Cher Public

A pretty boy milking his bows

The late British critic John Steane once said that he had sworn off all Montserrat Caballé performances after seeing a recital where the famously irreverent soprano, in one of her encores, did a caricature of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. (He considered it undignified.) I can only imagine what Mr. Steane would have thought of Vittorio Grigolo. Caballé was merely (perhaps) snarky. This afternoon at the Met, Grigolo sold his performance like the rent was due tomorrow and he was down to his last penny.  

After nearly every number (not just set of songs) he grabbed his accompanist’s hand, raised it triumphantly as if he’d just won a boxing match, and swept offstage dramatically. During one number he let the accompanist (Vincenzo Scalera) play the introduction by himself. Grigolo then snuck onstage through a side entrance and waved his hand in some mime gestures before singing. And this was all in the relatively dignified first half of the recital.

During the second half, Grigolo skirted the line between dignified classical recital and Vegas act. He hugged the piano like a security blanket. He hugged himself multiple times — I guess he really needs hugs. He kissed Scalera’s hand. He blew kisses at the audience — I guess he really needs kisses too. He threw his necktie into the audience. Next went the handkerchief. And another handkerchief. He attempted a Michael Jackson moonwalk. He received a bouquet of flowers, and proceeded to take the flower apart, petal by petal, and strew them over the stage as if he were playing “she loves me, she loves me not.” He clapped at the end of his own numbers, to encourage the audience to extend the ovation. He also made a rambling speech to the audience that in essence said, “You like me, you really really like me!!!”

To give you an idea of the Grigolo show, here’s a clip I found on youtube:

Yet only the most stuffy Beckmesser would sniff at Grigolo’s recital, because all of these antics were done with such an endearing, little boy enthusiasm. You can’t help but love someone who tries so hard to be loved. It’s infectious. Besides, Grigolo’s voice is the real thing. It’s not a popera voice at all. It has plenty of projection, power, and ping on top. The timbre is surprisingly sweet. And my oh my, does he like to show it off! Every phrase of every number had to be filled the brim with vocal effects. Crescendos, diminuendos, floated pppppp’s, vocal ornamentations, Grigolo did it all. If anything all those effects, impressive as they are individually, made for an overall fussiness to his singing.

The program was unpretentiously unambitious, something Pavarotti might have sung in the 1970’s, before he started doing those huge stadium spectacles. A group of Bellini songs, the Rossini ditty “La Danza,” and two opera arias (one from Donizetti’s Il Duca d’Alba and another from Verdi’s Il Corsaro) made up the first half of the program. The second half was devoted to Italian and Neapolitan salon songs. The usual suspects like Tosti’s “Ideale” and “L’ultima canzone,” plus Gastaldon’s “Musica proibita” and Leoncavallo’s “Mattinata” were all there. As I said, every song’s applause was milked with dramatic bows, more bows, exits, and entrances. Barely an hour’s worth of music was stretched to two hours. The encores were “Una furtiva lagrima,” “Non ti scordar di me” and “O sole mio.”

The highlight was probably “Una furtiva lagrima,” which he sang with a considerable warmth and ravishing diminuendos. This combined with his boyishly eager stage persona made me think that he was auditioning for a future revival of L’elisir d’amore, where he’d certainly add some much needed fun to Bartlett Sher’s dour production. But even with those chestnuts like “O sole mio” you realize that Grigolo’s a rarity in the opera world today — an Italian tenor who really knows how this music should go. He knows when to showboat, and when to simply caress the music with his voice.

This was my first-ever live experience with Grigolo, and it made me an instant fan.

Photo: Catherine Ashmore

  • aulus agerius

    He knows how to work a cape too as he showed us in DC in Borgia!

    • DonCarloFanatic

      Loved him in Borgia.

  • Ruby

    Wonderful review Ivy: it catches everything I felt but could never put into words myself. Thank you!

    • Thanks Ruby. I forgot to mention in the review how much the audience ate him up. He’s like that naughty boy in class where the teacher wants to scold him but ends up laughing.

  • Oh, and here’s a clip I found of Grigolo and Angie from a very recent performance:

    • Lady Abbado

      I find Mimi’s hairdo distracting…

      • manou

        Never mind Mimi’s hairdo -- what about Rodolfo’s eyebrows?

        That’s what’s missing from your review, Ivy -- eyebrow report. Were you near enough to scrutinize them?

        • I was near enough to scrutinize the 10 pounds of gel he had in his hair, but I was so busy watching him hug himself and hug the piano that I forgot all about his brows :(

  • bluecabochon

    Damn, now I wish I’d gone! What was the house attendance like?

    • It was pretty good. They did a 400-ticket rush and sold those seats. Also ushers were really easygoing about people moving about, and I suspect those in Family Circle were just told to move down to balcony. But it was a pretty full, happy house.

  • Constantine A. Papas

    There’s a bunch of younger tenors nowadays but one kind was missing: the clowning one! Now, since he was found, we can rest fulfilled and happy. I wish him the best, but his voice does not excite me. But what do I know?

