Saimir Pirgu, just thirty-one years old, is already being ranked as one of the fastest-rising artists on the operatic and concert map in a career barely a decade old. With a voice of uncommon beauty, his communicative, convincing and artistic assumptions of many of the most popular roles in the lyric repertoire have received critical and audience acclaim whenever and wherever he performs.
In the 2012-13 season, the Albanian-born tenor makes his debut at Buenos Aires' celebrated Teatro Colón (also marking his first time performing in South America) under the baton of Riccardo Muti in a recently rediscovered 19th century work that owes its rebirth to Maestro Muti, Mercadante's musical treatment of the completion of Beaumarchais' Figaro trilogy, I due Figaro, in which the tenor sings the role of the Conte d'Almaviva, another first for him (Aug. 28 & 30). (This is one of three varied engagements for the singer with the great Italian maestro this season.) Another important company/role debut awaits at the San Francisco Opera, where he performs his first Tebaldo in Bellini's I Capuleti ed I Montecchi (Sep. 29; Oct. 3. 11, 14m, 16 & 19), with Nicole Cabell and Joyce DiDonato as the star-crossed lovers. He brings his touching portrayal of Nemorino to audiences of the Wiener Staatsoper in the classic Otto Schenk production of L'elisir d'amore for a single performance (Nov. 8). For the Théâtre du Capitole in Toulouse Mr. Pirgu offers a recital featuring works of Bononcini, Cilea, Donizetti, Massenet and Verdi, with Robert Gonnella at the piano (Nov. 19m). He opens the season of Naples' Teatro di San Carlo as Alfredo in La traviata (Dec. 5 – 15), followed by the Schubert Mass No. 5 in A-flat Major with the Sinfonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunk under the baton of Mo. Muti at Munich's Herkulessaal (Dec. 20 & 21).
The bicentennial of Verdi's birth is celebrated in 2013 and opera houses around the world rise to the occasion saluting the great operatic composer whose works form the backbone of virtually every company's repertory. Mr. Pirgu sings the Duca di Mantova in a new production of Rigoletto at the Opernhaus Zürich conducted by Fabio Luisi (Feb. 3, 5, 8, 10, 13 17 & 26). Returning to the Metropolitan Opera for the first time since his warmly received November 2009 debut as Rinuccio inGianni Schicchi, the tenor sings Alfredo to the Violetta of Diana Damrau in the Willy Decker Traviata; Plácido Domingo plays the elder Germont and Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts (Mar. 14, 18, 23m, 26, 30; Apr. 3 & 6). For his first time with the Chicago Symphony he sings the Bach Mass in B minorin a quartet of performances led by the orchestra's music director, Riccardo Muti (Apr. 11, 12, 13 & 16). Mr. Pirgu returns to Zurich for more Verdi, first for Traviata, once again teaming up with Diana Damrau as the doomed Violetta, in a production by Jürgen Flimm (May 5, 8, 11, 15 & 18), and then for further Rigolettos with Maestro Luisi and virtually the same cast as in the February premiere (Jun. 29; Jul. 11 & 13).
In the 2011-12 season, among Mr. Pirgu's engagements were: a return to the Los Angeles Opera inCosì fan tutte; his Washington National Opera debut in Lucia di Lammermoor; a new production of a double-bill of Tchaikovsky's Iolanta (Vaudémont) and Rachmaninov's Francesca da Rimini (Paolo) at the Theater an der Wien; further Edgardos, as well as Nemorino in L'elisir d'amore at the Hamburgische Staatsoper; La bohème opposite Angela Gheorghiu at Barcelona's Gran Teatre de Liceu; Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni at the Opéra National de Paris; Alfredo in the new Deborah Warner staging of La traviata for the Wiener Festwochen; the Dvorák Stabat mater under Nikolaus Harnoncourt at the Styriarte Festival in Graz; a concert with Ms. Gheorghiu at Florence's Tuscan Sun Festival; Don Ottavio in Franco Zeffirelli's Don Giovanni for the Arena di Verona; and the BerliozMesse solennelle at the Salzburger Festspiele with Mo. Muti leading the Wiener Philharmoniker.
