Russell Watson sits forward in his chair and smiles. “The thing that I most wanted to achieve has happened. The voice is back. And not only that, but the infrastructure that generates the noise I make, the strength and stamina I need to perform all that incredible material is back.” He relaxes, his message delivered. “It’s been a long road and it’s been hard work, but we’re there…”
The last three years have changed Russell Watson forever. Changed who he is and the way he sings and how he feels about everything. Most people who’ve had a life-threatening experience will feel the same, and after a while, when the immediate pressure of their illness begins to dissipate, they may slip back into their old ways and their old lives. But not Watson. He has faced down one career-threatening illness and two life-threatening illnesses in the last five years. “That was particularly hard to come to terms with, psychologically,” he says. “The second one affected me so badly.”
By the end of 2007 Watson felt “devastated”. Just when he thought he was getting his life back the discovery and removal of one pituitary tumor he found out he had another one. All his confidence and strength had gone and a lot of what he does relies on knowing those big notes are coming. As a singer in his league, and there aren’t many, if your confidence gets rattled you lose everything.
“When I had the first tumor I only focused on the operation,” he says. “When I had the second one it was about getting out of intensive care. Then getting out of the bed. Each time there was a different focal point.”
When Watson finished his radiotherapy at the beginning of 2008 he decided to start his return. He had put on nearly three stone from the intense course of medication he was being treated with. The day the treatment finished he stared at himself in his full-length hallway mirror and said, “Right Watson, it’s time to get back to work…” The very next day he went to the gym – much to everyone else’s dismay.
“That’s the kind of idiot I am,” he says now. “Most people would rest. I looked terrible too…”
Six months of three-times-a-week visits to the gym followed before he was ready to sing again. Finally, in August 2008, Watson went to visit his voice coach, Patrick McGuigan. They began by running through scales. Suddenly McGuigan stopped Watson and said, “Oh my god! What has happened to your voice?”
“I expected something negative,” Watson says. “But he thought it was fantastic, with all this new depth and power. The tumor could have been growing for 10-15 years in my nasal cavity, so when I had it cut out I went from a V8 to a V12! All those experiences have affected the way I view my life, the way I view others and the way I conduct myself.”
Those changes are all over Watson’s new album, La Voce, which was recorded in Rome this June with the Roma Sinfonietta, Ennio Morricone’s orchestra of choice. Watson’s voice, as heard on Pino Donaggio’s Io Che Non Vivo (Senza Te), Mario Lanza’s Arrivederci Roma or Parla Piu Piano (the theme from The Godfather) has never sounded better, stronger, more driven and powerful.
“I’ve truly given my heart and soul to this record,” he says. “It feels quite poignant – this is where I started. With everything that’s happened I’ve had a lot of time to focus on the record and make the one I really wanted to make. The performances are as good as they can possibly be at this stage of my career.”
Indeed, Watson says La Voce is the product of his life to date, the defining record of his life so far.
“I believe that I have come through all this for a reason and that reason is now,” he says. “There are great times to come, but this is what it’s all about for me now. This is the first record that I’ve made which has true continuity, La Voce is a very clear-sighted piece.”
Russell Watson never imagined he’d someday be the world’s greatest tenor. Born in Salford, he’d have preferred to make it playing football, the trouble was, however much he played, he never got any better. Watson’s says his father is “so laid back he’s lying down and I love that about him”, but that’s not the sort of person he is. Watson hated losing, hated that he was no good at the thing he loved. So he found something else to be the best at.
Released: May 25, 2012More info