    • squillo2

      I really wanted to like Mr. Grigolo. The voice is extremely well produced, and in his control. It is in the build reminiscent of Alfredo Kraus, and truly Italian in color. But, Grigolo is for me plastic, mannered and totally predictable. I was bored, and not moved once, though impresssed by his technical ability. I also found his “handkerchief trick” a shameless, tasteless and pretentious gesture that we should consider Grigolo an artist of the same stature as Luciano Pavarotti.
      Fortunately, I attended the Mathias Goerne “Schoene Muellerin” earlier this week, so I know I am not jaded, merely picky when it comes to what truly makes an artist worthy to be considered world class.

    • Ruby

      Dear Ivy: from that NY Times review (Vittorio will be surely jumping up and down when he reads it), I would never have gotten the idea how the afternoon played itself out: that came to life only through your gifted story telling. And yes, the audience, including a few usually very serious concert goers I know, ate him up: it was an experience I am glad I didn’t miss! Can’t wait for your next review!

      • MontyNostry

        When was the last time an NYT review of anything operatic gave you a real sense of how the event played itself out?

        • Ruby

          True MontyNostry!

        • Regina delle fate

          Not even a review by the new NYT wunderkind, Z Wolfe, Monty?

          • MontyNostry

            I was thinking mainly of the fatefully pedestrian reviewing by (strapping) numbers of TT, Rdf.

  • Fiesco

    Thanks for your great review. I look forward to Boheme this season.

    But, I loved L’Elisir: LAST YEAR.
    Wonderful production which I saw four times and the HD.

    This year, I have to admit, I snoozed during it.

  • Fidelia

    Ivy, I LOVE your reviews! I always have the feeling I was sitting just beside you in the hall. Thanks.

  • operaassport

    I think Stephen Costello has a better voice and is much better looking. I recently saw him on the telecast of the Tucker Gala. He had been getting chunky and losing his hair. Well, he must have realized it because he looks positively delicious here. Good for him. And his Faust aria was simply ravishing.

    • Costello has a very different voice: a much narrower tenore di grazia. It’s thin and somewhat reedy. But I’ve seen Costello twice and the main thing that hampers him IMO is his terrified, deer-in-headlights stage persona. He just looked terrified to be onstage.

      • operaassport

        I disagree. I don’t find anything “reedy” about his voice. I also much prefer a reserved stage presence to someone who thinks he’s Pagliacci 24/7 acting the clown :)

      • antikitschychick

        I agree Ivy. He has a formidable stage presence because, plainly put, he’s handsome, but I wasn’t so impressed with his performances from the Tucker Gala. I don’t find his voice lyrical enough and I actually think he’d be much more suited to Rossini roles, a la JDF.

        • Cocky Kurwenal

          He doesn’t have the facility or ease at the top for those, antik. I agree though that he falls short of the goods required to take on the full lyric repertoire. I think he’ll have to choose roles very carefully.

          • antikitschychick

            sadly, you may be right. He could certainly work on trying to develop them though. I thought he was very good in AB though he did sound a bit over-parted and not quite “finished” technically at times. I am rooting for him though cuz there is potential there…and he seems like a genuinely nice guy.

            • I saw him twice in AB and both times he looked like he was trying to hide behind the columns. He insisted on singing “Vivi tu” but then skipped many parts of the aria. His voice’s projection is kind of narrow.

              I think his wife Ailyn is the more complete performer.

      • grimoaldo

        I remember that’s what Manuela H said about Costello in the Met’s Anna Bolena, when he (tried to) sing “Vivi tu”, she wondered why they felt it necessary to put the poor boy through such an ordeal when he was plainly terrified. I thought, I bet there are plenty of aspiring tenors who would seize the chance to sing a big showpiece aria from the stage of the Met with both hands.

        • operaassport

          Jealousy, the green eyed monster.

        • Sadly, David Butt Philip was already booked for those dates.

          • Krunoslav

            One of opera’s great names.

            Why hasn’t Sony marketed its new toy as “Vittorio Bubble Grigolo”?

            • Yes, not since Dame Clara Butt married Charles Munch…

    • la vociaccia

      I’m really baffled that you found his Faust aria ravishing. I’m less surprised that you’re focusing mostly on how not-fat he is, but seriously, that Salut was all types of painful. Not one pure attack above middle C, chopped up legato, loud loud and loud above the staff.

      He may have at one point had a better voice than Grigolo. Not the case anymore IMO

  • MontyNostry

    This divo looks like that diva …

    • hahahaha …

      • kennedet

        Poison Ivy, I also enjoy your reviews very much. Would I be out of line to say I also enjoyed La Ciecs’s? Will we be reading both of your reviews as time goes on? Have I come “too late to the ball” again? Inquiring minds want to know.

        • La Cieca usually puts his reviews in the NY Observer …

          • kennedet


          • Sempre liberal

            JJs reviews are in the Observer. La Cieca tends to post here. I do not think I have ever seen JJ’s posts here.

  • mercadante

    Reports indicate the voice and technical standard are notable. The fact that he brings some sunny Latin fun to the proceedings is great and in contrast to the Tuetonic intellectualism of Kauffmann. Probably an event better experienced live than by way of video.

