Rolando Villazón - Biography
Through his uniquely compelling performances with leading international opera companies and orchestras, Rolando Villazón has firmly established himself as one of the music world’s most critically acclaimed and beloved stars. He is among the most versatile artists alive today, maintaining successful careers as a stage director, novelist and TV personality alongside his on-stage activities. His singularly beautiful voice and arresting stage presence have prompted widespread critical praise: The Times has dubbed him “the most charming of today’s divos”, while the Guardian called his artistry “as astonishing as ever, fusing sound, sense and gesture in an uncompromising quest for veracity”.
In 1999, Villazón won several top prizes at Plácido Domingo’s Operalia Competition and burst on to the international music scene. He has subsequently performed on all the world’s important stages. His signature roles include Alfredo in La traviata, Des Grieux in Manon, the Duke in Rigoletto, Nemorino in L’elisir d’amore and the title role in Werther, along with Gounod’s Roméo and Faust, Offenbach’s Hoffmann, Puccini’s Rodolfo (La Bohème), Tchaikovsky’s Lensky (Eugene Onegin) and Verdi’s Don Carlo.
Both on stage and in the recording studio, Mozart has come to occupy a central place in Villazón’s career. His Mozart performances have included the title role in Lucio Silla in Salzburg and Bremen; Alessandro in Il re pastore in Zurich, Salzburg, Vienna, Barcelona, Lucerne and Paris; Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni in Berlin, Vienna and at Covent Garden (as well as on tour to Japan); and Ferrando in Così fan tutte at La Scala, Milan. At the Festspielhaus Baden-Baden he has sung Don Ottavio, Ferrando, Belmonte (Die Entführung aus dem Serail), Basilio (Le nozze di Figaro), the title role in La clemenza di Tito and, in a first foray into the baritone repertoire, Papageno (Die Zauberflöte) – these performances were all recorded live for release on Deutsche Grammophon. At the end of the 2016/17 season, Villazón was named artistic director of the Salzburg Mozarteum Foundation’s annual Mozart Week. His contract initially runs until 2023 and the first Mozart Week fully programmed by him took place to great success in January/February 2019.
Other highlights of his work in the opera house include Villazón’s creation of the role of the great explorer Robert Falcon Scott in the world premiere of Miroslav Srnka’s opera South Pole in Munich alongside Thomas Hampson and Mojca Erdmann (January 2016), and his appearances as Michel in Martinů’s Juliette in Berlin (May/June 2016). This was followed by two further debuts, in the title roles of L’Orfeo in Bremen (September 2016) and Il ritorno d’Ulisse in Paris (February 2017), and appearances as Lurcanio in Handel’s Ariodante at the 2017 Salzburg Festival. In March 2018 he gave a concert performance of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo in Budapest, and in May 2018 he made his role debut as Pelléas in Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande at the Berlin Staatsoper, conducted by Daniel Barenboim
An acclaimed concert artist and recitalist, Villazón has also performed with leading orchestras and conductors on concert stages all over the world, including Plácido Domingo, the Münchner Rundfunkorchester and Gianandrea Noseda at the Salzburg Festival; Cecilia Bartoli and Orchestra La Scintilla at venues around Europe; and Yannick Nézet-Séguin and his Orchestre Métropolitain in Montreal. He has also given recitals with Gerold Huber in Germany and Austria, with Daniel Barenboim at La Scala, Milan and the Berlin Staatsoper and with frequent collaborator Carrie-Ann Matheson at the Salzburg Festival, Paris Opéra and the Salle Gaveau, and Munich’s Prinzregententheater, among others.
Villazón made his debut as a stage director in 2011 with a critically acclaimed production of Massenet’s Werther with the Opéra de Lyon. He went on to direct Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore at Baden Baden’s Festspielhaus in 2012 (he also sang the role of Nemorino) and made three further directorial debuts in the 2014-15 season: Donizetti’s Viva la mamma in Vienna, Puccini’s La rondine in Berlin and La traviata in Baden Baden. The latest additions to his directorial repertoire are Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, staged in Düsseldorf in spring 2017, Strauss’s Die Fledermaus at the Deutsche Oper Berlin (April to June 2018), and Rameau’s Platée at the Dresden Semperoper (April 2019).
As further proof of his versatility, in 2010 and 2011 Villazón served as mentor and juror of the UK’s Popstar to Operastar. He regularly presents TV programmes for the BBC and for German broadcaster ZDF, for whom he co-hosted the ECHO Klassik Awards for four years running from 2012, as well as fronting a number of cultural programmes, and he is the host of ARTE’s Stars von Morgen. He is also an accomplished writer – his debut novel Malabares appeared in Spain and Mexico in 2013 and in German translation a year later, while his second, Lebenskünstler, was published in German in 2017.
Rolando Villazón became an exclusive recording artist with Deutsche Grammophon in 2007 and renewed his contract in October 2012. His first solo album for the yellow label, Cielo e mar in 2008, was followed by Handel Arias and, in subsequent years, discs entitled Mexico! and La Strada/Songs from the Movies. In 2012, Deutsche Grammophon named Villazón its Verdi ambassador and he recorded Villazón Verdi, a homage to the great Italian composer in his 200th-birthday year (2013). January 2014 saw the release of an album of Mozart concert arias for tenor, recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra and Sir Antonio Pappano. In October 2015 Deutsche Grammophon released his Treasures of Bel Canto, a vivid exploration of the little-known song repertoire of four great Italian opera composers in orchestrated arrangements, with Cecilia Bartoli as guest artist.
For his next studio album, Duets (September 2017) Villazón joined forces with bass Ildar Abdrazakov to record a selection of French and Italian opera duets, accompanied by Yannick Nézet-Séguin at the helm of the Orchestre Métropolitain. Then the singer fulfilled his long-held dream of recording a Christmas album. Released in November 2018, Feliz Navidad features a traditional and uplifting mix of carols, folk songs and ballads in the five languages in which he is fluent.
Villazón has also recorded La traviata, La Bohème, an album of duets (all with Anna Netrebko) and Werther, as well as various DVDs, including Manon, Roméo et Juliette, The Berlin Concert: Live from the Waldbühne and L’elisir d’amore. In 2012 he embarked on a project to record Mozart’s mature operas with Nézet-Séguin. The first in the series, Don Giovanni, was released in 2012, followed by Così fan tutte in 2013, Die Entführung aus dem Serail in 2015, Le nozze di Figaro in 2016 and La clemenza di Tito in 2018, with Die Zauberflöte scheduled for release in August this year.
His forthcoming engagements include a reprise of the role of Pelléas at the Staatsoper Hamburg (November 2019); an appearance at the Barenboim Festival in Buenos Aires (August 2019); a return to his directorial role with L’elisir d’amore at Leipzig Opera (autumn 2019/spring 2020) and Bellini’s I puritani at Düsseldorf (December 2019/January 2020; Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at Carnegie Hall with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Nézet-Séguin (April 2020); and a seven-city European tour of L’Orfeo with L’Arpeggiata and Christina Pluhar (May 2020).