By David Salazar, ( | First Posted: Mar 10, 2014 12:48 AM EDT

Vittorio Grigolo performs a solo recital of songs and arias at the Metropolitan Opera on March 9, 2014.
(Photo : Photo: Alex D. James)

For the second encore of his recital on Sunday, March 9 at the Metropolitan Opera, tenor Vittorio Grigolo sang the famous Italian song "Non ti scordar di me (Do not forget me)." It proved to be a rather fitting piece for what was ultimately a truly unforgettable evening.

Grigolo made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera back in 2010 as Rodolfo in Puccini's "La Boheme." Last year he returned to sing a rather explosive Duca di Mantua in Verdi's "Rigoletto" and in a few weeks he will return to the role of the Rodolfo. The tenor's star has risen over the last few years and his performance on Sunday helped support the idea that Grigolo is easily one of the greatest—if not the best—Italian tenors in the world today.

The first half of the program featured works from four great operatic composers; the first four songs were by Vincenzo Bellini. 

"Dolente imagine di Fille mia," which opened the concert, is a lyrical lament that Grigolo sang with a rather soft palette; the pain coming off as internal and secretive as the voice never really soared to its fully potency. The following song was the more lively "Vanne, o rosa fortunata" that showcased the tenor's brilliant and vibrant tone. He utilized a delicious amount of rubati throughout the piece, penetrating a dichotomous psychology that vacillated between joy and painful longing. As the piece drew closer to its finale, Grigolo managed to emphasize the more sorrowful qualities, the joyous emotions seemingly dissipating. The third piece on the program was the painful "Malinconia, ninfa gentile"; from the get-go, the tenor gave the lyrical lines a tremendous sense of urgency, his voice blossoming at the apex of the word "miei." The final phrases of the piece were sung delicately, coloring the text "ne mai que monte traspassero," with almost a hushed weep.

Things seemed a bit uneasy for the tenor in the fourth Bellini selection "Per pieta, bell'idol mio," as he took out a handkerchief and wiped himself throughout the performance of the piece; you could also hear pianist Vincenzo Scalera quietly feeding Grigolo a few lines at certain parts of the piece as well. However, that did not take away from an equally penetrating performance from the tenor. Of the four Bellini works, this was the most outwardly impassioned vocally; Grigolo's voice at its most brilliant throughout the first delivery of the work's two stanzas. The repeat of the opening lines "Per pieta" was delivered with a beautifully hushed legato that slowly built into an impassioned crescendo on the word "abbanstanza il Ciel mi fa." He created a similar effect in the reprisal of the second stanza, climaxing in a riveting high note on "il tuo lo sa."

The Bellini was followed by Rossini's famous "La Danza," a fiendishly difficult piece that moves at an unrelenting pace. During Scalera's flawless introduction, Grigolo moved about, almost dancing to the music and establishing the atmosphere; this was not the tragic ambience of Bellini but the jovial world of the Giant of Pesaro. Grigolo's first note was an impassioned and drawn out "Gia" that almost hinted at a return to the tragic world of the previous selections; however, Grigolo fearlessly jumped into the devilish rhythms. Moreover, he moved about the stage engaging the audience directly. The return of the words "Mama mia" was always delivered with rhythmic variation, adding interesting anticipation at each reprisal. The "frinche frinche" had a comic bite to it while the following "La la ra la ra la" was full of sunny enthusiasm.

For the final two selections of the first half, Grigolo turned directly to the world of opera. He sang an aria from Donizetti's "Il Duca d'Alba" and followed it with a fascinating performance of the double aria from "Verdi's Il Corsaro." Grigolo, ever the terrific actor, was off-stage during the piano introductions to both arias and walked on slowly, fully in character. During the "Alba" aria, he even kneeled down for a moment to take in the space around him. His rendition of this aria had more emotional directness than any of the previous selections; his voice building up a monumental crescendo throughout the first half of the aria before dying away in consummate sotto voce. The second half of the aria followed a similar development, but the intensity of emotion was even greater; Grigolo gave his voice an even lengthier crescendo on the climactic note and sustained a longer diminuendo in the piece's closing phrases that emphasized the pain and sorrow more powerfully. In his interpretation of Verdi, Grigolo was fierce during the recitative, but the phrases gradually melted away to make way for the aria. His singing here was subdued early on but flourished on the words "dell'universo"; the tenor even stood on his tiptoes to support the opening up of his voice. The cadenza at the end of the aria featured a thrilling crescendo on the climactic note. The ensuing cabaletta was passionate, virile and propulsive; Grigolo's voice exhibited a heft that had not been on display in any of the other selections throughout the night.

The second half of the recital featured selections from composers including Francesco Paolo Tosti, Stanislao Gastaldon, Ruggero Leoncavallo, Ernesto De Curtis and Vincenzo D'Annibale. In many ways, the second portion of the program showcased Grigolo's masterful use of his voice even more than the beautifully performed selections from the first half. Each one of the pieces showcased in the second part was a beautifully polished gem in Grigolo's voice; each one with its own flavor and palette of colors. The first two pieces were French songs by Tosti. The first, "Chanson a l'adieu," was sung with subdued vocal textures; the concluding words, "Partir, c'est mourir un peu," sung in sorrowful mezzo piano despite never exhibiting the emphatic pain of other selections. The second French piece "Pour un baiser" was also sung with similarly controlled emotion despite a powerful outburst on the words "souffrir le mal d'amour"; the eponymous words "Pour un baiser" were extended each time, expressing the sense of longing that dominated the entire piece.