  • Gualtier M

    I just want to say that I was there with Ivy. This was not art, it was performance art. Total self-indulgence. Vittorio definitely has a real voice (The Donizetti arias showed that.) But his taste is sooo bad. But by the end, you just kind of submitted to the over-the-top ridiculousness of it and gave in.

    Art? -- no, Show Business -- definitely. Performance Art -- oh yeah!

  • -Ed.

    The recital sounds perfectly awful, yet most everyone liked it. How curious. Nice review, Ivy, of an unusual event. Were it not for your astute similes, I would’ve been unable to understand what happened.

    • Ed, perfectly awful but lovable is a great way to describe it.

    • oedipe

      The recital sounds perfectly awful, yet most everyone liked it.

      What makes it sound “awful”?

      • la vociaccia

        Pulling the petals off of a flower while singing a song is something I personally find unbearable. And the video of his strutting about singing ‘O Sole Mio’ is not really something i’m into either. I enjoy art song recitals that are about storytelling. I know they don’t have to be that way, and I absolutely appreciate that Grigolo makes an effort to connect with the audience, but based on the description, I don’t think I would have enjoyed this particular recital

      • -Ed.

        Throwing things, prancing and preening, excessive bows, all of which make it sound awful. But apparently it wasn’t awful. I’ve known my share of charmers; endearing people who could easily grate on one’s nerves but somehow don’t. He sounds rather sweet, really. I look forward to seeing his Rodolpho.

        • “It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious”. Oscar Wilde. Charming people can get away with murder as far as I’m concerned.

    • zinka

      I liked his Rodolfo but thought his Rigoletto Duke was nothing special..Not a great quality..and just “another tenor’ who seems to be trying to make a name with all kinds of gimmicks….Who needs it/

  • almavivante

    Forgive my ignorance, but is the so-called disrespectful Caballe encore the Swiss yodeling song she used to do? (I never knew what it was called.) I still recall with great pleasure when she held a note--in pianissimo!--and circled the piano slowly in O mio babbino caro.

    • Yes it was the Swiss song. Steane took offense. But Steane’s adoration of Schwarzkopf rivaled Kenn Harris and Renata …

      • No Expert

        Oh, I thought you meant she pulled out a sketchpad and drew a funny cartoon of Schwarzkopf

      • messa di voce

        I never thought Caballe was mocking Schwarzkopf. She just sang it like a Swiss yodeler, and if Steane thought that’s what his goddess sounded like . . .

        • You can be sure of one thing -- if Montsy made a joke it would never have been nasty intended. There isn’t a nasty bone in Montsy’s body.

    • rapt

      Was it this one, perhaps?

    • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin

      I remember her once doing a zarzuela aria as an encore at Carnegie Hall and pulling out castanets and dancing around the piano. There was also the year she came onstage and announced “We forgot the music at the airport” and proceeded to make up the entire recital. Man,how I miss those annual events! Sometimes she would do 10 or more encores, and one would always be “Svees Song.”

      • grimoaldo

        Some may not realise that there used to be a convention that classical singers would never speak to the audience during a recital or concert, except perhaps to announce what an encore was going to be.
        Caballe was one of the first to break this rather stuffy rule and would merrily chat away to the audience, I remember at a concert at the huge Royal Festival Hall she got snapshots of her recently born grandchild out of her handbag and showed them to the audience although of course they were far too small for most people to see anything.

        • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin

          Another great memory: at her first recital after the renovation of Carnegie Hall, she entered and stood curiously far upstage for a recital. At the first break in numbers, she came downstage and delivered a lengthy monologue about how she used to have her “spot” on the Carnegie stage, how she worried how the renovation might change the acoustic of the hall, and that her spot was no longer there, so she had to find a new one and it was far upstage. She demonstrated by walking around the stage and singing until -- voilá! -- she found her spot.

        • antikitschychick

          lolz what a hoot :-P! Thanks for sharing that anecdote grim.

  • almavivante

    Thank you, all. You’ve brought back such wonderful memories of Montserrat. She may have been a singing armchair, but who cares? I miss her terribly.

    • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin

      I am so excited that she is announced for the Rossini Gala at the Salzburger Pfingstenfestspiele. I wonder what Rossini she can sing at this point. Maybe the “cat duet” with Teresa Berganza?

      • antikitschychick


  • Ruby

    As to Vittorio Grigolo: “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.” Oooops, this reviewer obviously has no idea what panic the organizers must have felt when barely any tickets had been sold still 2 weeks ago:

    • manou

      I didn’t realize that Google Translate was the opera reviewer for the Latino Post.

  • Gualtier M

    However, Grigolo needs a soprano partner -- and I found the perfect one for him. They already know this number:

    He can do his “Corsaro” aria and she get shimmy on “Carlo Vive” from “I Masnadieri”. It’s so perfect.

    • Milady DeWinter

      “Pulling the petals off of a flower while singing a song is something I personally find unbearable.”
      —Vociaccia, perhaps he is the re-incarnation of Emma Calve. According to her memoirs, she used to do that schtick after her (naturally) triumphant rendition of “A vos jeux. mes amis” from Hamlet.

  • zinka

    Sounds like a
    Bonisolli event.”
    What a jerk!!!