Opera singer, actor, tv personality and linguist. These are just some of the many roles that Paolo Andrea Di Pietro has undertaken while building one of the most unique careers in Japan. To Japanese-speaking audiences, he’s known for the AirPay commercial that went so viral it became an ongoing series. Anime fans might recognize his name from the credits of Thermae Romae Novae, where he was the lyricist for the whole soundtrack and opening song as well as a singer and Latin language supervisor.

In the world of gaming, many will know him for his recent work as the vocalist for the live performances of Rhapsodia Roscida and Polumnia Omnia in Genshin Impact and as a solo singer in Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade, Final Fantasy VI Pixel Remaster and Final Fantasy VII Rebirth.

Recently, Tokyo Weekender sat down with Di Pietro to chat about how video games influenced his pursuit of opera, how that led him to Japan and what he’s accomplished here so far.

opera singer behind video games paolo

Paolo’s Origin Story

Di Pietro’s passion for Japan was born in Milan during his childhood, when he was frequently confined indoors due to a serious asthma condition. A sickly child, he couldn’t play any sports as a result of his chronic illness. “I was like a hikikomori at home,” he explains, “always studying and reading all kind of literature.”

During those years, Di Pietro discovered Final Fantasy VII, his first video game. He still vividly recalls a magazine image — the first he saw — of characters Barret and Cloud battling a dragon with a gun arm and a giant sword. He played the English version upon the game’s release, a controller in one hand, as he didn’t know any English, and a dictionary in the other.

“What I loved about Final Fantasy VII was that it was inspired by both worldwide folklore, literature, theology and demonology and modern pop culture, all blended into a single Japanese game,” explains Di Pietro.

As for the iconic soundtrack, One-Winged Angel? This one composition changed the trajectory of his life. “It was the first time I ever heard singing in video games, he says. It made me realize the importance of the voice as an instrument. This was how I began to pursue opera.”

Di Pietro holds a double degree from the Milan Conservatory and the University of Milan, where he majored in opera as well as English and Japanese language and culture. Singing opened multiple doors for Di Pietro, including one to good health. “Thanks to opera, I was able to learn how to breathe in a different way and control my asthma,” he shares. “I was 20 years old when I was finally able to run like normal people.”

Commercials and Japanese Television

In 2014, a new opportunity arose — an invitation to sing in Kyoto for a year — and he moved to Japan. He continued to do side jobs in Tokyo and ended up singing in commercials, as directors liked the way he was able to project his voice. Through this, he also appeared in variety shows, such as Kat-tun no Sekaiichi Tame ni Naru Tabi! alongside Japanese boy band Kat-tun. In 2020, he played the singing role of the Ketchup Demon next to Naomi Watanabe and Yuki Iwai in the live comedy program Owarai no Hi.

To date, Di Pietro estimates he’s made over 200 Japanese commercial and television appearances. “My opera background and knowledge of many languages has helped me in passing all kinds of auditions,” he says.

Gaming Beginnings

Being based in Japan, Di Pietro always hoped to be involved in anime and gaming, two of his lifelong passions. In 2017, he got his first break, singing in the anime BBK/BRNK. He went on to do two more shows for Overlord before finally catching the eye of Square Enix. He worked on three songs for the 2020 Dragon Quest anime, Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai.

“I mentioned my love for Final Fantasy in some Japanese interviews I did and how happy I was to be singing for Dragon Quest. From there, I was suddenly contacted to sing The Happy Turtle Jingle for Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade,” shares Di Pietro.

Not only was this a long-time dream come to fruition, having a commercial veteran sing an in-game commercial tune was a fun inside joke.

A few years later, Hoyoverse and Sony Music approached Di Pietro to work on Genshin Impact. At the time, Di Pietro was getting tired of playing Italian stereotypes on TV. He was also struggling with some tragedies in his personal life. Against this backdrop, he sang Polumnia Omnia — an emotional boss theme for the player’s fight against an opponent named the Balladeer — for the music video and the touring orchestra. The character’s backstory includes themes of anger and despair, with lyrics sung completely in Latin and Japanese. Considering what he was going through, Di Pietro thinks the opportunity could not have come at a better time.

“I am grateful to Hoyoverse for the chance to perform,” he says. “It was the first time I could choose how I wanted to be perceived. I was able to give input on how I wanted to look during the performance and to channel the dramatic side of opera.”

opera singer behind video games paolo

Advice for Creatives

2024 is already off to a strong start for Di Pietro with the release of Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, but he’s looking forward to more. “I want to do more original music. Also, if it’s a bit weird or a bit artistic, I’ll do it,” says Di Pietro with a laugh.

He continues, “I’d like to go back to my dark roots, like what I’ve shown through my work with Polumnia Omnia. Heavy metal is also a genre I’ve always loved and would like to explore professionally.”

When asked for advice on pursuing a career such as his, Di Pietro simply says that it’s all to do with the ancient Roman saying “Mens sana in corpore sano,” meaning “A healthy mind in a healthy body.”

“Being born with a chronic illness, I had to learn to take care of my health more than most people,” he shares. “Eating clean and exercising with constancy will help you not only with your physique but also with your performance in any kind of activity.”

More Info

Follow Di Pietro’s journey on Instagram and X (formerly Twitter).

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