Saturday as a singer who knows what he is doing. What we heard is what we are likely to get.
There are certainly special qualities to his artistry. He started a little nervously, understandably, given all the talk of his being the successor to Pavarotti, which cannot help him. But once he warmed up, the natural ardor and the rich texture in his voice came through. His is essentially a lyric tenor, able to shape Puccini’s phrases with tenderness and lovely colorings.
Still, his voice opens up excitingly with a ping and power that carried easily on this night, including a C at the climax of “Che gelida manina.” He has said of himself that expressing passion and romance come easily, but he must be careful not to lose control and focus. He mostly found that balance on Saturday. Yet the narrow, quick vibrato in his tone can have a somewhat piercing quality for those who want more warmth in an Italian tenor.
With his youthful looks and physical agility, Mr. Grigolo is a natural onstage, though he seemed overeager on Saturday. This was a restless and fidgety Rodolfo. Still, it is good to have such a giving and talented tenor. There were encouraging moments when Mr. Grigolo showed that he could temper his vocal passion with eloquence and nobility.
The Italian baritone Fabio Capitanucci, making his debut as Marcello, has a robust, warm voice and impressive Italianate lyricism. The American soprano Takesha Meshé Kizart, also making her Met debut, was wonderful as the coquettish and willful Musetta. I would like to hear her in a role that takes greater advantage of the richness of her sound. The hardy young American baritone Edward Parks, as Schaunard, and the solid Chinese bass-baritone Shenyang, as Colline, completed the quartet of wise-cracking Bohemian friends.
The Latvian soprano Maija Kovalevska, an exceptionally moving Liù in “Turandot” at the Met last season, brought her lustrous voice and affecting intensity to Mimi. Now and then in softer phrases, her sound turned pale, and her pitch faltered. Still, she inhabited the role and won your heart.
Mr. Rizzi Brignoli, a regular at La Scala and other houses in Europe, proved himself a stylish Puccini conductor, able to give singers leeway and bend the tempos to the lyrical demands of the score while still maintaining the overall shape and flow.
“La Bohème” runs at the Metropolitan Opera through Feb. 25; (212) 362-6000, metopera.org.
The Metropolitan Opera has not had a season without La Bohème, since 1997-98, which must give Franco Zeffirelli’s production a status in the opera world not unlike Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap in London theater. Inevitably, casts have had their ups and downs, but last year’s, headed by Anna Netrebko and Piotr Beczala, may well have been the finest the production’s lavish sets have yet accommodated.
Only two members of that cast—the excellent bass with a single name Shenyang (Colline) and the veteran Paul Plishka (Benoit and Alcindoro)—returned for the season premiere of Bohème on Saturday night, but the lineup stimulated interest by including a number of promising debutants, including the much touted 33-year-old Italian tenor Vittorio Grigolo.
Grigolo scored what was reportedly a huge success at Covent Garden in London last June in a new production of Massenet’s Manon originally meant for Rolando Villazón. A major profile in The New York Times over the weekend further fueled the high expectations, even noting that some have dubbed Grigolo the new Pavarotti. It bears remembering that Villazon, now in vocal straits, was once heralded as the new Domingo.
A more sensible subject for comment might be the heartening fact that after a long barren period Italy is again producing tenors worth hearing, Giuseppe Filianoti, also currently at the Met, being another case in point. Blessed with good looks and an abundance of charisma, Grigolo made a vibrant Rodolfo in his debut with the company, taking his place comfortably among the three other young Bohemians who share a flat in Paris’s Latin Quarter.
One cannot say with precision exactly why the Covent Garden audience went into ecstasy over him, but it is worth bearing in mind that Manon is not an Italian opera but a French one. Hearing Grigolo on Saturday night, one could spot qualities that suggest he might excel in the French repertoire. He does offer the pleasure, of course, of hearing an Italian sing in his own language. But the voice is not particularly large and it has a flexibility that allows for nuanced control of dynamics, a quality welcome in singing of any sort but especially apt for the French language.
Not that Grigolo made any particular effort on Saturday to call attention to the sheer artistry of his singing. Projecting an ardent image was clearly a more central concern. But the voice sometimes sounded a bit thin and is certainly lacking in liquid tone and sheer luster. The public may yet embrace it, just as they have Andrea Bocelli’s. Time will tell.
