From embracing the purity of Gregorian chant to evoking the steamy sensuality of a bar in Buenos Aires, the voice of emerging star Gianluca Paganelli bridges both. An unlikely connection, it may seem, but once you get an insight into the Italian tenor’s motivation, it makes sense.
Having recently completed a touring stint with The Soldiers on their UK ‘Coming Home’ charity tour, and with a debut album Tango soon to be released, these are busy times for Gianluca. I caught up with him at the Mission recording studios in Kingston-upon-Thames. It is a well-chosen location with a relaxed atmosphere and Gianluca has a composed and centred demeanour. He did not show any signs of pressure from recording and the prospect of performing in a concert the following day.
Gianluca Paganelli was born in Rome and from the age of six was singing in the Vatican choir. This is not only his connection with the church. He literally can see the Vatican from the balcony of his current home.
“I come from a musical family,” Gianluca says. “My mother and father always encouraged me and supported me. My uncle (the baritone Ludovico Malavesi) trained me in operatic technique. From as young as I can remember, music – and opera in particular – was part of my life.”
With a new series of Pop Star to Opera Star currently on ITV, Gianluca’s career shows that it’s also possible to take the reverse direction. He is already established in his home country as an opera singer. But since winning last year’s I racommandati, an Italian TV version of The X Factor, he is headed towards wider popularity. It’s not so much a change of direction, more a broadening of his career base. Perhaps he’ll finish up straddling both worlds like his hero Luciano Pavarotti. And however he is ultimately labelled, he seems destined to become the latest in a long line of Italian heartthrobs.
“I love music,” he declares, “and I love singing. Whether it’s Gregorian chant, opera or mainstream, it has to be sung with passion and belief. For me, it has to be spiritual.”
So what is Gianluca’s favourite music? What does he find the most spiritual? “Music is not rational,” he shrugs. This is not so much evasive as refreshing: Gianluca listens to whatever stirs him.
Through performing on I racommandati, Gianluca became aware of the power of television to reach more people, which is also understandable if you cannot afford to go to the opera. Developing a ‘crossover’ style was suddenly an attractive proposition, though Gianluca still intends to return to opera.
His video No Other Love is a good example of this development from stage to screen. It’s a romantic, fairytale-type theme that reminded me of the story of Cinderella. Says Gianluca: “It has a good story because it is about a poor girl who is working very hard and has a dream. This is a good and right message that wherever you come from, it is good to study and do the right thing and if you work hard, it should lead to a good result.”
Before a performance Gianluca likes to be alone and to pray, meditate, become in touch with his soul. “With the right preparation, the song will be more real, honest,” he says. “The song will come from your soul.”
“I think it is very important to believe in yourself and to be well informed about the world around you – then you will be sure about yourself. To study is very important as it develops you and informs you on your choices.”
Cue the album Tango. “Sir Harry, my agent, proposed the idea to make a CD themed around the tango; it seemed right as my approach to music is fitting to a project like this.” The tango, a uniquely Argentinian style of music, had fascinated Gianluca for some time, so when crossover beckoned he did some serious research. “The passion of tango is very exciting,” he says. “It is about communication between people. And yes, there is a spirituality. It brings people together, it can be good for a wedding, for example.”
Tango is a seductive album with a diverse track list that includes old favourites such as No Other Love, Jealousy and Hernando’s Hideaway, mixed with new material. As much as Gianluca’s market will almost certainly be predominantly female fan-based, it would be a good call for the men also to have a copy of Tango in their collection as, of course, it takes two to Tango. Ole!
Tango, on the Mission label, is to be released on 4 October.
Note: If you’re in the mood for some theatrical tango, check out Midnight Tango featuring Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace, stars of Strictly Come Dancing. Touring at the moment (next gig Norwich Theatre Royal July 4-9, then Bristol. Southend and Glasgow) Midnight Tango is lined up for a 10-week West End run at the Aldwych from 20 January next year.
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