Vittorio Grigolo, already saddled with the label “the new Pavarotti”, gave a long interview to the Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera‘s Style Magazine. He talked about his love of motorbikes, Italy and singing. Here are some excerpts:
Who is he?
I grew up with Happy Days and my favourite character was Fonzie; always busy working on a motorbike, the leather jacket, and hands dirty with grease, the vest and the cigarette; I don’t miss the chance of a cigarette every now and then either, and without all the paranoia of an opera singer…
… My first manager was Giancarlo Matteucci, the same as Giancarlo Fisichella [Formula One champion]. I have a 1991 Yamaha R1 Superbike, which isn’t really intended for the streets, but I rode it from Rome to Zurich. Crazy. I felt like Max Biaggi. It all went well until it started to rain, which the tyres weren’t designed for, but I thought, oh well, just a little rain, at least it’s not hail. Of course, an intense hailstorm arrived. I got to Zurich, and my back was killing me, but I need those moments of solitude. They are my Zen moments. To rebuild an old Porche piece by piece, build and take apart radio-controlled helicopters: that’s enough to enable me to face the contracts, the study, and the accountants!
I don’t mind, as it’s a job I love, but it took away my youth: never going to a disco, always travelling; a steep learning curve which, although brief, was crazily intense. When I was 17 or 18 years-old I was singing in the pizzerias of the Veneto region doing 18 concerts in a row. Finally one evening, exhausted, I looked at myself in the mirror and said: if you don’t burn yourself out now, you never will. Cutting your teeth like that makes you grow mentally, and prepares you for anything.
An opera singer, without a microphone, in front of a theatre full of people who, in some cities, are only waiting for you to put a foot wrong, is like a toreador. I’m a toreador in the opera bullring, risking everything each evening for the music that is my life. Inside the theatre I am that opera character, completely, my life becomes that of the character: I fall in love, I laugh, I cry. As an artist I’m generous and it takes me a long time afterwards to recharge my batteries because I give everything. I sing and I act, and often we’re being filmed by high-definition cameras for a dvd or a live simulcast streamed to the internet or cinemas. But outside the theatre all this disappears: repairing bikes and speed are my ways of escaping.
What is Domingo’s secret [for a long career]? There is no one rule for everyone. Each singer who has a long career must find their own answer. There are those who who are burnt out in two or three years, and disappear. Mirella Freni, the soprano par excellence, says that her career was built on her ability to say no. I have cancelled roles when I’ve seen that they’re not right for my voice: I risked singing Don Carlos. The performances went well, but took my passaggio down by half a tone, too much, and then how can you move on to a lighter role like in La Bohème? You can’t stretch a voice like that. So for now no more Don Carlos. I also cancelled Norma in Zurich after I realised, studying the role, that Pollione didn’t fit me, at east not for now. It is painful, but necessary, to say no.
With aeroplanes we’re always on the move, you don’t always find a gym, or the right things to eat, which can be a problem. You have to be always in form, which in the past wasn’t necessary. Beniamino Gigli and Enrico Caruso, the greatest yes?, but they travelled by boat, the pressure was different. And they didn’t have HD video around when they put on an extra kilo…
On Alfredo Kraus
The most elegant of them all, though the public outside the opera world don’t know him. But he wanted it that way, he was a prince. As [Italian comic and nobleman] Totò said “Signori si nasce” [“Gentlemen are born”, the title of a film], and Maestro Kraus was born that way.
For most of the world opera means Italian opera. In other countries this achievement would make everyone proud. Instead with the cutbacks and certain carelessness we find that in addition to the scientific brain drain, there is also a drain of musical talent: to make it I had to leave and go to Zurich. It drives me mad that opera is seen by many youngsters as being no longer relevant, yet it is something that all kids, and I mean all, love without knowing it. Scarface, The Godfather? Opera stories. Pretty Woman? La Traviata. Raging Bull uses the music of Pietro Mascagni.
With the anniversary this year of the unification of Italy, we’re talking once more about our country with a little pride. Until last year if you mentioned Cavour, or Alessandro Manzoni, or Ugo Foscolo, as I like to, you were looked on as being a madman.
And he quotes Manzoni’s ode March 1821 which celebrates the new Italy, from the Alps to the sea: people sharing the same language, the same blood, the same heart.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.