Roberto Alagna rose to stardom in the operatic world in a less than traditional way. Mostly self-taught through listening and studying recordings, Alagna's arrival on the scene as a lyric tenor prompted some to call him the "Fourth Tenor." After winning a major competition in 1988, Alagna began a career performing on-stage throughout the world, and his recordings have earned acclaim.
Alagna was born to Sicilian parents in Clichy-sous-Bois, Seine-Saint-Denis, France, just outside of Paris, on June 7, 1963. He learned the art of singing almost exclusively from studying the recordings of tenor greats, as well as the films of Mario Lanza. He usually mentions two of his predecessors when asked whose recordings were most influential, Beniamino Gigli and Nicolai Gedda. Alagna's voice is a very fine lyric tenor with a bright and ringing upper register, but when it is put under pressure, it can turn harsh. He was initially discovered singing for tips around Paris. He gained notoriety by winning first prize in the 1988 Luciano Pavarotti Competition and soon made his stage debut as Alfredo in La Traviata with the Glyndebourne Touring Opera Company, soon followed by debuts in Montpellier, Monte Carlo, and the Teatro alla Scala in Milan (also in La Traviata). His Teatro alla Scala debut came at the invitation of Riccardo Muti in a fabled production with Tiziana Fabbricini, which was telecast.
In 1990, Alagna sang Rodolfo in Puccini's La Bohème — a role that has become one of his most popular; it was also the role of his debut at Covent Garden Opera in 1992 and the Metropolitan Opera in 1996. Another role that was very important during the early part of his career was the title role in Gounod's Romeo et Juliette, which he has sung with great success in Paris, London, and New York. This role proved to be even more important for his personal life, as he met his second wife, Angela Gheorghiu, while performing the opera together. His first wife had died after a lengthy illness, and this new romance brought a renewed warmth and passion to his performances. Their performances of L'elisir d'amore, La Bohème, and Werther are greatly admired, and together, the two became one of opera's few genuine double attractions. The couple separated for a period beginning in 2009 and eventually divorced in 2013. He then began a relationship with soprano Aleksandra Kurzak, marrying her in 2015, again becoming part of a coupled attraction on-stage and in recordings.
Alagna is known to introduce acrobatic tricks into productions of L'elisir d'amore, which few other tenors would attempt. His appearances in 1996 at the Theatre-Chatelet Paris and Covent Garden Opera, London, as Don Carlo in the original French version of Verdi's opera, helped to bring the French edition back to the fore. Other operas that have proved successful for Alagna are Rigoletto, Macbeth, Lucia di Lammermoor, Roberto Devereux, L'amico Fritz, Carmen, and La Rondine. Alagna's willingness to step beyond the standard score is displayed in the use of an alternative version of "Una furtiva lágrima" in his London recording of L'elisir d'amore, using the new critical edition of La Bohème in the Decca recording with Chailly, as well as singing the original French version of Don Carlo on EMI. In the 2000s, Alagna moved easily around the heart of the operatic repertory on-stage and in recordings. He has also recorded for the Deutsche Grammophon, Warner Classics, and Sony Classical labels. On the latter, he issued the album Caruso 1873 in 2019.