Friday, June 15, 2012

VITTORIO VITTORIA!

VITTORIO GRIGOLO            Concert
Danilo Rigosa, Bass
Daniele Bonaviri, Guitar 
COLOGNE PHILHARMONIE 

© Sam H. Shirakawa


Vittorio Grigolo had no chance to count the house, when he made his first entrance at his concert in Cologne’s Philharmonie on 12 June -- the orchestra had already started the introduction to “Angelo casto e bel” from Donizetti’s unfinished opera Il duca D’alba.  Had he been able to look out at the sparsely filled hall, he might well have turned on his heels.  But Grigolo is a seasoned trouper and proceeded to give his audience its money’s worth.  A tall task, given that a premium seat was priced at 103 euros -- a lot of money for Germans, who justifiably are worried about the escalating monetary crisis.

For the record, it was neither a recital nor a monster concert.  Grigolo sang about a half dozen arias, backed up by the Slovakian National Orchestra, two scenes with basso Danilo Rigosa (who he thanked for being his lifelong vocal teacher and friend), several duets with guitarist Daniele Bonaviri and a batch of encores, mostly Italian pop numbers.  But these facts don’t tell why the house was half-empty for a performer who is on his way to becoming a household name.

It’s hard to get a bead on Grigolo.  Is he a pop singer who can do opera?  Or is he an opera singer who can do cross-over?  The irrefutable recorded evidence that he excells at both doesn’t clarify the matter.  And the manner in which his appearance in Cologne was handled only adds to the confusion.

For starters, there was little advance advertising, that I could perceive, for an event apprently selling Grigolo at the Philharmonie, Cologne’s Temple of High-Brow, not as an operatic rock star, but as a no-nonsense classical artist:  A smattering of street posters here, some discreet ads there.  But the ad that first brought the concert to my attention was a button-pusher: tickets available at a substantial discount. 

What??  Seats going begging for the next Pavarotti? the next Lanza? the next Boyle in drag?  Further, the paltry batch of program booklets available on the night of the concert was snapped up by the first few lucky patrons.  That left the unlucky others having to content themselves with crude photocopies of the numbers page, which listed the repertoire for all his current appearances in Germany (Berlin, Munich, Cologne, Regensburg).  The usefulness of these rattly sheets was compromised by some pregnant pauses between numbers, notably when Grigolo failed to appear on stage because he hadn’t been informed of some changes in the program.  And when he did appear, his performance was seriously challenged by an usher clattering up and down the hardwood aisles waving down spectators to put their i-cameras away.

Would any of this have happened to Peter Lemongello?

Throughout it all, though, Grigolo pressed on without missing a beat, phrasing like de Stefano in his prime, hitting high notes with the all the aplomb of super Mario’s spectacular EM strikes, moving freely around the stage apron and working the room like a veteran saloon singer. 

For one of several encores, he invited any audience member to join him on stage in singing the Brindisi duet from Traviata.  When no takers came forward, possibly because he was speaking in English, conductor Daniele Rustioni stepped up and did double duty, a dud-prone stunt that turned out to be hilarious.  After dismissing the supporting Slovakian National Orchestra, he paired up with guitarist Daniele Bonaviri for a delightful set of Italian pop songs.

His finest moment, though, was not in the lollypop arias from Boheme, L’Elisir d’amore, Romeo et Julliette, Rigoletto nor in the lesser known “Tutto parea sorridere” from Il Corsaro.  It was his idiomatic and tender “Un’ aura amorosa” from Così fan Tutti.  Grigolo a Mozart singer?  Whoddathunkit.

After the concert, he patiently autographed his recordings for a queue of admirers that stretched across the width of the foyer.  The demographics of the line skewed toward women beyond a certain age. 

In all, the evening was a tad bizarre, but if you've witnessed Grigolo’s contribution to a segment on “Dancing with the Stars,” in which “La donna e mobile” was billed as a “Viennese Waltz,” this concert was a paragon of unassailable secernment.  Grigolo is so winsome a performer that the concert was, I must confess, a lot of fun.  Something classical events rarely are these days.

One more thing.  Grigolo is one of a dwindling handful of Italian-born Italianate tenors before the public today.  His breed may not be vanishing, but it has become alarmingly diminished in number and quality.  Grigolo has one concert remaining on his current German tour.  If you’re in Regensburg on 18 July and have the scratch to spring 130 euros per ticket, by all means, go for it. 

And grab a program booklet for me. 


Photos: Courtesy Vittorio Grigolo

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