• Our Second Exclusive Mini-Interview with Roberto Alagna

    In 2015 Opera Lively extensively interviewed the great tenor Roberto Alagna, in one of our most interesting pieces to date. That must-read article can be consulted by clicking [here]. On January 25, 2018, we had the pleasure of meeting the singer again, backstage at the Met in his dressing room, after his extraordinary performances of Turiddu in Cavalleria Rusticana, and Canio in Pagliacci. Our review of the show can be read [here], with many production pictures.

    Roberto was extremely kind to Opera Lively, agreeing with a mini-interview of about ten questions and some follow-up dialogue, in spite of the fatigue of two strenuous roles back-to-back, and a very long line of fans who were eager to get an autograph and a selfie with the artist. We voluntarily kept the interview short because it was past midnight, but Roberto gave us no sign that he wanted to rush it through, and most likely would have answered more questions if we had asked them.

    While we waited for him to be done with his fans, it was very interesting to be sitting there and witnessing Roberto addressing each fan in his/her native language. We heard Roberto speaking fluently in English, Italian, French, Sicilian, Spanish, and Romanian! He was warm and welcoming to everybody; Roberto is not only a fabulous singer, but also a very nice man, always with a positive attitude.

    As part of the same trip to the Met, we also interviewed Roberto's lovely wife Aleksandra Kurzak. This is another must-read piece; Aleksandra is incredibly charming, smart, and courageous in her answers, not measuring words to express her views. Read it by clicking [here].

    We won't this time include our usual paragraphs of information about the artist, because about Roberto they've been provided already in our other article referenced above, so without further ado, let's read his answers. At the end, we inserted some other comments about his new album Malèna, and about a French documentary showing his childhood and his beginnings.

    The Exclusive Opera Lively Mini-Interview with Roberto Alagna

    This is Opera Lively's interview #247. All rights reserved. Reproduction in full is not authorized without consulting us first (scroll down and use the Contact Us form). Brief excerpts are allowed as long as the source is quoted and a link to the full article is provided. Questions by Opera Lively chief editor Luiz Gazzola.

    Luiz Gazzola for Opera Lively - Tell our readers about Turiddu’s psychology. He seems to be a bit self-destructive, no?

    Roberto Alagna as Turiddu in Cavalleria Rusticana at the Met, photo credit Metropolitan Opera / Ken Howard

    Roberto Alagna - No, not at all; he is a nice guy, Turiddu. He was in love with Lola from since they were children. They promised to each other to be husband and wife. When he returns from war, so happy to see Lola again, he finds her married to someone else. He feels betrayed. After that, sure, he tries to have a new life. He is very attractive, and all the girls in the village want to catch his attention. But the problem is, when you are feeling this first love, it is difficult to let go.

    He is very noble, also, because he says to Alfio “I made a mistake, I was wrong, but I’ll be obliged to kill you, because I don’t want to leave Santuzza alone.” I think it is very, very moving, because this character is the real victim of the story. He is a victim of the situation.

    OL - Are there vocal challenges in this role?

    RA - In Cavalleria? [laughs] Yes, from the beginning! The “Siciliana” is one of the most difficult arias, because you are backstage with a very cold voice, and you have to sing very high tessitura. It is a very dangerous tessitura because it is all the time in the passaggio, with top notes. You start directly with a C and F then A-flat, A-flat, A-flat, and you sing the entire aria on this line. Last show, Yonghoon Lee, the tenor, came here and said “I don’t know how you can sing so easily this difficult aria; we are all afraid of it and you just open your mouth and it comes so effortlessly!” Everybody is afraid of this aria. But the particularity is that I sing this aria in the Sicilian language, and it is nice for me because I remember a lot of things from when I was a child.

    OL - Yes, that’s the next question I had in mind: is this opera particularly important to you because it depicts a snapshot of Sicilian life, the land of your ancestors?

