Few singers can lay claim to breaks as lucky as Albanian tenor Saimir Pirgu. Introduced to the world of opera by a Three Tenors concert as a teenager, it wasn’t long before he was enrolled at the Conservatorio Claudio Monteverdi in Bolzano and auditioning for none other than Claudio Abbado. Pirgu was only 20, but the venerable maestro invited him to sing the principal role of Ferrando in a production of Così Fan Tuttethat he was conducting. It was the singer’s professional debut.

Saimir Pirgu. Photo © Fadil Berisha

“It was only later that I understood how important it was to have made my debut with such an important conductor,” Pirgu says. “We worked really hard and it was Claudio Abbado who made me start thinking seriously about my technique and about finding a coach. He made me take a greater responsibility for my voice and thanks to him I felt like I arrived in the opera world through the front door.”

Engagements in Salzburg, Vienna and London followed in quick succession.

The tenor’s second lucky break was getting to study with his idol, Luciano Pavarotti, mere months after arriving in Bolzano. Pavarotti...