On Music Matters this week Tom Service catches up with one of today’s hottest opera stars, the irrepressible tenor Rolando Villazón.
Born in Mexico City, he began his musical studies at the National Conservatory of Music before entering young artist programmes in Pittsburgh and at San Francisco Opera. It was as the winner of several prizes at Plácido Domingo’s “Operalia” Competition in 1999 that he first burst onto the international music scene. He made his European debut that same year as Des Grieux in Massenet’s Manon in Genoa, swiftly followed by further debuts at what would become two of his future artistic homes: the Opéra de Paris and the Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin.
He’s made several successful appearances at Covent Garden and enjoyed critical success with recordings of Verdi, Puccini and Handel, but he’s also widely knows as one of the judges on ITV’s recent Popstar to Operastar, and even as a knitted character in Harry Hill’s TV Burp. Unafraid of courting controversy in his endeavours to popularise opera he’s faced something of a critical backlash in recent years as he’s struggled with physical problems, undergoing an operation to remove cysts from his vocal chords.
Tom visits Rolando at home in Paris and encounters the full force of his irresistible energy and multi-faceted personality - trained clown, student of philosophy, virtuosic cartoonist, committed father and operatic superstar; He explains how he wants opera to be thought of as an essential human experience rather than a closeted museum of culture and how his performances try to tap the deep truths of the characters he's portraying. He describes how it feels when a performance lifts off in a unique wave of emotion and defends his appearance on Popstar to Operastar as part of his mission to commit completely to whatever he's engaged in.
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