Rodolfo’s Bohemian colleague Marcello also benefited from a strong portrayal from a Met debutant, Italian baritone Fabio Capitanucci. From his opening lines about drowning a pharaoh in the Red Sea (on canvas, that is—Marcello is a painter), Capitanucci sang with an engaging, well-formed sound that projected well in the large house. He reacted sympathetically to Mimì’s plight in Act 3 and he comfortably held his own in the duet with Grigolo at the start of Act 4.
Still another notable debut came from soprano Takesha Meshé Kizart, as Musetta. Kizart served notice of having significant Verdi credentials with a Forza Leonora at Caramoor in 2008, and you could hear them in the rich tones of her somewhat darkish voice as she assayed Musetta’s waltz. She was also a lively presence on stage but deserves to have her pay docked for excessively self-congratulatory gestures during curtain calls.
The cast also included Latvian soprano Maija Kovalevska, by now a familiar figure as Mimì, and rightly so. Hers is a brightly focused, youthful sounding soprano, but she displayed the vocal reserves for the role’s more expansive utterances and brought expressive power to the Act 3 aria Donde lieta usci. Edward Parks from the Met’s young artist program was an acceptable Schaunard.
The conductor Roberto Rizzi Brignoli, also in a Met debut, shaped phrases attentively but his tendency to set sluggish tempos meant that dynamism was in short supply. On stage the traffic patterns flowed smoothly under David Kneuss’s direction.
La Bohème will be performed 15 more times through Feb. 25, 2011. 212-362-6000; metopera.org
NEW YORK, N.Y. — It was a night of debuts — led by the promising young Italian tenor Vittorio Grigolo — as the Metropolitan Opera revived Puccini’s “La Boheme” for the first time this season.
But the most accomplished performance Saturday night was turned in by a singer who was new to neither the house nor the production. Maija Kovalevska, a Latvian soprano who made her debut in this opera four years ago, was deeply affecting as Mimi, the Parisian seamstress who falls in love with the poet Rodolfo but is doomed to die of consumption.
Kovalevska’s lustrous tone, the delicate shadings of her voice, and her sympathetic and understated acting made her a memorable Mimi indeed. Her third-act aria, in which she bids her lover farewell, rightly drew a huge ovation. And in the final act, the way she struggled to sit up in bed, smiling bravely, for one final reunion with Rodolfo, was heartrending.
As Rodolfo, Grigolo displayed an attractive, bright lyric tenor voice and acted the part of an impetuous youth with enthusiasm. He would seem to have all the ingredients for a successful career. On Saturday, however, especially in the opening scene, he may have been trying too hard, both in his overly emphatic gestures and his singing, which occasionally sounded forced.
When he relaxed, he offered some thrilling high notes at full volume and, even better, some lovely soft singing. Surprisingly, though, his despairing final cries of “Mimi” over his sweetheart’s body failed to register with the visceral impact they usually do.
Grigolo arrived at the Met on waves of anticipation, heavily promoted by his record company and coming off a triumphant debut at London’s Royal Opera House last spring in Massenet’s “Manon.”
Some of his unevenness may well have been opening night nerves. He has five more performances through Nov. 5 to ease into the role and the new house.
Also debuting were both partners in the supporting couple of quarreling lovers whose story plays out more happily than Mimi and Rodolfo’s. As the flirtatious Musetta, American soprano Takesha Meshe Kizart won the audience’s hearts with the charm and flair of her personality and a potent upper register, including some formidable high notes for her Waltz Song. Italian baritone Fabio Capitanucci brought warmth and a smooth vocal line to his portrayal of Marcello, her on-again, off-again lover.
Supporting players included baritone Edward Parks as the musician Schaunard and bass-baritone Shenyang, rounding out the quartet of bohemians as the philosopher Colline.
Conductor Roberto Rizzi Brignoli, also making his debut, led a performance that dragged in spots, and he didn’t always keep the orchestra in sync with the soloists.
Grigolo is the first in an unusually strong lineup of tenors who will be singing Rodolfo this season as the Met continues to revive its overly lavish but crowd-pleasing Franco Zeffirelli production at every opportunity. In December, Joseph Calleja will make four appearances, then Piotr Beczala sings the role four times in January and February, followed by Ramon Vargas with three performances later in February.
“Passion, romance, nobility of soul: Vittorio Grigolo plies his wares at the Met!”
“He is making his Metropolitan Opera debut this weekend, as Rodolfo in a revival of the Franco Zeffirelli production of Puccini’s “Bohème” in which the tenor —as opposed to the soprano, the stage director or the conductor— is set up to be the star. And Met administrators have been holding their collective breath for a repeat of the extraordinary scenes that greeted Mr. Grigolo’s Covent Garden debut in June” .