    RA - Yes, sure, sure. In fact both operas are in the Southern part of Italy; Sicily and Calabria. Sure, you are all the time moved when you know everything about this country and its mentality. I’m moved because my family was from there, and I love Sicily. You know, it was the first language I learned, because at home it was our language.

    OL - What about Canio? What can you tell us about his tortured psychology?

    Roberto as Canio in Pagliacci at the Met, photo credit Metropolitan Opera / Ken Howard

    RA - It is the psychology of an artist, first of all. When he sings “Ridi Pagliaccio” every artist can identify himself in this aria, because everybody has private problems, but you have to sing and act because the show must go on. People paid the tickets and you have to give everything to the audience, regardless of having a family member dying, sick children, or any other mess.

    The very interesting thing about Canio is that this man is in trouble. He has some sort of complex within himself. He doesn’t know if he is a real man, a good husband, because he spends all this time with this troupe, traveling to perform around the country. In the Commedia dell’Arte, this character, Pagliaccio, is totally different from Arlecchino and Colombina. He is a guy with amputated hands, always dressed in white, who doesn’t move. He doesn’t make decisions and has no initiative. He is all the time a little bit stupid, a little ridiculous.

    Maybe because he is a real artist, he doesn’t know the limits between reality and fiction. During the entire opera, he is all the time thinking, “am I a man, or not? Or am I Pagliaccio? Am I Canio, or Pagliaccio?” He says, “If this happened in real life, Canio would do this, but Pagliaccio does that.” He is always talking about “la vita” and “lo spettacolo” - so it is very important to say at the end “la commedia è finita!” At that moment he decides that he is a man, and is no long Pagliaccio; he doesn’t play anymore.

    OL - Vocally, is this role less difficult than Turiddu’s?

    RA - Both are difficult. To sing both on the same night is a big challenge. The only one who sang both characters his entire life was Beniamino Gigli, because he had this wonderful voice with very easy emission. He was maybe the only one who sang these two operas together for his entire career.

    OL – Until Roberto came along!

    RA – I don’t know, I sang many times the two roles together. I also sang Cavalleria together with La Navarraise the same night, and I sang La Navarraise together with Le Dernier Jour d’un Condamné. They are very difficult. But I like to sing both, and I’ll explain why. When you sing just Cavalleria, you put out a lot of sound, and sometimes you lose the sensitivity of the character, and you lose the bel canto line. When you sing Pagliacci alone, it is the same, you put out too much drama to be in the verismo, and it is not elegant regarding the musical line. When I have to sing both I am very careful. I give everything that I have, but I try to keep the elegance and to be fresh at the end of Cavalleria to be able to start again the other character. This is very important for me, to sing both.

    OL - Is it hard, acting wise, to shift from the gentler Turiddu to the bitter Canio, the same night?

    RA - Yes, because it is difficult, when you die on stage, and then you are reborn. When you die on stage you feel like you’re finished for the night, and it is very hard to then go to another character, and a very different one at that. You have to start another opera, and these two operas are very powerful. For me Canio is comparable to Otello. It’s the same, you know? It is very dangerous. You can break your voice with Canio, just with the entrance, if you are not careful. It’s a lot of noise: big orchestra, big chorus, everybody singing, and you need to sing in the middle of this big, big sound.

    OL - You stab your own wife [Aleksandra Kurzak] to death in this production, and you’ll be killing her again in Otello in March in Vienna… how weird is it?

    Roberto chasing Aleksandra with a knife in Pagliacci - Photo Credit Metropolitan Opera / Ken Howard

    RA - You know, it’s our life. Our whole life is like this. We are always happy to die on stage because we know that after that we are alive again and taking the applause. This is the beauty of our profession. You can experience these strong feelings without consequences. And the best music in opera is when you die! [laughs] The composers come up with beautiful music for the dying scenes. It’s the same in Lucia; one of the most beautiful pieces of music is when Edgardo dies, and it’s the same for Lucia with the Mad Scene. In Werther, in Otello, it’s the best music.

