Alfie Boe is good at upsetting people. He speaks his mind, leaving diplomacy at home, and not thinking about the consequences. While he is certainly more of an opera singer than Katherine Jenkins, his opera performances are often sniffed at by critics and fans.
In anticipation of his Glasgow concert at the end of this month, he talked to The Scotsman‘s Claire Black.
On the controversy over the use of microphones in Baz Luhrmann's Broadway production of La Boheme
“It was silly. Really silly. They've used microphones in opera houses. The Royal Opera has but they'll never admit it, English National Opera have too, but they'll never admit it either because they're too proud and too stupid.”
On saying he thinks operas are boring
“The opera houses are not mad on being criticised and they're not mad on change. They think they're doing enough to change, but they won't get off their arses and take the music to people. They won't do that. They think everyone should come to them and it's just not the case, you've got to work harder than that. Putting stuff on YouTube isn't enough.
“I've had a lot of people criticise me. Why did you say that? Why did you do that? I say, because it's true and it's my opinion. The opera houses have plenty of opinions that they put forward so why shouldn't I? I don't find sitting in an opera very exciting. I find it pretty boring. I don't find it boring performing it, being on stage and singing my heart out. But watching it, I could take it or leave it.”
On Scottish Opera's and Scottish Opera Go-Round where he once worked
“One night we were playing a theatre in Perth, the next night we were playing a scout hut with a dog in the audience and kids sitting along the front eating crisps. It was great. They were having a really good night. It was better than going to see an opera in any big fancy decked-out opera house.”
On the Royal Opera House and ENO courses for singers
“Give them their coaching, their lessons, let them meet with directors and conductors, but instead of doing recitals and masterclasses, get them to learn a production and put it on and get them out on to the streets. Get them into Trafalgar Square, get them out to the council estates in Birmingham or in Liverpool. Get them out to the people. Stick them in the back of a van with a bit of set and that's it.”
On how his outspokenness has affected his career
“I think I've probably shot myself in the foot for a while with the opera world as far as roles are concerned. No big houses are going to employ me after what I said on radio. I might be wrong but I'm not seeing any sign of it. I'd love to work for them again but I have an opinion. I like respect. And I don't like injustice.”
“I actually see crossover a little differently, actually. I see it about being more a crossing over of the audiences than the repertoire. Music is one world, I don't see any divisions. The only way I see crossover working is if classical music is brought to the rock audience, or rock to the classical. That's how I see it.”
On his fans after playing Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet at the Royal Opera House
“I was playing the second tenor role but when I walked out to take my curtain call people started cheering and there were cameras and all that. I came back behind the curtain and the guy who'd sung the main role went out and he didn't get the same sort of reaction.”
On the critics who said that the downfall of Boe's career would be his fans
“I couldn't give a damn what they say because a lot of critics who review opera are spoiled kids who don't like sharing their sweets in the playground, but it's an insult to my fans and I want to protect them. I really didn't like it.
“I hate that idea that there's a fourth wall on the stage. I don't ever feel like that. Even when I'm performing in Les Mis there's no fourth wall because I talk to the audience. I ask them questions – who am I? Can I condemn this man to slavery? I'm asking them for help, I'm communicating directly with them. Even in my own concerts I do that. I want to connect with them. If I could bring them on stage with me, I would.”
“This business can get a little lonely. I'm missing my wife and my little girl, and my family in Fleetwood don't get down here to London often and I don't get up there very often either. You have to really make your own family. The people you work with, your management, they become your close friends, the people you can turn to.”
On comedian and musical performer Matt Lucas
“He's a really good friend. He's been very supportive and very encouraging with everything I've done. It's people like that who come into your life who become like your brother rather than just a friend.”
On the future
“I see a whole world of opportunity when it comes to music. I'm finding my own style. I'm beginning to write my own music, working with a musical director. It's interesting because those songs are quite power ballady, quite orchestral and epic but with a bit of acoustic rock band thrown in. I want to try my hand at some other genres of music too – soul, blues, a bit more rock. But also, I don't want to neglect the classical side.”
Photo from Alfie Boe's website
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.
How refreshing to hear someone speak out about their true beleifs.
Alfie Boe has opened up a whole world of good music to thousands of his followers,
oprera,rock,classic showtunes, whatever the genre..good music is good music.
His role as Jeean Valjean in Les mis he played with pure feeeling and passion.