The next three Tosti pieces were sung in Italian; they were "Ideale," "'A Vucchella" and "L'Ultima Canzone." Grigolo's interpretation of "Ideale" was delicate and withdrawn, but he had a way with the phrases that made each one wondrous to behold. During the second verse, he made a gorgeous crescendo on the word "Torna" that seemed to stop time momentarily. Right after that splendid moment, the tempo sped up and the piece took on a more agitated complexion; Grigolo's voice soared to a breath-taking high note. On the final "Torna" of the song his voice made a gorgeous crescendo before backing off and dying away like the fading ideal being related in the text. The "'A Vucchela" shifted from a rather hopeful tone to one of suffering; the jovial rendition of the first "vucchela" was a far cry from the impassioned and lengthy swell on the "rusella" in the final verse.

Grigolo really took advantage of any rubati afforded to him throughout this particular piece; his voice managing to spin phrases that felt almost disembodied and otherworldly at times in their lengthy and delicacy. "L'ultima canzone" featured more fascinating rubati (many executed exquisitely by Scalera at the piano) and Grigolo managed to imbue the piece with a sense of desperation and melancholy. The tenor suspended time on the word "Foglia" during its two iterations with a vibrant crescendo; he did the same at the climactic "Rammenta" with a fierce high note. The two final "Ah's" were sung softly and faded out tenderly above the piano's coda.

After the Tosti, Grigolo engaged the "Music Prohibita" of Gastaldon; again he came onstage during the piano introduction. The interpretation was solemn and subdued in its opening stanzas before slowly building into impassioned vocal declamation. The ensuing "Mattinata" by Leoncavallo was intense from the start; Grigolo's reaching climactic heights throughout with his thrilling and visceral high notes that filled the entire theater with sound.

De Curtis' "Ti voglio tanto bene" was another major highlight of the evening. Grigolo's opening phrases were rather potent, but a lengthy diminuendo shifted the emotion to a more hopeful longing before reaching a fiery climax. The second verse started with an elegant rubato that prepped the final emotional outburst of sound; Grigolo's high notes ringing potently throughout the house like cries of despair.

The formal program ended with D'Annibale's "O paese d' 'o sole," a song that lavishes praise on Naples. According to the text and translations handed out with the program, Grigolo and Scalera skipped one of the verses in the piece. The other two verses and refrain were delivered with tremendous intensity; it was apparent that the tenor was relishing the final piece on the program as if it was the last thing he would sing.

But it was not to be. Not with the tremendous standing ovation he received upon the conclusion of D'Annibale's song. Grigolo addressed the audience and expressed his gratitude and love for all the people in attendance. After that he delivered a refreshing rendition of the opera favorite "Una Furtiva Lagrima" from Donizetti's "L'Elisir d'Amore." His voice wept throughout the aria and he delivered a fascinating crescendo leading into the words "M'ama." The end of the first verse was sung with a wondrous diminuendo and trill. During the second verse Grigolo sped up the tempo, creating a more impassioned performance of the melancholic aria. The final two phrases, both sung on the text "Si puo morir," could not be more different. The first one was direct and forte. The second came after a long dramatic pause; silence dominated the theater. It was sung sotto voce and extended on a fermata; the phrase died out slowly in a sublime diminuendo.

The final two encores were the famous "Non di scordar di me" and the even more famous "O Sole Mio." Both were performed with tremendous eloquence and polish; the former was an impassioned plea to the audience to never forget the evening and performance. The second was a treat. Grigolo pretended at one point that he did not remember the text and toyed with the audience during the climax of each phrase, putting off the exhilarating high note until the very end of the song. At one point he delivered the famous trill with fearlessness, rising and descending from the high note with slow speed before going into a full blown ornament.

Grigolo's presence on stage was like no other. He was in full character throughout the evening, never remaining stationary for a second. He moved about the stage and engaged his audience actively, at times even bending down and singing directly to the front row and at other times lifting his gaze to the top rows of the house to interact with those furthest away. His demeanor added to the intimacy of the performance.

Despite being the main attraction, Grigolo was extremely generous with Scalera, treating him more like a collaborator than accompanist (and rightfully so). Scalera was elegant throughout the evening, giving Grigolo tremendous support but also seemingly driving him to greater emotional heights in the climaxes of each song. During a number of Scalera's solo moments, Grigolo motioned to the audience to give the pianist applause; a request that was fulfilled each time. Moreover, Grigolo refused to take a bow on his own; he always wanted Scalera by his side for each major bow and even deferred to him a number of times. He proved to be not only a consummate artist of the highest standard, but a loyal and thankful friend and collaborator.

The performance was a first-rate success on every imaginable level, leaving us wondering why the Met does not make these glorious recitals monthly events instead of one-night engagements each season. 

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