Vittorio Grigolo exemplified the qualities of the crossover genre that exists between classical music and the pop world; he had the lifestyle and fashion sense of Robbie Williams but sang with a voice like Luciano Pavarotti. Actually dubbed Il Pavarottino ("the little Pavarotti") after he performed with the great tenor as a child, he later went on to develop his own mature style and gradually moved away from crossover back toward "pure" classical music.
Grigolo was born in Arezzo and, while still young, moved to Rome, where his talents were noticed at an early age. When he was nine years old he accompanied his mother to have her eyes tested and, hearing someone singing from another room, he spontaneously began his own rendition of "Ave Maria." The singer, the optician's father, was so impressed that he insisted Grigolo have an audition for the Sistine Chapel Choir as soon as possible. The young tenor joined the choir and became a soloist. At age 13 he played the Pastorello in a performance of Tosca at Rome's opera house, where he shared the stage with Pavarotti. By 18 he was singing with the Vienna Opera Company and, at 23, he was the youngest man to perform in Milan's La Scala. He was also the first Italian man to be excused from compulsory military service for fear of interrupting his career.
Grigolo sang in performances of the Barber of Seville, La Traviata, Così Fan Tutte, Faust, and many others before taking a life-changing role as Tony in West Side Story. Sharing the stage with James Gandolfini, he saw the potential of opera to reach a wider audience. After almost becoming a member of Il Divo, abandoned after clashes with Simon Cowell, in 2006 he recorded a solo album, In the Hands of Love, in the genre he called "popera." It features the song "Maria" from West Side Story as well as pop songs like "All in Love Is Fair" and "Bedshaped." The U.K. Official Charts Company's Classical Advisory Panel kept the album out of the classical charts, defining it as precisely 35.7 percent classical (a minimum of 60 percent is required for entry in the classical charts), making In the Hands of Love eligible only for the pop charts. However, it debuted there in the Top Ten and went on to be a big seller, winning a European Border Breakers Award.
After recording West Side Story with Hayley Westenra the following year to mark the musical's 50th anniversary (conducted by Leonard Bernstein himself), Grigolo moved back towards "pure" classical music, performing at a 2008 tribute show to Pavarotti in Chicago and signing with Sony Classical. His first album for the label, 2010's The Italian Tenor, was a deliberate attempt to recast him more in the mold of earlier greats like Caruso or Lanza. Comprising arias primarily by Verdi and Puccini, it was released to mark Grigolo's debut at New York's Metropolitan Opera in La Bohème. In the next few years he continued to perform in productions at the world's big opera houses. He also recorded two more recital albums, Arrivederci (2011) and Ave Maria (2013), which performed well and increased critical buzz and excitement about the future of the young tenor's career. ~ Jody Macgregor