Those who criticise him ought to come to his concerts…his talent and rapport with his audience is pure magic.
Carry on with what you are doing Alfie Boe.
A really good interview,Alfie is always a delight ‘cos he speaks as he finds.However,the interviewer should have read the article more carefully before posting:the comment headed as being about Les Mis at O2 certainly wasn’t that as Alfie was the lead Jean Valjean,not second tenor!I think perhaps it may refer to his role of Tybalt in Romeo & Juliet,which was when the comment about his fans was made.
Alfie always speaks as he finds. A truthful performer in all aspects. I love all good music, but only Alfie has drawn me into the opera house, where I still find myself being regarded as an outsider, as I’m from the North! (Yes, that sort of snobbery does still exist in the opera world!) It is a shame Alfie may have shot himself in the foot where the opera companies are concerned, as his glorious voice is so suited to that medium, but it is their loss, not that of Alfie’s fans, who still getto hear him wherever he performs. And long may that be possible.
So refreshing to hear from someone who is not afraid to speak his mind. Was a little confused about Alfie being second tenor at the LM anniversary concert? I think that must have referred to a different performance. I cannot understand how Alfie’s fans will be his downfall, surely completely the opposite as without fans a singer/actor would not have a career, and I think Alfie’s career is going from strength to strength.
I think they’re referring to his crossover fans being his downfall as an opera singer. Even Pavarotti was sniffed at when he returned to the theatre after his Three Tenors concerts: he was no longer “serious”!
Thank you for this detailed interview. I was quite surpirsed by the arrogance and carelessness of Mr. Boe, and the responses by his fans posted above.
1st. While I can easily imagine that Mr Boe might have been bullied by the posh people in the opera world, I’m afraid that calling ROH and ENO “stupid” was a step too far. Such a remark can only reveal who really is stupid. Because from an ordinary (and not at all posh) punter’s point of veiw. these two opera houses have done so much to educate this ignorant Asian woman about music during the last 2 decades for around 15 pounds a ticket. I’m sure not all the big-shots are nice and not all the productions brilliant, but he is only talking in a very self-centred way. If he personally hits a wall, so what? Opera houses are still doing great jobs. There was even a bag-lady who was almost always in the gods of ROH. Great music is being brought to ordinary, working-class people in those opera houses, already. Thank you very much. Come and join me in the Upper Slip of ROH, Mr. Boe. Then you will see what kind of people frequent opera houses.
2nd, Having said all these, I must admit that it was a really good idea of Mr. Boe that opera should be sung in town squares and counsil estates. I look forward to seeing him take the initiative. His name-value should draw big crowds.
3rd. As for the bigger applaudes he got than the 1st tenor, I am sure he was talking about Romeo and Juliet at ROH. I was there myself. He played the (rather small) role of Tybolt well. I don’t know if Tybolt could be called 2nd tenor, or he got the bigger applaudes than the singer who sang Romeo. From my seat in the Upper Slip it sounded as if it wasn’t the case. And even if it was (which actually wasn’t), is it really wise to boast that he was more appreciated than the lead? I find it a rather peculiar and daft statement. Now really, who is stupid?
Finally, I believe that Mr. Boe’s remarks would have been a lot more appreciated if he had stated these honest opinions while actively playing many operatic roles and making great contributions to the opera world, and not after quitting it having done too little.
Calling people stupid is often a stupid thing to do! People do stupid things, and maybe say stupid things, but to say that an opera company or a person is stupid is, maybe… um… foolish? Thank you for such a long and thought out comment. Here in Milan the La Scala fans in the gods (the loggionisti) are usually the most informed in the theatre. Happy opera-going.
While calling the London opera houses “stupid” probably wasn’t the best idea, Alfie does have it right. Unless you live in London you won’t see their productions. Other arts seek out an audience. Museum collections will go on international tours, Broadway shows start off-Broadway and take road-trips, major orchestras cut cds and dvds. The Met’s productions are filmed for PBS in the States. The ROH? It simply is not enough to “educate” the audience that comes in the door, and taking opera out into the provinces is a wonderful idea that the ROH will never attempt now that it was Boe who suggested it.
