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.