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MUSINGS OF A MEANDERING MIND #2 (article first published : 2006-11-5)

In my last column I mentioned my delight at being invited to join East Coast Radio staff at their birthday bash at the Sun Coast Casino in Durban on November 11 where a number of talented musicians are billed to appear. However, tuning in each morning this past week I noted that their promo piece for the event no longer included the Italian crooner, Patrizio Buanne, on the list of performers, so fired off a fast e-mail to enquire the reason. The response was rapid but the news not good: seems the feller has – and no-one is able to tell me why – decided to drop Durbs from his itinerary! What IS it with these musicians? Dashing young Josh Groban did the same when he came to SA to do a promotional tour not that long ago. Still, to balance the disappointment about said forthcoming event, a surprise gift has given my musical heart a great lift. Read on…

If, like me, you’re fond of a genre of music that’s not QUITE opera but nonetheless the kind of Classy Classics which I love to collect – that is, good voices, great orchestras – you might like to try to get your hands on a CD that my daughter kindly brought back for me from a recent trip to London. This is titled In the Hands of Love and features a very versatile chap by the name of Vittorio Grigolo, evidently the latest heartthrob tenor to hit the album charts, entering with two other crossover tenors, namely Russell Watson and Andrea Bocelli, who just happen to both already be firm favourites of mine. I had only to read in the sleeve notes that Humberto Gatica was involved in the mixing of most of the tracks on young Vittorio’s album and I was immediately SOLD! - before I’d even inserted the CD in the player - for I’ve seen this talented man performing in live concerts with the likes of Bocelli, as well as Josh Groban and Mario Frangoulis (who also feature in my personal Top-of-the-Pops category), and I can tell you this: the fellow is one talented classical guitarist!

But back to young Vittorio … Born in Arezzo and later moving with his family to Rome, the lad studied music for five years as a boy at the Scuola Puerorum at the Sistine Chapel, and his voice has drawn inevitable comparisons with The Three Tenors who, like their successors, have mixed opera with pop. It’s a fusion that Grigolo proudly defends as popera, although he winces at the idea that he, Watson and Bocelli are the NEW Three Tenors. At just 28 he refers to himself as part of a new generation that wants to make opera less of an elite art form and is quoting as saying If you mix one sound with another just for effect, then that is debasing opera, but if you use the same breathing techniques and the same colour and sound then you are bringing opera to people who might never have heard it before. And indeed I think he’s hit the nail on the head there in describing just how I myself was drawn to the type of music I’ve come to enjoy so thoroughly in my late fifties.

I was highly amused by this anecdote that I read … Vittorio tells of a comment made by the papal choirmaster, Monsignor Domenico Bartolucci, when he was a young boy. “Vittoria,” he said, “you are like a beautiful Ferrari car, but there is nobody driving.” Then, when he made his debut around a decade later, the Monsignor remarked to Vittorio’s father, “Ah, finally there is somebody in the driving seat!” And it’s interesting to note that this young man indeed had a flirtation with a career in motor racing! This was before settling seriously into opera, with a voice so resonant and uniquely expressive it hauls down the barriers which have sprung up between the worlds of opera and pop.

His father, Remigio, was a tenor, as was his uncle, Emo. Neither took up singing as a career, however. But Vittorio Grigolo made his debut with Rossini’s Petite Messe in a church in Padua, and at the age of 23 performed Verdi arias in a concert at La Scala with Riccardo Muti at the piano. But he also sang in West Side Story at La Scala when the management – to the horror of traditionalists! – were trying out a more popular repertoire.

Grigolo has insisted that his touring programme as well as his recording contracts allow him to continue to sing opera, however. Reportedly, he turned down an offer to join IL DIVO for fear it would compromise his future as an operatic tenor.

He has not yet sung at Covent Garden - but that is something he says he would love to do, adding that he would sing Rodolfo in La Bohème at no charge, that he would do it for free. “Well, at least the first performance!” was what he’s quoted as saying of the idea.

When asked whether the comparison with Pavarotti – he has been known as PAVAROTTINO since he sang with Big Luciano at the age of twelve – irritates or flatters him he responds thus: “It is an honour to be compared to the Maestro but I have only had ten years’ singing experience compared to his forty!”

Right now he’s young enough to enjoy the fruits of his commercial success while keeping his hand in with serious opera, and I can assure you that each of the 14 tracks on “In the Hands of Love” make for highly enjoyable listening, among my favourites being his rendering of Maria from West Side Story, You Are My Miracle, a duet with the marvellous Katherine Jenkins (who I understand took a standing ovation when she presented this year’s BAFTA awards in Britain), and the more well-known Se Tu Non Sei Lei or If You’re Not the One. If you can lay your hands on this CD, published by Polydor in conjunction with Music For A Better World, I’m certain you’ll not be disappointed. - Bev Pulé




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