Matteo Setti sings Christmas tunes at The Cutting Room (when he's not singing musicals or Freddie Mercury)

By Ryan Book, The Music Times | Dec 10, 2013 08:24 AM EST

Matteo Setti got his "big break" from Luciano Pavarotti. He also sang lead in a Queen cover band. Which is to say the Italian vocalist can handle a wide range of styles. The performer is turning his attention to swing for the Christmas season however, having released his first holiday EP, Home For Christmas. Setti took some time to speak with Music Times prior to his December 10 show at The Cutting Room.

MUSIC TIMES: What's your favorite Christmas tune to sing in your "crooner" style? How about in a more classical style?
MATTEO SETTI: The song I love the most is "The Christmas Song" by Nat King Cole. But, "I'll Be Home for Christmas" is really the warmest song on my holiday EP. It's soft -- makes you really feel at home.

MT: "Caruso" is a less familiar song for an American audience. Can you give a brief explanation of its inspiration?
MS: Ah, yes. "Caruso" was a special moment for Lucio Dalla, the man who wrote it. It's a love story looking back at his life, and when he started to write it, he was deep inside himself. When I sing "Caruso," I feel the greatest part of my heart from Italy -- my past, my father, my culture. It's the best song to sing from the bottom of my heart and the most honest part of my voice.

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MT: You've obviously excelled in a number of vocal styles throughout your career. How do you reconcile these interests, or at least keep from getting bored?
MS: Today, I keep the dream of doing another musical. But with swing, it's the best melting pot of everything I've learned in the past 15 years, and it's how I express myself today. A crooner is a little bit actor, a little bit singer, a little bit entertainer.

MT: You spent seven years performing as the narrator Gringoire in "Notre Dame de Paris." What about that role inspired you to stick around for so long?
MS: The secret was that every time I played him, night after night, I kept in my mind that he was a sweet poet. And a lot of people around the world already knew that show, but I would tell myself, "Someone in the audience is meeting Gringoire for the first time." Maybe yesterday was worse, maybe tomorrow would be better, but every night when I played Gringoire, I needed to continue to believe that I was telling you a wonderful story of my own life through this character.

MT: Your father was a professional vocalist as well. Growing up, what did you glean from him with regards to singing?
MS: This is a nice story. My father was a professional singer from 17 years old until 27 years old. Then he stopped because he felt it was the right time to have a family.

When I started to sing, I was 27. Life is a little strange sometimes, see..?

My father never pushed me -- he used to play guitar and sing with me, then I'd go outside and play with my friends...but I'd always come back to him. He never forced the music on me, and deep down I always loved it too.

MT: You also handled vocals in a Queen cover band (Radiogaga). Sacha Baron Cohen just left the Freddie Mercury biopic over creative differences. You've got acting chops and vocal chops...any interest?
MS: Oh yes, of course! (Laughs.) If I knew Sacha Baron Cohen was playing that role, I'd have broken his legs and taken the stage to do the audition!

No, no, I'm joking. It's strange, but what captured me about Freddy Mercury was his funeral. I didn't know him. I was watching TV and I said, "What's that? Who is that man?" I saw Elton John there so I decided to sit and watch. I don't know why but I was obsessed. The next day, I bought every Queen album.
What intrigued me about him was that nobody accepted him, because he was gay...but he tried to make people forget that he was gay. He kept picking away -- he knew the people didn't accept him or his music, so he found a new image to show the audience. He changed clothes and smoked a lot of cigarettes because his voice had been so high before. His real name was Farrokh, so he changed it to Freddy, and Mercury symbolized a planet: something huge and untouchable. Even today, I think he's the hugest singer in the world.

MT: Obviously it must be an honor to be authorized by the Vatican to use John Paul II's voice for "Non Abbiate Paura." Does Catholicism have an impact on your career? Any thoughts on Pope Francis so far?
MS: When I took the opportunity to record that song, I never did it because of the money or fame. I decided to do it because he was the Pope for my life. I thought, "This chance is a gift. Someone in the sky is looking over me."

Pope John Paul II, like Pope Francis today, was one of the best leaders for the people in the history of Christianity.

MT: New York City has plenty of iconic venues, specializing in all the performance styles you've excelled in. With no offense meant to The Cutting Room, what would be your dream gig in New York City?
MS: In the next five years, I want to perform at Madison Square Garden! When I was young and I watched huge concerts, and boxing, I saw that place for the first time on TV. Madison Square Garden is always something big for the Italian people. I always keep that inside of me.

Logan Young contributed to this article.

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