Trained as an opera singer at an early age, Alessandro Safina discovered pop music as a young man and has since blended the two into a style all his own, dubbed “pop-op” by music critics. He first made waves in his native Europe with his Insieme a te release in 2000, and then wowed American audiences with his self-titled American debut the following year. His blend of opera and pop has proven a heady cocktail for his fans; writing in the Queensland, Australia, Sunday Mail, music critic Barbara Hebden named Safina “among the most popular tenors in the world” in 2001.
Born and raised in the small town of Siena, Italy, Safina grew up in a musical family: his mother was an opera buff and his father an amateur singer. He studied opera as a boy, and was just five years old when he began his training. He paid for lessons by working in his family’s business, a stationery store. At 17 he entered the Conservatorio Statale Musica “Luigi Cherubini” in Florence. He began his operatic career in 1989, performing such classics as La Bohème by Puccini and Eugene Onegin by Tchaikovsky in Italy and France.
In his late teen years Safina discovered popular music, including rock. He listened to such bands as Genesis, the Clash, Simple Minds, and U2, and wondered what it might be like to synthesize the best of opera and pop into a new form of music. But it wasn’t until later that he got a chance to try the experiment. For a time he attended law school, a distraction he later said was his biggest regret. He got a chance to bring his musical vision to life, however, after he met famous Italian pianist and composer Romano Musumarra. The two of them, along with music producer Eric Ghenassia, began to record together, culminating in an album called Insieme a te (Together with you). The goal of the “Pop Opera” project, as Safina told Hebden, was to combine the best elements of operatic singing with the melodies and rhythm of pop music: “Our project, Pop Opera, is basically a blend between the operatic voice and pop melody and rhythm. It’s an experiment to reach a wider audience.”
Pop Opera was a winning formula; the album sold 700,000 copies around the world by 2002, lifted in part by the popularity of a single from the album, “Only You (Luna).” The song features pop drum rhythms accompanied by grand orchestrations, with Safina backed by ethereal female vocals.
Safina’s dark good looks have earned him frequent comparison to American movie and television star George Clooney and a place on People magazine’s list of the 50 Most Beautiful People in 2002. He downplays the comparison with Clooney, however, saying that appearance is less important to him than the power of his voice. “It makes me laugh, but it’s better than being compared to Danny DeVito,” Safina told People. “Men these days are more groomed than women—the highlights, plucked eyebrows and pierced ears,” Safina continued. He also doesn’t mind that his hair is now salt-and-pepper. “Onstage,” he told People, “the color shines in the lights.”
Safina made his British television debut at London’s annual Royal Variety Show, a high-profile venue, in 2001. With the queen in attendance and pop star Elton John headlining the event, Safina contributed his version of “Music of the Night” from the musical Phantom of the Opera. He first reached American audiences in the same year, appearing in a Public Broadcasting System (PBS) concert called Alessandro Safina in Concert (Only You), part of the Great Performances series. Shot in an ancient Greek theater in the Sicilian city of Taormina, the broadcast also featured Patricia Manterola, a Latin pop star and conductor Steven Mercurio. Safina performed the music of Romano Musumarra that had made him a star in Europe, including the hit “Only You (Luna).” Safina’s self-titled album was released in the United States in 2001 as well. About the album, Jonathan Widran of All Music Guide said that Safina “relies on a sweeping collection of amazingly passionate tunes to bring out his emotional depth, which is convincing and exciting….” The singer was also featured on the soundtrack to the hit film Moulin Rouge!, singing “Your Song” by Elton John in a duet with the actor Ewan McGregor.
In a 2002 interview with the London Guardian, Safina named Andrew Lloyd Webber as the person he most admired, and said that his goal is to touch the hearts of those who hear him. He hopes to accomplish through his new musical form, telling Matthew Gurewitsch in
For the Record…
Born in 1963 (some sources say 1968) in Siena, Italy. Education: Attended Conservatorio Statale Musica “Luigi Cherubini,” Florence, Italy.
Released debut album in Europe, Insieme a te, on the Universal label, 2000; released Alessandro Safina on Interscope in the U.S., 2001; contributed to the Moulin Rouge! film soundtrack, 2001; released Junto a ti on Universal in Europe, 2001.
Addresses: Record company—Universal Music, 5713 N. Figueroa S., Los Angeles, CA 90042.
the New York Times, “no singer has really been good at both pop and classical music. That would be a good thing to achieve. It’s good to bring people together, to create new energy, to bring people into the theaters.” And, he said, if he could help bring younger people into the aging ranks of opera fans, that, too would be a good thing.
Now based in Rome, Safina continues to record and perform in concert. After recording a version of “Your Song” with Elton John for a benefit album, Safina maintained that he had only one major ambition left: singing with the rock band U2. He had already performed U2’s music at his own concerts, including “MLK” (a tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.), at a concert in the Netherlands. “It’s the only rock song I sing at my concerts,” he told Kate O’Hare in the Buffalo News, “because I have a special feeling with that song.”
Safina was delighted to have found success in both the United States and Europe. As he told USA Today’s Elysa Gardner, “It’s more easy for an Italian singer to come to the States and make pizza than pop music. For me to be here with my little Italian pop album—it’s great.” Asked if he had a personal motto, he replied to Rosanna Greenstreet in the Guardian, “Follow your dreams.”
Insieme a te, Universal, 2000.
Alessandro Safina, Interscope, 2001.
Junto a ti, Universal, 2001.
(Contributor) Moulin Rouge! (soundtrack), Interscope, 2001.
Buffalo News, December 12, 2001.
Evening Standard (London, England), February 24, 2002.
Guardian (London, England), July 6, 2002.
New York Times, February 28, 2002.
People, May 13, 2002.
Sunday Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia), November 4, 2001.
Sunday Mail (Queensland, Australia), November 4, 2001.
USA Today, December 19, 2001.
“Alessandro Safina,” All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (February 5, 2003).
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