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LIANE HANSEN, host:

When I interviewed Mexican tenor Rolando Villazon four years ago, his future seemed impossibly bright. He was 31, charming, ruggedly handsome, and he had a rare gift. You could hear it the moment he began to sing.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. ROLANDO VILLAZON (Mexican Tenor): (Singing in Spanish)

HANSEN: It's been four eventful years since that first CD. His career took off like a cork from a champagne bottle. Performances at the world's great opera houses, critical raves, dates with a glamorous soprano, and a natrepco(ph) -concert dates, that is.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. VILLAZON: (Singing) (Spanish spoken)

HANSEN: In 2007, Rolando Villazon reached a pinnacle with a new record deal with the prestigious Deutsche Grammophon label. In March he recorded his first solo record for them, a collection called Cello e Mar, Sky and Sea.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. VILLAZON: (Singing) (Spanish spoken)

HANSEN: Yet all was not well. Something happening in June of 2007. The critics noticed, and so did Rolando Villazon.

Mr. VILLAZON: It was a point where I just, you know, couldn't sing the way I wanted to sing. I could sing, but not the way I wanted to and the way I loved to, forgetting about technique, forgetting about producing sounds and concentrating and creating emotions and the psychological moment of the character. I was concentrating in producing the notes, in being able to reach the high notes. I really need to rest.

I went to the doctor. The doctor said, yes, your iron is completely low. You need vitamins, you need to take five weeks off. And I thought, you know what, I think this is a good moment - not take five weeks but five months - and come back completely full of energy. And it was a moment of going inside of myself and analyzing all these territories I have been through, yeah, in order to come back with a new map.

HANSEN: Yeah. So, you were in concert and you noticed your voice wasn't hitting those high notes. I mean, Placido Domingo's voice has cracked on national television. Did you really think something was drastically wrong?

Mr. VILLAZON: Yeah. I mean, it's, you know, it's just when you are there and, as I say, you're strongly with a voice, this is not what you want. And on the other side, it was not a tragedy, it was not a disaster, it was not happy moment, of course. It was a difficult personal moment, and at certain point I thought this is the end of my career. You know, fast career that just burn out.

That was the dramatic opera tenor in me.

HANSEN: But, you know…

Mr. VILLAZON: Yeah.

HANSEN: …when we talked in 2004, one of the things that you said - and I'm going to paraphrase - you know, we've seen so many singers have an incredible career of three or four years and then, poof, you don't hear of them after five years. It's over. Yeah. Did you think that when you were - I mean, was there a moment that you thought…

Mr. VILLAZON: Yeah.

HANSEN: …this is it. My dream is…

Mr. VILLAZON: Yeah.

HANSEN: …over?

Mr. VILLAZON: I thought probably this is it, yeah. Probably it was - well, at least it was six years, not five, not three.

HANSEN: That's true.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. VILLAZON: No. On the other hand, of course, there was this voice saying, no, Rolando, you're crazy and this is just a moment. And, you know, every great adventure comes with great adversity and otherwise it would not be a great adventure. And in fact in a great adventure adversity, it's not only expected, it should be welcomed. That's what makes it interesting and exciting.

I can tell you the story. I remember when I was in Berlin years ago. At some point, I started having troubles in my kidneys and I said what is going on? So, I went to the doctor and he said, well, you have a small infection. Just take some antibiotics. So I take antibiotics. For ten days going to pee was really painful. It was like torture.

And after that, it was over. Since then, every time I go to the toilet, I actually smile and just to the fact of things working well. You know, that everything is just wonderful, how the system works. Thanks through the pain and thanks through that trouble, I now experience my body in a better way. Well, it's the same story now with my voice.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. VILLAZON: (Singing in Spanish)

HANSEN: It's interesting this was recorded before your break. Has your approach changed? I mean, this CD sat in the vault for a little while.

Mr. VILLAZON: Yeah, well, you know, fortunately, it was recorded in March. Because otherwise if it had been, you know, in December I would not have recorded it. And I know I have to say of course things have changed. I am very proud of the result of this CD.

2007 was a difficult year - it was ups and downs. And this was as up as I could get in 2007.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. VILLAZON: Really it was a fantastic week. I was feeling really, really good. It could have come in another moment and it would have been very painful and I would have been suffering a lot. Because I really - I put a lot of heart in this CD. It's a very important project for me.

What can you say, you know? These things happen and not happen. And, well, it happened that my voice was there and I was healthy and the energy was there and so this is fantastic.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. VILLAZON: (Singing) (Spanish spoken)

HANSEN: The whole CD follows a certain projection. Not only in terms of the songs that you're singing, the titles that you've chosen, but in the way you sing them.

Mr. VILLAZON: Yes, absolutely. And the order was very important. It's about really the momentum of the characters in the love story in the beginning of the CD. As I say it's the construction of the crystal castle. Then in the middle of CD tragedy pops up and it talks about suffering and it talks about betrayal and it talks about all these terrible things that could happen in a love story.

And it's like crystal castle being smashed and being broken. And then you see yourself barefooted and naked walking through the crystal pieces and leaving your blood and your sweat. And at the very end it comes this energetic (unintelligible) from Luisa Miller, which for me was in a way to say but then you have to fight for love.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. VILLAZON: (Singing in Spanish)

The real love story starts when you grab these pieces, these crystal pieces, and you put them together with your own blood and at the end what you create is not this crystal castle anymore - that it's this sculpture, this monument that it belongs more to yourself. It's more truthful and it comes from your heart and your own story. And then this is real love.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. VILLAZON: (Singing in Spanish)

HANSEN: There's one cut on the new CD, "Cielo e Mar," and it's a song from the telling of the Faust story, "Dai Campi," by Arrigo Boito from "Mefistofele." You didn't make any Faustian bargains to get your voice back, did you?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. VILLAZON: I swear to God, no.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. VILLAZON: No devil visited - well, probably some visited me but I didn't see them or I didn't sign anything.

HANSEN: Tell us a little bit about this song. I mean, this is a moment of introspection. What goes through your mind when you hear it?

Mr. VILLAZON: Well, you know, when you think about the character and what comes with it, you know, what comes with it is to be happy with what you have. The things that are gone are gone and you don't expect to have them back. Because even if it would be possible to have them back, there is a price to pay and the price that you pay is that nothing is the same.

I think it's that to concentrate in the actual treasures you have in life. And the treasures you have included the dark clouds and include the difficult moments and the wonderful moment. That's what makes us complete human beings.

(Soundbite of song "Dai Campi")

Mr. VILLAZON: (Singing in Spanish)

Unfortunately we see loneliness or we see tragedy or we see thinks like that as the one thing we want to avoid. But it is with us; it's part of us. And if we condense them into the whole, then we can experience life in a much complete way. Then we can have a much more intense sense of the moment.

(Soundbite of song "Dai Campi")

Mr. VILLAZON: (Singing in Spanish)

And so I think this is what should happen to you when you are singing Faust. Going through the tragedy, amazing tragedy of this character.

HANSEN: Tenor Rolando Villazon. His new CD is called "Cielo e Mar." The title means Sky in C, and it's on the Deutsche Grammaphon label. Rolando Villazon joined us from London.

Thank you, and best of luck with all of the things you want to do.

Mr. VILLAZON: Thank you. To you too.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. VILLAZON: (Singing in Spanish)

HANSEN: You can hear arias from Rolando Villazon's new CD and discover much more opera and classical music on our Web site, npr.org/music.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

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