Portrait of the artist: Roberto Alagna, tenor

'I have to take care of my voice. For me, it is like a daughter or a wife. I have to be gentle with her'

What got you started?

I can't remember when I sang for the first time: singing was in my blood. My earliest memory is of my father and uncle singing with a guitar.

What have you sacrificed for your art?

Everything. I need a lot of discipline to take care of my voice and body. My voice for me is like a daughter, or a wife. I have to be gentle with her.

What work of art would you like to own?

Anything by Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Picasso, El Greco, Egon Schiele. I particularly love sculpture: when an artist creates a human form in clay, it's like they're doing the same job as God.

What piece of music would work as the soundtrack to your life?

I would need an anthology. It would start with Sicilian folk songs, in honour of my Sicilian family. Then pop songs – by Paul Anka, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra – because I started out as a cabaret singer for tourists. Then opera, which, for me, has always seemed to contain something of the divine.

What's your favourite film?

The Godfather. It reminds me of my Sicilian relatives, emigrants to America.

What advice would you give a young singer?

Giving advice is dangerous. When I met Luciano Pavarotti, I asked him for advice. He told me that with my type of voice, it was better not to give any. Everyone has their own instrument, and has to understand it for themselves.

Which artists do you most admire?

All my fellow opera singers. We're the only singers still performing in the same way as 100 years ago, without amplification or technology.

What has been your most embarrassing moment on stage?

The problem at La Scala [in December 2006, Alagna left the stage in Milan after being booed]. It was a very difficult moment, and unfair, because I wasn't singing badly. But I laugh about it now.

Is there anything you regret?

Being too cautious. When I was 18, I was offered the part of the young Mario Lanza in a Hollywood movie; the older Mario Lanza was to be played by José Carreras. I said no because I was too shy.

What's the biggest myth about opera singers?

That we're difficult. A lot of people say that about me, but I think this is a myth created by the media, or perhaps the record company, to sell CDs. People are always surprised to meet me and find that I'm not difficult at all.

In short

Born: Clichy-sous-Bois, France; 1963.

Career: Debuted with Glyndebourne Touring Opera in 1988. Plays Don José in Carmen at the Royal Opera House, London (020-7304 4000), until 24 October.

High point: "This year. I've launched a new career in popular music."

Low point: "Health problems in 2005 and 2006. They affected my voice."


Laura Barnett

The GuardianTramp

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