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”. Reviewing his 2016 role debut as Michel in Martinů’s Juliette at the Berlin Staatsoper, Bachtrack summed up his performance as quite simply “an astounding tour de force”.

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, 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 occupied a central place in Villazón’s recent seasons. Since 2012, he has sung 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, as well as at the Festspielhaus Baden-Baden, where he has also sung Belmonte (Die Entführung aus dem Serail), Basilio (Le nozze di Figaro) and, in July 2017, the title role in La clemenza di Tito. The last four of these operas were recorded live for release on Deutsche Grammophon. To crown the 2016-17 season there came the announcement that Villazón had been 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 will take place in 2019.

Other recent operatic highlights 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 abovementioned appearances as Michel in 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 last summer’s Salzburg Festival

An acclaimed concert artist and recitalist, Villazón has also performed with leading orchestras and conductors on concert stages all over the world. In recent seasons he has appeared with, among others, Magdalena Kožená and Le Concert d’Astrée conducted by Emmanuelle Haïm at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris; Pumeza Matshikiza, the pair performing operatic arias and duets on a European tour; Plácido Domingo, the Münchner Rundfunkorchester and Gianandrea Noseda at the Salzburg Festival; and Cecilia Bartoli and Orchestra La Scintilla at venues around Europe. He has also given recitals with Gerold Huber in Germany and Austria, with Carrie-Ann Matheson at the Salzburg Festival, Paris Opéra and Munich’s Prinzregententheater, among others, and with Daniel Barenboim at La Scala, Milan and the Berlin Staatsoper. In December 2017, he appeared as guest artist and narrator on PBS’s Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, a spectacular annual show which is broadcast across the United States.  

Villazón made his debut as a stage director in 2011 with a critically and publically 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 addition to his directorial repertoire is Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, staged in Düsseldorf in spring 2017.

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. With the extraordinary worldwide appreciation of his vocal artistry and growing demand for his unique insights as a director, Villazón has yet another string to his bow – as an author. His debut novel Malabares appeared in Spain and Mexico in 2013 and in German translation a year later, while his second novel, 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.

He 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 seven mature operas under the baton of Yannick Nézet-Séguin. The first, Don Giovanni, was released in 2012, followed by Così fan tutte in 2013, Die Entführung aus dem Serail in 2015 and Le nozze di Figaro in July 2016. La clemenza di Tito was recorded at Baden-Baden last year and is set for release in July 2018. The cycle will continue this summer, when Villazón will make a special appearance as Papageno in performances and a recording of Die Zauberflöte.

Nézet-Séguin, this time at the helm of his Orchestre Métropolitain, also conducted Villazón’s latest album – a selection of French and Italian opera duets, for which the tenor was joined in Montreal by Ildar Abdrazakov. Duets was released in September 2017, one review hailing Villazón’s performance as Faust in the Mefistofele scene as “glorious” and also highlighting his “lyrical, nuanced and at the same time brilliant singing” in the duet from Les Pêcheurs de perles.

His forthcoming engagements include a return to his directorial role with a new staging of Die Fledermaus at the Deutsche Oper Berlin (April to June 2018); a gala concert with Daniel Barenboim, Cecilia Bartoli, Jonas Kaufmann and the Staatskapelle Berlin at the Salzburg Whitsun Festival (May 2018); his role debut as Pelléas in Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande at the Berlin Staatsoper, again conducted by Daniel Barenboim; and recitals with Carrie-Ann Matheson at the Münchner Opernfestspiele, Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival and Salzburg Festival. Next season he will make his directorial debut at the Dresden Semperoper with Rameau’s Platée.