“Confident, commanding, with relentless energy pushed to the limit and sustained
throughout, he sounded very much like the robust lyric tenor with a bell-like resonance that the world was waiting for, and he looked the part as well: youthfully
handsome, with an animal alertness” .
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Legendary Swedish tenor Jussi Bjoerling did it in 1938. Thirty years later, so did Luciano Pavarotti. More recently, Roberto Alagna did it, too, in 1996.
On Saturday night, a young Italian singing sensation named Vittorio Grigolo will follow in their footsteps — and hope that the rest of their history repeats for him as well.
Grigolo will appear on the Metropolitan Opera stage in front of an audience for the first time in the role of Rodolfo, the bohemian poet hero of Puccini’s ever-popular tear-jerker, “La Boheme.”
Bjoerling, Pavarotti and Alagna all went on to long and distinguished careers as tenors, starring at the Met and opera houses around the world. Grigolo is conscious of the select group he is seeking to join and thinks he’s ready for the challenge.
“At this stage of my career ‘intimidated’ is not the right word,” he said during an interview after a rehearsal this week. “It’s more like respect — respect for the stage that carries such a history, such emotion, and the sweat of those people who sweat before me on the wood.”
It’s no coincidence that “La Boheme” has served as the vehicle for so many debuts. It’s the most frequently played opera in the Met’s repertory, with 1,217 performances through last season. (No. 2 is “Aida” with 1,150.) Robert Tuggle, the Met’s archivist, says 108 different tenors have sung the role of Rodolfo over the years, led by Enrico Caruso with 55 performances and Richard Tucker with 53. Other celebrated tenors who made Met debuts in the role include Jan Kiepura (1938), Ferruccio Tagliavini (1947) and Giuseppe Campora (1955).
To Grigolo, Rodolfo seems an ideal role because “it combines love, tragedy, fun, lot of colors you can use in your voice. Sometimes, I feel not only like a poet but a painter, like Marcello (one of Rodolfo’s fellow bohemians) because I have these beautiful displays of color, and the four acts give you an opportunity to use them all.”
Rodolfo is also the ultimate romantic hero — tender, passionate, jealous but forgiving — a character that plays well to Grigolo’s movie-star looks and trim physique.
“People are always waiting for the next Rodolfo,” he said. “Every girl would like to go home and be loved by a man such as Rodolfo.”
Grigolo sang the role for the first time in Washington three years ago, after getting some coaching from Pavarotti, shortly before his death.
“It was the last time I saw him, and he said to me, ‘Go to Washington and get the success you deserve,'” Grigolo recalled. “He was a tough guy, a tough critic with everybody. In Italian, we’d say, ‘He had salt on his tongue.'”
Their relationship dated back to 1990, when Grigolo, then a soloist in the boy’s school of the Sistine Chapel Choir, sang the shepherd in a Rome Opera production of Puccini’s “Tosca” that starred Pavarotti. In the Italian media, the boy became known affectionately as “Il Pavarottino.”
Now 33 (the same age as Pavarotti when he first sang at the Met), Grigolo launched his adult career more than a decade ago. He has sung throughout Europe and last spring scored a breakout triumph with his debut at London’s Royal Opera House.
Appearing opposite Anna Netrebko in a new production of Massenet’s “Manon” he wowed the critics and gave the Russian superstar a run for her money in the charisma department. His sweet but substantial tenor voice caressed the vocal line with exquisite delicacy, but he summoned ringing power when needed. And he acted the part of the impetuous, love-stricken Des Grieux with total conviction.
“‘Manon,’ that was my Grand Slam,” the avid sports fan joked, noting that his London appearances coincided with the annual tennis tournament at nearby Wimbledon.
Neatly coinciding with his Met debut is the release of a new album, titled with no false modesty “Vittorio Grigolo, The Italian Tenor.” He also has unapologetically dabbled in popular music, including a recording of “West Side Story,” and has appeared in some unusual projects: “La Traviata,” televised live from Zurich’s train station; and “Rigoletto,” televised from various locations in Mantua, with Placido Domingo singing the baritone title role.
Saturday’s revival of “La Boheme,” in Franco Zeffirelli’s lavish, crowd-pleasing 1981 production, will be the occasion for several other debuts besides Grigolo’s. Conductor Roberto Rizzi Brignoli will be making his first Met appearance, as will soprano Takesha Meshe Kizart in the supporting role of Musetta and baritone Fabio Capitanucci as Marcello. Soprano Maija Kovalevska co-stars as Mimi.