Classic FM Meets Rolando Villazón

Rolando Villazón, the tenor best known for Romantic roles, discovers a new passion for Monteverdi.

CLASSIC FM: Rolando Villazón singing Monteverdi? That’s a bit of a surprising combination...
ROLANDO VILLAZON: I was also very surprised to do this project! Emmanuelle Haïm asked to meet me but I kept saying, ‘I don’t know how to sing in the Baroque style and I’m sure I’m no good for it!’ But I went to talk to her and believe me, after five minutes I was convinced. If she’d asked me to sing heavy metal, I’d have sung heavy metal!

CFM: What’s it like to work with Emmanuelle Haïm?
RV: She’s amazing; she’s smart, she knows her music, she’s funny, she’s full of energy, she’s wonderful to work with. I spent hours working with her on every phrase and musical gesture in the Combattimento, and it was fantastic. I learned the whole piece with her and it has been one of the most exquisite musical experiences of my life.

CFM: Has your perception of this music changed?
RV: Yes, there is a very modern sensibility in the energy of the music. For example, in the madrigals you can use either a lute or modern guitar and it still works. The lyrics speak of eternal values and emotions too.

CFM: How have early music specialists reacted to this?
RV: I am sure some critics won’t like it because they might find my voice too rich or too dramatically involved, but I don’t mind. These were the decisions we made and that’s what art is for! But everyone is happy that I’m attracting an audience who might not usually listen to this sort of music. That’s not the reason I did it, of course, but I’m happy if that’s a consequence.

CFM: Did you have to learn any new vocal techniques?
RV: Yes, there’s a particular way of doing trills that’s not like the Romantic way. Also, I thought I should take the vibrato out of my voice, but Emmanuelle encouraged me to keep it in places for effect. She sang along with me and showed me the way it should be. When she sings she sounds like a pop singer – it’s very touching, it made me think of the music in a modern way.

CFM: Will we hear you sing more Monteverdi in the future?
RV: Absolutely! Now I’ve done this I’m desperate to sing Orfeo, and Nerone in L’incoronazione di Poppea – I can’t wait.