Gardar Cortes: Arias of expertise

PUBLISHED: 15:33 13 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:14 20 February 2013

Gardar Cortes

Gardar Cortes

If being blessed with smouldering good looks and a singing voice like the softest velvet is the key to global domination, then Gardar Cortes has nothing to worry about.

If being blessed with smouldering good looks and a singing voice like the softest velvet is the key to global domination, then Gardar Cortes has nothing to worry about. The 34-year-old Icelandic tenor, who was educated in Hertfordshire, has been enjoying great success since his self-titled debut album Cortes stormed onto the music scene - it was the fastest selling record ever in Iceland, going double platinum in three months.

Now, with his second album When You Say You Love Me set for release on June 23 and a well deserved nomination in this year's Classical BRIT Awards under his belt, Faye Creasey catches up with the busy tenor to find out what life is like as a rising classical star.

Where do you live?
I am in Iceland at the moment but I am flying to London tomorrow. I have homes in both places and spend a lot of time in the air going back and forth. I am quite fortunate that I am able to do that.

Tell us about your new album.
It is similar to the first album with a cross over of popular songs and operatic arias, although I was keen to include more opera in this one as that is what I do. Balancing popular and classical is a fine line for artists that you have to be careful not to cross but I have that line in mind and I am happy with what I have done.

Did you always want to be an opera singer?
My father is an opera singer [in his prime Gardar Cortes senior was a world class tenor and went on to found the Icelandic Opera and the Reykjavik Symphony Orchestra] and my mother Krystyna is a pianist so I grew up surrounded by music. We used to listen to classical music a lot but my dad and I would often sing jazz ballads in the evenings, like Autumn Leaves and A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square. Music has always been very close to my heart.

At the age of 13 you won the lead role in the TV series Nonni and Manni. Were you ever tempted to follow an acting career?
I did seriously get the acting bug and that has never left me but if I had chosen acting, it would have meant that there was a huge part of my life I would have had to leave and I was not prepared to let it go. That's why I chose opera in a way as it combines the two - acting and singing.

You went to school in Hertfordshire. Was that a happy time in your life?
I went to Stanborough School in Watford at the age of nine and then again at the age of 11. My mother is from Hertfordshire [she met Gardar senior at music college and they married and moved to the north Atlantic] and my grandmother lived in Kings Langely so we would stay with her for three months of the year while we were at school. I have lots of fond memories of the area. Surprisingly, I didn't study music at the school. Instead I went to the Watford School of Music which my parents founded. I also played the cornet in the Dacorum Brass Band.
My grandmother has passed away now so unfortunately we have no connection with Kings Langley any more but we do go back to visit occasionally as my grandparents are buried in the church. I also have an aunt in Hemel Hempstead who we like to visit when we can. One day I would like to buy a house in Kings Langley when I am older and more sensible.

Where did you study music?

I spent four years at my father's school in Reykjavik and then I won a scholarship to the Hochschule in Vienna but I left there after six months to study privately with Andrei Orlowitz in Copenhagen. Throughout that time I would come back home to earn money to pay for the lessons. I did every job going at the opera house, from usher and stage hand to cleaning the toilets. I would sing at funerals and weddings and appeared in West Side Story when I was 19. I also worked with disabled people for five years which I enjoyed very much. I always say that if I hadn't gone into the arts, I would have liked to have worked with disabled people.

So what was your big break?
I got the lead role of Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera in the West End which I was very fortunate to get. It was a huge experience and a lot of hard work as we were doing eight shows a week. Professionally, I learnt a lot about how things are done in the West End. But when my contract ran out and they offered me a new one, I decided not to take it. I had been offered a place on the opera course at the Royal Academy of Music and, although I enjoyed the West End, and the money it gave me, I felt that opera was my real passion. Both my parents studied at the Royal Academy. My sister Nanna also studied there at the same time as me [she is now an opera singer based in Oslo, Norway], and my younger brother Aron is there now studying to be a bass baritone. So music really is in the family.

You have been on tour with Katherine Jenkins and sung with the likes of Lesley Garratt and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. Is performing something you enjoy?
I love it. I would be happy performing from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to bed. It is what I enjoy the most. My father stopped performing as he didn't like being away from home and I guess in some ways I am like him - it can be tough touring, especially if it is for long periods. But the world is very different now and, with two or three planes leaving from Iceland every day, and mobiles, Skype and email, it is so much easier to stay in touch with home.

Are you married?

I was married a year ago to an Icelandic actress. We had known each other for many years and our wedding was very small and private, with close family and friends performing at the wedding.

What do you like doing in your spare time?
I absolutely love cooking. I really enjoy going through a cookbook, spicing up the recipes and making them my own. But actually most of the time is taken up with music, either practising or listening to it, whether it is classical, jazz, rock, depending on my mood. I am very lucky as my job is also my hobby.

What is your ultimate ambition?
There are lots of roles that I would love to do in the future. When my voice matures and the time is right, I would love to sing Verdi's Othello. But that is a long way off - you have to have the voice for it. Verdi was a lot more mature when he wrote it - the music is so intense and the story is so dramatic. It is my ultimate role - I could listen to it all day and nothing else. But it is a long way down the line as you have to have the voice for it and that takes time.

Latest from the Hertfordshire Life