    OL – Yes, the whole sequence when Desdemona is preparing to die is sublime.

    RA – Exactly. We do like to kill and die on stage. [laughs]

    OL - It is nice that your latest CD album was called Malèna, after your daughter’s name. Tell us about the musical selection for this album, which includes seven songs composed by your brothers David and Frederico.

    RA – I like sometimes to do what they call crossover. For me, it’s all music. It’s not different, for me. When you receive a beautiful gift from God, from Nature, I don’t know, you have a mission of touching as many people as you can. If people are not sensitive to opera, you must touch them with something else. This instrument [points to his own throat] is like a violin. Imagine if someone said, “I have this beautiful violin but I will only use it to play Mozart and nothing else.” You have to play everything, because it is music, with its harmonies meant to touch people.

    It is the same with this kind of repertoire. Every time I sing this kind of repertoire I am very serious. I work the style. When I sing Luis Mariano I try to be very close to Mariano’s style. The same when I did “Little Italy” with a lot of crooner songs, Sinatra, or Dean Martin. I try to study and be very believable in this repertoire too.

    This album is Sicilian. It’s what I have in my blood. I am by blood 100% Sicilian because both my parents were from there. I feel this repertoire inside of me.

    When Aleksandra was pregnant, my brothers sent me a song, just a love song, with the music that is now the song Malèna. When I heard the song, I said to my brothers “I hear different words.” They said “OK, write it up, then.” Then I wrote Malèna because she was my child, and at that moment I was very, very moved by this situation of being a father again. And now when I see my Malèna, she is exactly the girl I described in the song. It’s amazing.

    OL - Very nice. We last interviewed you in February of 2015, almost three years ago. Now I see a big career step: you are in Lohengrin at Bayreuth!

    RA – [laughs] Yes, yes. It’s a big challenge for me because I never sung an entire opera in German. For me, today, it is not so easy to remember the words in German. But the music is wonderful. They called two or three times, and every time I said “no, no.” After that Bayreuth called me again, maestro Thielemann called me again, and then Aleksandra told me “if you don’t do this for you, do it for me.” And because I love her, I will try to do that. [laughs]

    OL - At the time in 2015 we spoke extensively of your brother David Alagna’s opera Le Dernier Jour d’un Condamné. I see that it was recently given again, at Opéra de Marseille, in September/October 2017, with you in the title role. Is he composing more opera?

    Roberto Alagna and Adina Aaron in Le Dernier Jour d'un Condamné at Opéra de Marseille - photo credit Christian Dresse

    RA – Yes, he is in the process of composing something else, now. But you know, it is not easy to create something, because all the time you need a lot of money. The theaters are often afraid of new compositions. I think it is also a problem for him to be seen as my brother. It’s not easy.

    In any case, he is very talented. For me, Le Dernier Jour d’un Condamné is one of the best contemporary operas. Everywhere where we played it, we had huge, huge success. It’s wonderful music, and a wonderful story. In my opinion he made a masterpiece. He was very young when he composed it, but you have everything in it: the maturity of a great composer. It’s a little bit like Cavalleria Rusticana: it was for a competition; it was Mascagni’s first opera, and today we can compare that to Carmen, because even though it is a very short opera, you have like in Carmen one hit after the other. It’s wonderful. I think David made something not quite like Cavalleria, but for a first opera, I think it is one of the best contemporary operas today.

    OL – Yes, I saw it, and it is very good. Is it coming to the United States, by any chance?

    [The opera is complete on YouTube in a production done in Avignon, Southern France:]

    RA – I would like to do it here, because as you know the opera has a double story line. The male character is French, but the female one is American, and it would be nice, because we would be doing a version in which everything she sings is in English. Maybe one day, I hope.

    OL – Well, I don’t want to keep you for too long, late at night like this after a double bill performance. Thank you for accepting this interview in these circumstances.

