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First Listen: Vittorio Grigolo's 'The Italian Tenor'

Opera fans always seem to be searching, hoping -- in some cases praying -- for the next big tenor. And, frankly, the routine is getting a little tiresome. Critics, publicists and opera geeks are quick to speculate about when the next Pavarotti or Domingo will suddenly pop up from behind the curtain.

The wait may be over.

His name is Vittorio Grigolo. And, seriously, if you have a shred of interest in great opera singing, you'll want to set aside some time to listen to his new album, The Italian Tenor, in its entirety here before it hits the stores on Oct. 5.

Grigolo, 33, is arguably the most exciting tenor to come along since we last tried to crown a new champ -- the superb Rolando Villazon, who had the dark, rounded tones of a young Placido Domingo. Sadly, he's been sidelined with vocal troubles.

Grigolo, in contrast, has the same Italianate sunshine and "ping" in the voice, like Pavarotti did. And somehow that's appropriate, because Grigolo, at 13, made his opera debut alongside Pavarotti himself. And when the great tenor signed little Vittorio's autograph book, he wrote "A Vittorio Primo," a blessing of sorts that foretold the younger singer's rise to greatness. Ten years later, Grigolo would be the youngest tenor to sing a major role at Italy's major shrine to opera, La Scala, in Milan.

The Italian Tenor is a mix of staples from 19th-century Italian opera and a few welcome, lesser-known arias from Verdi's Il Corsaro and Puccini's Le Villi. Listen, in the recitative from Verdi's Luisa Miller, how Grigolo's virile, lyric instrument easily climbs up the high notes and then, in the aria proper, sculpts a aristocratic line with warm, smooth legato singing. It's that kind of fine singing in the Italian style that is heard throughout the disc, and it's a great pleasure.

Grigolo has charted a couple of very successful pop records in Italy, but he's focused almost entirely now on his opera career (including a MET debut coming up in October). And for that, we can all be grateful -- and perhaps a little relieved about finding the next great tenor. Now let's keep our fingers crossed.

The Italian Tenor will stream here in its entirety until Oct. 5. Please leave your thoughts on the album in the comments section below.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tom Huizenga is a producer for NPR Music. He contributes a wide range of stories about classical music to NPR's news programs and is the classical music reviewer for All Things Considered. He appears regularly on NPR Music podcasts and founded NPR's classical music blog Deceptive Cadence in 2010.