Vittorio Grigolo is not one of those old-time artists.
When he chats and smiles he seems like a living commercial for a whole new concept of opera, open to the world, that has shaken off the dusty patina of ancient solemnity.
Newspapers all over the world are raving about his triumphs at the Metropolitan, Covent Garden and La Scala.
Everyone is enchanted by his extraordinary voice - they call him the «new Pavarotti» - but also by the overwhelming passion he brings to his exhibitions. «I make the audience sing. Always. Now people go to the theater not so much to hear a specific aria but to enjoy the artist, his stage presence and acting style» he tells Panorama with the pride of one who learned his trade by singing for his supper in the Veneto region's pizzerias.
That was long ago. And far away.
Just as far away as the pop temptations that a dozen years ago brought him before the guru of world discography and inventor of X Factor, Simon Cowell. «He offered me the opportunity to become a member of the Divo, a group of pop tenors.
I recorded a couple of songs, including a cover for Mariah Carey, then I decided not to go on with that adventure. You can't abandon the opera system. If you stay out of the circuit for a year, you have to work five to recover what you've lost. It was all wonderful, but if I'd accepted it would have been the end of my career as an opera singer».
That didn't happen and now Grigolo (who just finished recording his new album, Ave Maria, in London, and is scheduled for a recital all his own at La Scala in January) is enjoying the unanimous praise of the critics and the undeniable benefits of a network of exceptional contacts ranging from cinema to fashion and the big names in TV.
«Opera doesn't really pay much from the economic standpoint, but it is an excellent entry to the places that count. For example: my friend Franca Sozzani (director of «Vogue Italia», ed.note) made it possible for me to meet Anna Wintour. Before my exhibition at the Met, Anna wrote me the nicest email: "I can't wait for New York to discover you, they'll all be at your feet". For that show she also asked Oscar de la Renta to send a bullfighter's cape from Madrid for me to wear during Nessun dorma. Done deal. Anna and I also share a passion for tennis and we're big fans of Roger Federer».
His meeting at Windsor with Prince Charles was no less memorable: «I greeted him with a "Hi Charles, how's it going?". And handed him my CD with a dedication to him and Camilla. My wife scolded me for not using the formal expression "Good evening, Your Highness", but he wasn't annoyed and at the end of the official dinner he said: "Vittorio is the only one who can get up and go before me: tomorrow evening he is singing at Covent Garden."»
From royal luxury to the comforts of the Eos, the legendary yacht owned by Barry Diller, husband of Diane von Fürstenberg and managing director of InterActive-Corp, the media group that owns the Expedia and Tripadvisor brands. «I felt like the right person at the right time.
On board, among the guests, were Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King, who presents the Gayle King Show. We had a ball: between the wine, the prosciutto and the mozzarella, I had everyone singing and dancing.
It was a joy to hear Oprah belting out Torna a Surriento and Arrivederci Roma. She was so thrilled she starting filming everything with her iPad. She even added: "Vittorio I want you on my show".
There, an address book with these kinds of contacts is worth all the cachets in the world.
"Understand? I call and people at this level answer right away. What more could I want?"
Maybe a future as an actor. «Look, in a few hours I'm going to dinner with Laurence Bender. Who's he? Just the producer of two of Quentin Tarantino's masterpieces: Pulp Fiction and Inglorious Basterds.»