His previous North American engagements include: Rinuccio in Puccini's Gianni Schicchi for his U.S. debut in 2008 in Woody Allen's high-profile production at the Los Angeles Opera, conducted by James Conlon; the same role served as his introduction to the Metropolitan Opera in 2009. That summer he first appeared with the Santa Fe Opera as Alfredo to the Violetta of Natalie Dessay, under Frédéric Chaslin, to open the Festival's season. In 2010 he and James Conlon were reunited when he sang Ferrando in Così fan tutte atChicago's Ravinia Festival.
In subsequent seasons, Mr. Pirgu looks forward to his re-engagement with the Washington National Opera in 2014 for La bohème.
Saimir Pirgu's journey began in the town of his birth, Elbasan, where he studied music from age seven at the Liceo d'Arte and later at the Conservatorio in Albania's capital, Tirana, where Communist authorities dictated that his instrument of choice would be the violin. It was a rare live TV broadcast from outside the Communist bloc of a performance by Luciano Pavarotti from Rome, which would shape his future. At the age of nineteen he left Albania to initiate his musical studies in Italy at the Conservatorio Monteverdi in Bolzano, where his unique vocal talent was discovered and nurtured by Vito Brunetti, who remains his coach to this day. He completed his training at the Conservatorio in only two years and won the Best Singer Prize in 2001 at the Umberto Saccchetti Competition in Bologna at the age of twenty; the following year he went on to win two coveted international awards: the Enrico Caruso competition in Milan, followed by the Tito Schipa Competition in Lecce. 2004 was to prove to be the breakthrough year for Saimir Pirgu; at only twenty-three he was chosen by Claudio Abbado to sing at the Teatro Comunales of Ferrara, Emilia Romagna and Modena. It was on this tour then, in the role of the ardent Ferrando in Così fan tutte - fittingly disguised as an Albanian –that Pirgu made his international debut.
A passionate ambassador for his native country, he returned to sing Nemorino (which has become one of his signature roles) in Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore at the National Opera of Tirana and was subsequently invited to Vienna by Intendant Ioan Holender. So began his fruitful collaboration with the Wiener Staatsoper, commencing with his highly praised interpretation of that role, earning him the "Eberhard Wächter Gesangsmedaille". The same year also saw his Salzburg Festival debut as Ferrando under Philippe Jordan and a tour of Japan singing both Nemorino and Ferrando with Seiji Ozawa.
Repeat invitations and successful debuts in the foremost opera and concert venues swiftly succeeded one another, notably at the Staatsopers of Hamburg, Munich and Berlin, the Teatro dell'Opera and Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome, Opernhaus Zürich, Teatro Real Madrid and Concertgebouw Amsterdam, adding to his repertoire acclaimed role debuts such as Alfredo (La traviata)and Don Ottavio (Don Giovanni). Along the way he has collaborated with leading international conductors, including Claudio Abbado, Riccardo Muti, Daniele Gatti, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Lorin Maazel, Franz Welser-Möst, Seiji Ozawa and Antonio Pappano.
He made his Royal Opera, Covent Garden debut as Rinuccio in Richard Jones's production ofGianni Schicchi conducted by Antonio Pappano with Bryn Terfel in the title role. The same part served as his debut vehicle at the Opéra National de Paris and, in a concert performance under Vladimir Jurowski, at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.
Always keen to bring opera to a larger audience, in 2009 Mr. Pirgu sang Rodolfo in Puccini's La bohème, given a modern setting in a high-rise apartment, produced in Bern by Swiss television and broadcast live toan audience of two million.
Mr. Pirgu is well-represented in the audio and video arenas. Among his CD releases is "Angelo, Casto e Bel," an aria collection ranging from Bononcini, Pergolesi, Mozart, Donizetti, Verdi and Massenet (Universal). On the Dynamic label are two live performances: Rossini's early comic gem,La cambiale di matrimonio, from the Pesaro Rossini Festival, 2006 and Ramón Carni's 1821 work,Elena e Costantino, from a 2009 Teatro Real (Madrid) performance.
Performances preserved on DVD include his assumption of the title role in Mozart's Idomeneo led by Nikolaus Harnoncourt from the 2008 Styriarte (Styriarte Festival Edition), a 2011 La Scala Die Zauberflöte (Opus Arte), the Pesaro Cambiale di matrimonio (Naxos), Martin y Soler's Il burbero di buon cuore (Dynmaic), La bohème (Schweizer Fernsehen), and La traviata in a 2009 Opéra Royal de Wallonie production (Dynamic), among many others.