Saimir Pirgu, just thirty-two 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 2013-14 season, the Albanian-born tenor sings the first of three engagements of the Verdi Messa da Requiem, initially for his introduction to audiences at Austria’s Grafenegg Festival (Sep. 8). At the Opernhaus Zürich he performs Il duca di Mantova in a series of Rigolettos spread throughout the season (Sep. 27-Oct. 3; Jan. 12m-Feb. 2; Jun. 18-21). For his premier project with Mariss Jansons and his debut with the Sinfonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunk he performs the Verdi Requiem in Munich (Oct. 10-11) and at Vienna’s Musikverein (Oct. 14-15). A pair of concerts with soprano Angela Gheorghiu follows at Hamburg’s Laeiszhalle (Oct. 23) and for the tenor’s Czech debut at the Smetana Hall in Prague (Oct. 30). He sings the title role in La clemenza di Tito for the first time at the Opéra National de Paris/Palais Garnier (Nov. 27-Dec.23).
In the new year Mr. Pirgu continues his sojourn in France at the Théâtre du Capitole in Toulouse for another role debut, Fernand in Donizetti’s La favorite in its original French version (Feb. 6-19). At the Los Angeles Opera he stars in a new production of Lucia di Lammermoor under the baton of company Music Director and frequent collaborator James Conlon (Mar. 15-Apr. 6m). He teams up again with Ms. Gheorghiu for a pair of concerts on the stage of Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu (Apr. 25-28). Riccardo Muti, long a major figure in the tenor’s career, enlists his services for the Berlioz Messe Solennelle with the Wiener Philharmoniker (May 10m-11m). Returning to California, Mr. Pirgu appears with the San Francisco Opera in La traviata (Jun. 11-29m).
Among the highlights of Mr. Pirgu’s 2012-13 season were his debut at Buenos Aires’ Teatro Colón in Mercadante’s I due Figaro; his first Tebaldo in Bellini’s I Capuleti ed I Montecchi (San Francisco Opera); L’elisir d’amore at the Wiener Staatsoper, a recital at the Théâtre du Capitole, Traviata at Naples’ Teatro di San Carlo, the Schubert Mass No. 5 in A-flat Major (Sinfonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunk), the Duca di Mantova in a new production of Rigoletto at the Opernhaus Zürich, further Traviatas for his return to the Metropolitan Opera, the Bach Mass in B minor with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Traviata in Zurich, the Rossini Petite messe solennelle with the Orchestre National de France in Paris and Vienna, Macduff (role debut) in Macbeth at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and Rigoletto at the Arena di Verona.
His previous North American engagements have included: Rinuccio in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi at the Los Angeles Opera in 2008 (U.S. debut), followed by Così fan tutte (2011); Alfredo to open the Santa Fe Opera’s 2009 season; more Gianni Schicchis at the Metropolitan Opera (2009); Così at Chicago’s Ravinia Festival (2010); and Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor at the Washington National Opera in 2011 (where he will return 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 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 L’elisir d’amore at the National Opera of Tirana and was subsequently invited to Vienna to sing the same role by Intendant Ioan Holender. So began his fruitful collaboration with the Wiener Staatsoper, resulting in his being awarded 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, most notably at: the Staatsopers of Hamburg, Munich and Berlin; the Salzburg and Styriarte Festivals; Rome’s Teatro dell’Opera and Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia; Teatro Real Madrid and Gran Teatre del Liceu; the Wiener Philharmoniker and Theater an der Wien; as well as Concertgebouw Amsterdam. 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, Antonio Pappano and James Conlon.
He made his Royal Opera, Covent Garden debut as Rinuccio in Richard Jones’s production of Gianni 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 to an 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 (Dynamic), La bohème (Schweizer Fernsehen), and La traviata in a 2009 Opéra Royal de Wallonie production (Dynamic), among many others.