Singers who write novels? Rolando Villazón isn’t keen on reading a book by one of his colleagues, he says. An avid bookworm who devours a minimum of one book a week, Villazón nevertheless joined the ranks of the authors in 2013 with his literary debut, published under the title Malabares.
However, enough is never enough for the singer: nearly anyone else would have plenty on their shoulders being “only” one of the most successful tenors of his era. But not Villazón, born in Mexico in 1972, who also excels in his “free time” as an opera director, television moderator, illustrator, and dedicated clown.
When he wins not only first prize at Plácido Domingo’s Operalia Competition in 1999, but also the Zarzuela and audience prize, this opens the doors for his international career. And since his debut at the Salzburg Festival in 2005, his celebrity has extended far beyond the confines of opera, after the Festival’s production of Traviata features Netrebko-Villazón, opera’s dream couple, for the very first time.
Soon afterward the hype surrounding the singer takes its toll: Villazón begins experiencing health problems, has to undergo surgery, and even slips into burnout. But clowns are known for bouncing back, and talented singer-performers even more so: Villazón returns triumphantly to the opera stage time and again.
© Ulla Pilz, ORF - Radio Österreich 1


  • 1999 European debut in Genoa (Des Grieux in Massenet’s Manon)

  • Engagements at many European and American opera houses follow in rapid succession (including the Opéra Bastille Paris, Bayerische Staatsoper, Unter den Linden Berlin, Wiener Staatsoper, Teatro dell’Opera di Roma, and Metropolitan Opera House), soon joined by appearances at the Salzburg Festival, Covent Garden, and Milan’s La Scala.

  • 2006 first health problems, 2007 hiatus, 2008 comeback

  • Since 2007, exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon, since 2012 the label’s “Verdi ambassador”

  • 2009 renewed hiatus due to a vocal cord cyst, 2010 second comeback

  • 2011 directorial debut with Massenet’s Werther at the Opéra de Lyon, also staged subsequently in Baden-Baden, Vienna, and Berlin

  • Active involvement in television, including as presenter of Stars von morgen, juror of Popstar to Operastar on BBC, and co-moderator of several ECHO-Klassik awards ceremonies on ZDF

  • 2013 Malabares, first novel

Did you know?

  • Known as “Dr. Rollo,” Villazón has been a “red-nosed” clown doctor for years

  • Villazón wanted to become a priest. Or an actor: after reading Gandhi’s autobiography, he shaves his head, dons a pair of glasses and a long robe, and steps onto the street as a Gandhi look-alike.

  • When he is twelve years old, the director of the Mexico City Academy of Fine Arts happens to hear him singing, then invites him to take his school’s entrance exam.

  • Villazón reportedly wins the favor of his future wife Lucia at the age of 16, serenading her under her window at night with Mariachi songs. She has since become a psychologist and the couple have two sons.

  • The Mexican-born artist speaks five languages, has Austrian and French roots, and has also been a French citizen since 2007.

  • Thanks to his comical facial expressions and a certain resemblance, Villazón is often compared with Mr. Bean. However, his attempt to arrange a personal meeting in 2007 with Rowan Atkinson, who portrays Mr. Bean, is prevented by the actor’s management.

  • Villazón points out that he’s not afraid of silence, since there are moments in opera where silence is the most beautiful music.