    RA – You’re welcome. I just read your interview with Aleksandra and it is really nice.

    OL – Well, it’s her merit; her answers were wonderful.

    RA – Thank you. I hope to see you again next time we are here.

    OL – Absolutely!


    This is a touching story, from a guy I like very much. We learned from Roberto's wife, soprano Aleksandra Kurzak, that she got pregnant with their daughter Malèna during a run of L'Elisir d'amore (she added that the love potion did work, hehe!). You've just read Roberto's reference to how he wrote the lyrics to the Malèna song.

    So, the song is in Roberto's mother tongue Sicilian (both his parents were Sicilians and the dialect was the language spoken at home), and he says his daughter's name also in the diminutive form employed in Polish, the native language of the child's mother Aleksandra.

    It is a lovely song in the Sicilian tradition. Let's listen to it:

    Here are the touching lyrics, translated into English:

    Little girl, I’m waiting for you...
    Little girl, I’m hoping for you…
    You have already taken hold of my life!
    My days and my nights - little love -
    I spend them with you,
    And I apprehend this new felicity!
    Little girl, you are beautiful,
    Little girl, you are holy,
    And you have already stolen my heart!
    And a fire of love sets me ablaze
    When I think of you
    and again see myself as a papa!
    When Mummy and I embrace,
    - Malèna, little Malèna -
    ... I hear you sigh...
    My tiny one, gradually
    You appear in this life
    Like an angel dressed in sunshine!
    - Little breath, soft and scented…
    Cute almond-shaped eyes -
    ...With the day you are being born!
    Very gently, a tear flows in my heart…
    This new bother no longer leaves me:
    One fine day, far, far off,
    Malèna ... twenty ... you’ll be twenty!
    I open my eyes and find
    myself even older…
    - Malèna, little Malèna -
    And you call me: “ Papa! ”…

    His new album Malèna for DG includes the title song and 16 other songs in the Sicilian and Neapolitan styles, 7 of them composed by his brothers David and Frederico.

    David Alagna, for those who don't know him, is the excellent composer of the contemporary opera Le Dernier Jour d'un Condamné, which has deserved several productions already in several European cities. I saw it, and it is pretty darn good; I must agree with Roberto when he says it is a masterpiece.

    Roberto's multicultural heritage is well expressed in this extraordinary documentary done a few years ago, a must-see for those who speak French, about his humble beginnings in a suburb of Paris, up to his stardom as one of the most prestigious tenors in the world:

    This documentary has some amazing scenes, such as his encounter with his, now, 82-year-old first voice teacher (who still plays the piano very well). We also get to visit the garage where he was born, and we see old home footage of Roberto as a child, playing the accordion at age 5. We get to meet the entire family - his father, mother, sister, and two brothers.

    What an interesting life! I'm glad for him that he is so happy these days, with his adorable wife and young daughter - not to forget that he is now a grandfather (his older daugher Ornella, from his first - deceased - wife, is now a mother too).

    To finish, let's listen to Roberto and Aleksandra singing together. This 20-minute French TV show starts with the couple singing the most famous stretch of The Merry Widow then later each sings on his/her own a couple of other arias.


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    Bookmark our site and come back for more - several new and exciting interviews are always coming to Opera Lively. Some of the best recent ones can be consulted in our Home page. By clicking on the widget on the upper left corner of the Home page and on the + sign next to Exclusive Interviews, you will have access to all the others, with many opera luminaries such as Anna Netrebko, Piotr Beczala, Juan Diego Flórez, Diana Damrau, Joyce DiDonato, Danielle de Niese, Roberto Alagna, Elina Garanca, etc.
    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
      Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) -
      This beautiful photo of Aleksandra and Roberto was taken at the time and place when/where the above interview happened.

    1. MAuer's Avatar
      MAuer -
      As always, a great interview that really allows the artist to share his ideas, experiences, and feelings with the reader.

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