Boe hasn’t abandoned opera, but they’re certainly ignoring him. You cannot work at a house unless you’re offered a part. And since leaving the Young Artists’ Program for “La Boheme on Broadway”, the ROH has offered Boe only two parts, a walk-on, the messenger in Electra and Tybalt in Romeo & Juliet. I read the interview he did before R&J, it was extremely generous, praising the production, the directors and correcting the reporter when he commented on Alfie’s second tenor role. Alfie said flat out that every role was important to the story, all were important contributions to putting the music across. I can well believe that egos were bruised backstage. Even if Boe’s applause wasn’t larger than the lead, anything even close would have been resented. The reviewer’s slam about Boe’s fans was uncalled for, and a clear indication of how opera houses see those who don’t come with the proper reverential “attitude.”
But really now, if working on operatic stages for 18 yrs doesn’t give you the right to express an opinion, how long does it take? Unless of course, if the only opinions wanted are those that agree with the managers of the houses.
ボーさん、またセンスのない発言。頭悪いなぁって言いたくなる。。“Interview with Alfie Boe: RoyalOperaHouse and the ENO are “too proud and too stupid”: http://t.co/2GG6j4HH
Strange,but I was always under the impression that opera was originally introduced to entertain “the masses”.When did it become quite so snobbish?
This sounds like someone who is surprisingly arrogant. Instead of encouraging younger people to enjoy opera he has done a remarkable job of alienating a younger generation.
Never have I found an opera goer, interested in opera for what it is, which is musical theatre for the masses to be as arrogant and snobbish as Alfie Boe. He has decided that he knows best and ‘only he’ knows whats what.
Going to an opera is not so expensive as going to a football match or drinking down the pub a couple of times a week or going for a meal. The Metropolitan Opera brings world class opera via satelite to many cinemas around the UK and as a result opera is accessible to most who can afford the pub or football excursions.
Suggesting an audience with children and dogs is a good idea is as inappropriate as suggesting the audience should be half filled with dogs and children at a tense thriller movie beacuse that’s what opera is about. It’s drama, suspense, emotion AND music and song. I really think Alfie Boe feels outside of the pack and I think he only has himself to blame.
I’m sorry Mr Gramilano but why did you take what Alfie Boe said out of context?I was just relieved to realise that he was actually a quite decent person when I read the original interview on Scotsman.What you wrote here is so misleading that it makes him look like an arrogant person.You can’t just cut and paste something from another article and choose a word or two as the title of your own article.It gives people the wrong impression of a fairly decent artist.Alfie Boe obviously has his reasons to call ROH and ENO proud and stupid – you can clearly tell from that original interview that he was treated badly by the opera world.As Laurel Fitch said in her post,Alfie Boe did an interview just before Romeo & Juliet and seemed totally humble and polite and enthusiastic about doing opera.See the article here:http://www.musicalcriticism.com/interviews/boe-1010.shtml. So why this completely change of attitude towards opera?It’s not that hard to guess what happened backstage is it?
Btw,you wrote this article about an artist without even watching the most important performance of his career?(otherwise you wouldn’t have considered him as the second tenor of the Les Mis 25th Anniversary concert) I’m sorry I just find it rather strange….
Thanks for your comment. I obviously haven’t been understood well: I admire people who speak their mind. It is certainly risky as a career move, but if you feel confident enough, or are brave enough, why not? I don’t know how well you know the workings of an opera house… maybe to call the management stupid is not wise (stupid in their decisions, maybe) but many are indeed proud and elitist even when they are poorly informed about the repertoire, casting choices and so on. Boe’s right in my book: outspoken and right. So for me, it doesn’t seem out of context.
I didn’t see him as Tybalt, though reading the reviews for R&J brought him to my attention as an artist, whereas previously he was just a name. It was on the Opera Today site that I read: “Alfie Boe as Tybalt received prolonged applause which he acknowledged as if he were a principal. He has a huge following because he does popular song but that adulation might be his undoing.” Indeed. As I mentioned in a previous comment, Pavarotti had a hard time with fans and critics after his Pavarotti & Friends events, the dancer Roberto Bolle has similar issues after becoming ballet’s pin-up boy. Just because you get more applause doesn’t mean that it’s the “right” applause.
Thanks for underlining the error, (the second tenor in Les Miz… Marius? Or Thenardier?!) which is now corrected. That was very lazy indeed!
What an absolute travesty if Alfie Boe is not invited back into opera for he surely has possibly the most dynamic voice filled with such passion in our time.