Twenty-year-old Amaury Vassili, is touted as the world’s youngest tenor. His debut album “Vincero” (Warner Music), above, a double platinum hit in France, is now available in Korea. / Courtesy of Warner Music Korea
By Lee Hyo-won
With a pair of deep-set, knowing eyes and a weighty, charismatic voice that gives expression to the most clawing emotions, he seems much wiser beyond his years.
Amaury Vassili has been touted as the world’s youngest tenor since his debut album ``Vincero’’ (Warner Music) was released last year ― when he was still a teenager ― and immediately became a double platinum hit in France and hot in demand in other parts of the world, from Canada to South Africa.
The international version of his recording is finally available in Korea, and this is just the beginning of his journey to bring crossover classical music closer to the public.
``If I can become an ambassador for neoclassical music, and lead people to listen to classical music, I would be more than happy,’’ Vassili told The Korea Times while listing his busy world tour plans. ``When will you invite me to Korea?’’ The young tenor’s enthusiasm for music and life was most palpable, despite the fact that it was an email interview.
``I sing 24/7,’’ he said, and travels non-stop ― ``but I love it!’’ But like any other 20-year-old, he is also addicted to video games, football and American TV soaps. He is particularly ``in love’’ with Korean-American actresses Kim Yun-jin of ``Lost” and Grace Park of ``Battlestar Galactica,’’ and has ``a crush on Christina Aguilera.’’
But Vassili’s infatuation with the American pop singer points to this young tenor’s reasons for making music, which is all about ``bringing something new to classical music, breaking frontiers between pop and classical.’’ As much as he looks up to the ``one and only Luciano Pavarotti’’ as his ``idol,’’ he dreams of singing duets with Aguilera. `` I would love to work with Aguilera on a song... Christina, if you’re hearing me.’’
Vassili’s affinity for crossover music is evident in the track list, which includes ``Fragile,’’ a vocalization of Beethoven’s ``Pathetique’’ piano sonata, and ``Parla Piu Piano,’’ which is well known as the theme song of the film ``The Godfather.’’
Vassili continues the lineage of crossover stars such as Andrea Bocelli, Sarah Brightman and Josh Groban, and Vassili performs alongside divas including Katherine Jenkins, the Barbie-blonde mezzo-soprano who appeared alongside Placido Domingo on his Seoul tour last year.
He said being compared with Groban, for example, is ``a massive compliment as I am a big fan of the artist.’’ Such comparisons only denote the younger singer’s star potential and ability to cover a wide range of musical genres. Vassili is a rare strain of a dramatic, rather than lyrical, crossover tenor fit for pulling off a fine Calaf in ``Turandot.’’
Born in Normandy, France in 1990, he showed an interest in music from an early age and won various vocal competitions including the Coupe de France de la Chanson Francaise when he was 16. While he could have easily ridden the wave of reality TV stardom, he declined the numerous offers and instead joined hands with famous French producer Daniel Moyne, who paved the way for his recording debut.
He never took lyrical vocal training courses because he always had a more ``instinctive way of singing.’’ ``I wanted to groove with my voice,’’ he said. ``What I liked is that I was not compared to (other singers in terms of vocal quality)... What I really enjoyed is that people felt I had a unique style. Probably because I am so young that I don’t think too much. I live my music through passion.’’
Despite his strong roots in the classical tradition, arias are a more recent endeavor. ``I was hesitating at the beginning to embrace classical music because I thought it was not very easy for a young person to break in. But my voice was so formatted for opera and classical that I decided to use it as a strength and bring my new ideas,’’ he said.
``I was raised with pop music with Michael Jackson as king! So that’s why I wanted to mix pop with my classical vocal training.’’ And so, the crossover music of artists like Florent Pagny and Il Divo served as ``a revelation’’ for the opera-formatted artist also wanting to explore something more contemporary. He thus found a voice in crossover, through which he can merge his diverging passions.
Operatic icon Domingo strongly emphasized that classical musicians need to reach out to the wider public by offering not only operatic arias but also semi-classical music. It seems the future of the genre has found an answer in Vassili.
``My biggest pride is when people tell me that my album is their first classical/neoclassical album they ever heard in their life. If I can bring a whole new generation to listen to more classical stuff, I would be proud. What I want to hear from people after a show or after listening to my music is that they had great time. It’s as simple as that.’’