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The Opera News Awards: Vittorio Grigolo
| tenor |

By Eloise Giegerich

Opera News Awards Grigolo hdl 418
Photograph by Ball & Albanese
© Ball & Albanese
Opera news Awards Romeo sm 418
As Roméo in Roméo et Juliette at the Met, 2016, with Virginie Verrez (Stéphano)
© Johan Elbers

VITTORIO GRIGOLO electrifies the stage. The explosive vocal and physical force the Italian tenor brings to his roles captivates audiences across the world. When Grigolo declares his love, it feels insistent, radiant; when he mourns a loss, he is at once tender and devastating.

His passion for singing developed early. At nine, he earned a spot in the Sistine Chapel Choir in Rome, the city of his upbringing; at the tender age of twenty-three, he made his La Scala debut, singing in a concert with Riccardo Muti. But it was his des Grieux in Covent Garden’s 2010 Manon, with Anna Netrebko, that launched Grigolo into superstardom. He was a last-minute replacement for Rolando Villazón, and the stakes were high. The response was rapturous. It was “the most sensational debut to be heard at Covent Garden for some time,” reported The Guardian. “He’s entirely credible as a twenty-year-old uncontrollably in love, and everything he does seems natural, from his impetuous first appearance in the Amiens courtyard to his chilling shriek of despair at Manon’s death.”

This authenticity is what defines a Grigolo performance: when he sings, you believe him. After Manon, he began appearing everywhere, fromMilan and Vienna to Paris and Berlin; in 2010, several months after Covent Garden, he made his Met debut as Rodolfo in Zeffirelli’s Bohème, later reprising the role at the house in its 2014 revival, which included an HD simulcast. As he cries out for Mimì in the finale, gripping her arm before burying his head in his hands, Grigolo’s shoulders tremble in anguish: his is a suffering uninhibited, absolute. As the curtain falls, the audience responds with solemn applause, but when he returns to bow, the ovation is wild. 

Though his recordings have been celebrated—a platinum-selling debut album, a Grammy nomination—it is onstage, live, that the tenor truly shines. With freewheeling energy and bursting enthusiasm, he does not merely sing his roles; he intimately inhabits them. While others act, he becomes.As the lovesick Nemorino in Donizetti’s Elisir d’Amore, performed at Royal Opera, La Scala, the Met and, most recently, Wiener Staatsoper, Grigolo turned up his boyish charm, his emotion spilling out in longing. His treatment of “Una furtiva lagrima,” as heard on a recording of Royal Opera House’s 2014 revival of Laurent Pelly’s production, is colored with shimmering sweetness, his signature sweeping gesticulations communicating a desire rich with hope. 

After his international successes as Werther, Hoffmann and Rigoletto’s Duke, the breadth of the tenor’s artistry came to full fruition in New York’s Roméo et Juliette last season, with Diana Damrau. With pulsing sensuality and distinctive heartthrob charisma, Grigolo’s Roméo embodied youthful passion and vulnerability. Whether bounding across the stage or pining beneath Juliette’s balcony, as in his soaring “Ah! lève-toi soleil!,” he appeared effortless, radically instinctive. His full, vibrant voice climbs and diminishes with nuance yet with overwhelming abandon. His performances are always human, always empathetic; he is never afraid to go beyond the safe. In his quixotic crusade for love, he is nothing short of tremendous.

At forty-one, Grigolo is in his prime. This season, he made his role debut as Cavaradossi in David McVicar’s new Tosca at the Met; this month he sings Edgardo in the house’s Lucia di Lammermoor before traveling to Paris for Rinuccio and Munich for Nemorino. And Grigolo is still gaining momentum, propelling himself toward something even more exciting. We need only sit back and watch.  —Eloise Giegerich 

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