As one of opera's leading lights, Alessandro Safina is a household name in his native Italy. Elsewhere, however, it's not always his name autograph hunters are after. Indeed, those approaching him on the streets of London or New York are likely to think it is George Clooney's signature they are adding to their collection.
Though his salt-and-pepper locks and chiselled jaw lend him more than a passing resemblance to the former ER heart-throb, it is Alessandro's voice which defines the man. Many will remember his duet with Ewan McGregor on the soundtrack of Moulin Rouge, while he also made an impression singing for Queen Elizabeth at the 2001 Royal Variety Show.
Alessandro hopes to follow the example of performers like Russell Watson and Charlotte Church by bringing opera to a wider audience. "I think lots of people like to hear an opera voice, but not a lot of people have the opportunity to go to the theatre," he says. "They don't know Aida, they don't know Wagner, because it's not easy music. But a popular song is something for everybody."
Since the release of his debut album Insieme A Te, Alessandro has become a regular at the world's major opera houses. A life of glamour has its price, however, and he misses the tranquility of his hometown Sienna. "When I"m in Italy and I have two days to spare, I always come back here, to the place where I grew up. I live a mad life now no time for my girlfriend, no time to enjoy what is happening to me. It"s a tragedy," he admits.
Born in the medieval Tuscan town in 1968, as a boy Alessandro worked in the family stationery business earning money to pay for singing lessons. His parents both opera lovers encouraged him, and by the age of nine he had decided he would one day become a professional. The discipline he demonstrated during those early days didn't take long to pay off, and he won a place at the prestigious Conservatorio school in Florence.
Having quickly established himself as one of classical music's hottest stars, he then moved into more populist recording. But what sets the striking tenor apart from other "crossover" performers is the fact that he didn't grow up on a diet of pop. In fact, Alessandro never listened to any chart music until the age of 17. And exploring rock, he admits, was something of a revelation. It may have been a long time coming, but first impressions last and the singer now cites U2 and The Clash as among his most important influences.
Feeling other attempts at mass-market opera had moved a little too far into the pop camp, the handsome Italian began dreaming of creating a more soulful "pop-opera". It was a dream he shared with renowned composer Romano Musumarra, best known for his work with Pavarotti. After hearing Safina in concert, Romano knew he'd found the voice he'd been looking for, and the two soon set about their first collaboration. The series of successful albums which followed seems to indicate that Alessandro's aspiration of bringing opera back to the people is now becoming a reality.