On Saturday July 9, he performed at the Chorégies d’Orange, Samson, the biblical character endowed with extraordinary powers. As a child, the lyric star Roberto Alagna had his own “superheroes”: “the tenors were for me people touched by gracee “, he confides.
He shone as much in the bel canto as in the French song and attracted fans beyond the lyric circle but at 58 years old, he does not forget his childhood nor the beginnings of his career, which have everything of a novel. “I think back to that little boy I was in the suburbs … our only distractions were playing table football, kicking a ball, picking up guitars and singing”, tells in an interview with AFP the tenor, born to Sicilian parents who immigrated to Clichy-sous-Bois (Seine-Saint-Denis) near Paris.
Shy child, he dared not “not even dreaming” to become an opera singer. “For me a tenor, he was a super hero, someone who was not a human, people who were touched by grace”, continues Roberto Alagna, whose idol was Luciano Pavarotti. “I had examples of tenors in my family (…). When my uncles sang there was everything that trembled at home”.
At 17, he met his future teacher, the Cuban Rafael Ruiz. “He told me you are a tenor, and it is the paradise which opened before me”. Later, Gabriel Dussurget, creator of the Festival d’art lyrique d’Aix-en-Provence, and the pianists Simone Féjard, his “little fairy”, and Elizabeth Cooper, will be decisive in his career. “It was like in fairy tales.” Always a fairy tale when Pavarotti signed a dedication to him in Paris in 1985, or when he won at 25 the competition created by the “tenorissime”.
The biggest stages in the world, from Milan to New York, are open to him. More than 35 years of career and 60 roles later, he says he had “reason to dream”: “all that has happened to me is a lot more than I could have hoped for.” Each new role is an event: in December, in the midst of a pandemic and in front of an empty room, the tenor makes his Wagnerian debut in Lohengrin at the State Opera Unter den Linden in Berlin.
He is known to bear criticism badly: his exit from the stage in 2006, in full performance ofAida in front of the very difficult audience of La Scala, due to whistles in the hall, has remained in the annals. Roberto Alagna assures however that he accepts them more than is reported in the press. “Criticism is essential. Afterwards, there are criticisms that are annoying because they are violent and not constructive … Often, we repeat what another says and we create legends. But we have to accept it” , he said.
The singer is so popular that he challenged himself to sing Carmen at the Stade de France in 2020, a project finally postponed because of the pandemic. Lyric superstar? “It doesn’t mean anything, we never arrived. Every night you can fall. It happened to me, I felt it, I was one of the best tenors in the world and then the next day I was the worst”. “We are a bit of trapeze artists; every evening, we do somersaults, there is no net when it cracks. But the important thing is to take risks.”
Her personal life aroused great interest in the press. After the death of his first wife, who died of a tumor in 1994 a year after the birth of a girl, he married Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu and formed a famous couple, before a publicized divorce in 2013. He has been married since 2015. with the Polish soprano Aleksandra Kurzak with whom he had another daughter.
Calling himself a privileged person, he calls for “pamper” the young generation of singers weakened by the pandemic. “They are racehorses!”.