Askonas Holt is delighted to welcome Albanian tenor Saimir Pirgu to its roster for worldwide management. Regularly appearing at The Metropolitan Opera, Royal Opera House, Teatro alla Scala, Wiener Staatsoper and other international houses, Saimir is celebrated for his interpretations of the major lyric roles.
The current season will see him sing Macduff (Macbeth) at Bayerische Staatsoper, Ruggiero (La rondine) at Deutsche Oper Berlin, and Pinkerton (Madama Butterfly) at Opernhaus Zürich. He also makes a series of role debuts including Hoffman (Les contes d’Hoffmann) in a new production for Opernhaus Zürich.
We caught up with Saimir at home in Verona after a busy summer singing in Naples, Rome, Bolzano and Salzburg:
Making your debut, aged 22, under the baton of Claudio Abbado was an extraordinary start to your career. What have been your musical and personal highlights since then?
I find it difficult to talk about my life, and above all to look back. When I left Albania dreaming of singing at theatres like La Scala, The Metropolitan Opera, Covent Garden, Wiener Staatsoper, I did not imagine that that dream would come true and that these theatres would become such big parts of my life.
Who would have thought of singing with so many different conductors? Abbado, from my debut; Riccardo Muti, Nikolaus Harnoncourt or Mariss Jansons… and how can I forget the debut in Covent Garden and the wonderful collaboration over the years with Antonio Pappano.
In the middle of my journey I had the opportunity to share the stage with amazing colleagues, to learn to interpret and act with directors from Zeffirelli to Deborah Warner to Woody Allen and sing with orchestras such as the Wiener Philharmoniker, Chicago Symphony or London Symphony.
The search for quality and artistic depth has always been a focal point in my life – especially now with the new roles that I am singing, and with the others that I will slowly discover and add to my repertoire. I have always been guided by curiosity and musical instinct – new roles and new debuts will become my next worlds to explore.
Who is your vocal idol, and why?
In the heritage of our operatic culture there is an unlimited variety of successful tenors who have all made history: some for their vocal quality, some for their vocal technique and some for the longevity of their career. I have always looked with admiration at the specifics of any tenor that I liked for each of these qualities. I have tried to make the most beautiful things my own, but in particular I have always been fascinated by the possibility that a voice can grow and evolve throughout the span of one’s life, improving and perfecting itself over the years, something that very few tenors have succeeded in!
Among my idols, of which there are many, three occupy an important place: firstly the one and only Luciano Pavarotti; the second that enlightened me to the vastness of the repertoire was Nicolai Gedda, and lately with my change of repertoire I have re-discovered the great Franco Corelli. Three very different voices, but also with some similarities that characterize them: first of all the very safe vocal extension, then the legato and the extension the voice according to the Italian school (covered passaggio), and above all the long and healthy career (more than 30 years each!).
There are also other tenors that I personally like such as Di Stefano and Carreras, but also from the early twentieth century like Caruso, Gigli and Tucker. The more I knew of and admired their art, the more I understood myself in creating my vocal and artistic identity.
Tell us about how your voice and artistry is developing – is there a change in how this feels to you? What are the challenges? What makes it exciting?
I have been singing for two decades now, having started very young with immediately challenging roles, always following my musical and vocal instinct was decisive in my path. My experience with bel canto and Mozart roles has helped me a lot in recent years when I have faced composers such as Verdi, Puccini, but also the French romantic school with Massenet, Gounod and Bizet. Every step I took towards these new composers, I found that the time and moment to sing them was right. I had always heard that the voice changes and improves with the years, but until you try it yourself you have a hard time understanding this concept. The healthy evolution of a singer, or of a tenor in my case, is a mystery, it is a science, but it is also a lot of dedication and continuous study!
Lately I have added with great satisfaction new roles such as Don José in Carmen, Riccardo in Un Ballo in Maschera, Gabriele Adorno in Simon Boccanegra and Werther. What I am doing is absolutely normal in our line of work: constantly listening to the physiological and natural development of one’s instrument, constantly satisfying its needs and always relating them to the stage and to the judgment of the public.
What roles do you see yourself adding in the future?
In addition to leads in Un Ballo in Maschera, Carmen, Les contes d’Hoffmann and Werther which I am already singing, there are those that represent a new frontier for me in the coming years such as in Rusalka, Fidelio and Lohengrin, and also some verismo roles that could work well such as L’amico Fritz or L’Arlesiana – always following my instinct and my vocal evolution. However, I always keep an open mind to new roles and new repertoire, why not even modern ones?