Vittorio Grigolo is a man in demand. From the Met to La Scala, the finest opera houses around the world clamor to have his voice resound through their halls, and he's one of the handful of rising tenors to have been touted as "the next Pavarotti."
That's a heavy comparison to live up to, but as Grigolo tells Weekend All Things Considered host Guy Raz, he is thankful just to be mentioned in the same breath as the late opera star, who has long been his idol.
"People need heroes, in music and every aspect of life," he says. "When a great star and a hero like Luciano is missing, people want always to find somebody else to deliver."
He adds, "It's nice because it's not [just] 'the next Pavarotti' — it is 'Vittorio Grigolo will be the next Pavarotti.' They don't forget my name."
Like his hero, Grigolo loves performing work by Italian composers. His first solo album of operatic material, authoritatively titled The Italian Tenor, is just that — a sampling of the great works of Verdi, Puccini and Donizetti. He says his approach was not unlike that of a painter's to a new canvas.
"I had opportunity to color this beautiful landscape," he says. "I have all the colors to make all the little shades. My body and my voice is ready now."
Grigolo began his rise to fame early. At 23 years old, he made his debut at La Scala — the most storied opera house in the world, which opened its doors when America was still in the throes of the Revolutionary War. It was a banner day in the budding star's career.
"The president of Italy was there," recalls Grigolo. "Press, flowers all over. The stage — big, huge. This little piano, the excitement, adrenalin, the sweat."
The performance, however, wasn't without its hiccups: Just before he went on, Grigolo realized he didn't have the correct score with him. With no time to waste, he was pushed on stage and instructed to look on with the woman next to him. The quick fix caused a little confusion.
"I had to look at her score, but from the TV, it looks like I was looking at her breasts," Grigolo says laughing. "My mom said, 'What's going on? He's not even singing! He's looking at the breasts of the girl.'"
Plenty of tenors have started young and risen to fame quickly, sometimes taxing their voices and bodies to the point of burnout. Grigolo says he's been extremely wary of subjecting himself to the same strain: "You cannot stretch, stretch, stretch. It's like a spring: When you pass the maximum point, the spring won't come back anymore."
That said, he's excited to keep developing his instrument. "I think voice is like a good wine," he says. "If you work it well, it will mature."