Albanian tenor Saimir Pirgu knows a thing or two about Alfredo Germont—the dashing young man who falls in love with, is heart-broken by, reconnects with, and ultimately loses the love of his life. He has performed La Traviata
around the world at many of the most important opera houses and opposite some of opera's most saught-after leading ladies as the fickle, beautiful and terminally ill courtesan Violetta. He returns to San Francisco Opera to perform the role with Nicole Cabell as Violetta and Vladamir Stoyanov as Giorgio Germont. What has Saimir learned from his many portrayals of Alfredo? We asked him 5 questions to find out.
You have sung the role of Alfredo Germont many times across the globe, from London to New York, Vienna, Berlin…the list goes on! What about this role and character do you enjoy the most?
It is true that I have sung this role many times and in the most important theaters in the world. I won’t hide the fact that it is one of the characters that has brought me so much satisfaction and has opened many important doors for me not only at the cities above but also elsewhere. Alfredo is one of the most delicate and difficult people to perform well because the writing is very exposed—not only when singing alone, but always in relationship with Violetta. The most important thing and one which always brings me great joy is to sing the role for Violetta. Think of the profound energy I have had over the years with my many Violettas. Without Violetta, Alfredo does not exist. In Verdi’s music, there are three duets in the opera that provide a tenor with the opportunity to create Alfredo’s personality. Also in the most dramatic moments, he is always in her presence. This is why this role provides me with such joy. I love to sing it; it is always and only for Violetta.
Is there anything you try to do to keep your interpretation fresh after so many performances and do enjoy bringing the same role into different productions?
With Diana Damrau as Violetta at the Metropolitan Opera
My colleagues change and always help me. Above all it is the music and the different directors who continue to make it new. As I have already said, it is the excitement for the role as well as what I feel for the character of Violetta. To always have a new person creating it with me provides a new energy, new vocal colors and new emotions. It is always exciting to sing with great artists. I can never be bored with my new Violettas.
Your co-star in this production is soprano Nicole Cabell, who you also worked with the last time you were in San Francisco for I Capuleti e i Montecchi. Does it help to know your co-star when you are performing?
With Angela Gheorghiu as Violetta at Barcelona's Gran Teatre del Liceu
Clearly knowing each other well is important. In the production of Capuleti e Montecchi
, there was no interplay between us because obviously Nicole (as Giulietta) was in love with Romeo (not my character Tybaldo). This time I can assure you that she is madly in love with Alfredo! All kidding aside, Nicole’s interpretation—her beauty of voice and bearing brings a nobility to her character. She makes you understand what is truly in her heart and how much she sacrifices for her true love. I adore working with her.
What is next up in your busy schedule? Where will you travel after La Traviata?
Immediately following the end of my run here in San Francisco, I return to “my” Italy to appear at the Ravenna Festival for several performances of the Verdi Requiem with Riccardo Muti, then two weeks of vacation in my glorious home country, Albania in July. In August I sing Don Giovanni
, at the Ravinia Festival, the summer home of the splendid Chicago Symphony Orchestra with James Conlon conducting. In September, the new season opens for me in London with Rigoletto
at Royal Opera, Covent Garden and then continues with other engagements: Washington National Opera, in Vienna, Berlin, and Chicago among others.
What do you enjoy in the Bay Area when you have a day off? Any restaurants or leisure activities you can share with us?
With Natalie Dessay as Violetta at Santa Fe Opera
It is clear to anyone who comes to San Francisco that there is so much to do and to take joy in on your days off. The atmosphere is relaxed and open and there are so many choices for restaurants and bars. One cannot forget the beauty of the ocean even though I am here to work and am not on vacation. Really, it is too beautiful. Someone told me that there is a restaurant called Traviata and this has made our entire cast so curious that we decided to go try it for ourselves to see if it is good. We will let you know!
With Placido Domingo as Giorgio Germont at the Metropolitan Opera