Romantic hero who's glad he's a popera star

A textbook tenor in so many other ways, Vittorio Grigolo loves to mix up his music, he tells Louise Flind

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Vittorio Grigolo, who blazed onto the Royal Opera House stage as Des Grieux in Manon in 2010, is a text-book tenor: dark, handsome, charming, Italian, vulnerable, naive, and a bit taller than I'd hoped. He's fast becoming the tenor in residence of romantic roles at Covent Garden, singing the title role in Faust, Alfredo in La Traviata and later this week the Duke in Rigoletto.

My first glimpse of "the most glamorous tenor in the world" was auspicious. He'd draped himself against a white wall in his recording company and was just finishing off a photo shoot for Paris Match. "Make them beautiful," he grinned at the leggy photographer giving her three kisses, European style. We settle in a cosy little ante-room where he immediately professes to feeling queasy, as does his wife, the beautiful Iranian-born, Californian-bred, pearly-white-toothed Roshi.

Grigolo was born in Arezzo, Tuscany and raised in Rome. In his biography, it says he discovered his passion for music when he was only four. I ask him how this happened to one so young, and he readily regresses, "I had my first ice-cream." Roshi tinkles with laughter. Grigolo's off-stage personality is the naughty little boy lovingly protected by his wife of three years. She has become Vittorio's personal PR man/ organizer/minder. He raises his eyes to the heavens and smiles, "It's two years that she's bothering me. She's always there."

One hopes the real Grigolo is what you see and hear on stage, and when he talks about his career, the man Grigolo re-emerges. "There are roles that are not matching my character inside, my soul. I'm a hero. I'm a passionate lover. I need that feeling on stage otherwise I'm not going to be able to sing the way I do." At the age of 13, he sang his first role on stage, the little Shepherd in Tosca, "one of the most beautiful and important operas– that was the beginning of me going into the theatre. From that moment, I loved to be in the opera theatre, of course maybe more on stage with the actors than on the other side with the people..."

When he was 17, his singing teacher, Danilo Rigosa, who he still studies with, told him, "You know, Vittorio, I'm going to steal part of your youth because you're going to study, you're going to have to follow the rules, and for two years you cannot be joking around and I accepted that." He committed himself to classical music but found after a few years that instead of his career rising as he felt it should, he was being rejected. "I mean I was always working, working, working. I was always good, but was not seen, you know like no one was looking at you so I needed something to break the egg, which I did with my pop album, In the Hands of Love." He embellishes this memory by saying, "I put myself out of opera because I wanted to bring more people to the opera."

He returned to the opera world, a successful popera singer. Unlike a crossover artist, a popera singer can sing pop and rock but "after one month can be in La Scala or Covent Garden and perform a real opera".

He's a favourite at Covent Garden, singing three roles this season. "Meantime, I'm still planning my career. I have a lot of desires. I want to do fun stuff, beautiful concerts. Maybe in the future do a little bit less opera around the world, choose four or five productions every year for the roles I really want to do and the rest enjoy myself planning concerts, having fun, mix up jazz, pop, opera, rock, mix it all like a big smoothie. My album is going to be Vittorio's smoothie," he sucks on an imaginary straw, "with me pictured next to a glass with rock, pop, jazz..."


'Rigoletto', Royal Opera House, London WC2 (020 7304 4000) Friday to 21 April