Acclaimed tenor Alfie Boe will be performing his first solo U.S. concert in Kansas City at Helzberg Hall on May 6. The event is a collaborative benefit concert for the Lyric Opera of Kansas City and the Kansas City Irish Center. When asked how he would like to be introduced to Kansas City, his reply was immediate and simple: “I’m a singer.” – Alfie Boe
That may be a bit of an understatement. Alfie grew up in Fleetwood, England the youngest of nine children, listening to his parents’ favorite singers – Richard Tauber, Karl Denver, Slim Whitman, Maria Callas. As he got older he developed a lifelong penchant for classic rock and blues. But fate – and talent – would initially send him in a different direction, as he undertook years of formal opera training at the D’Oyly Carte, the Royal College of Music, The National Opera Studio and the Royal Opera House. He left his formal training in 2002 to play the lead in Baz Luhrmann’s production of La bohème on Broadway, winning a Tony Award in the process. That was followed by tours in the U.S. and U.K. with various musical productions, countless operas, and a couple of albums. But it was accepting the role of Jean Valjean in the 25th Anniversary production of Les Misérables at the O2 Arena in London in 2010 that has brought his talent world-wide recognition.
Did you know that performance was going to be such a game changer?
Alfie: I knew it was an opportunity to develop other areas of music for myself and an opportunity to try and put out there my philosophy on music, that there are no divisions between genres. I don’t believe there are genres of music. I think there are only two types of music – good and bad – and I just want to sing good music and good songs, whether it be classical, musical theatre, pop, rock, blues, jazz, folk, country – I want to sing it all but still keep the legitimacy of using my own voice. I don’t modify the way I sing for the specific song or area of music I’m singing. I never change the style. I may just add an American twang which popularizes it a little more. The opera voice has a certain resonance to it, but there are people in the popular world who have that same resonance in their voice. There are lots of rock singers who have that quality so I don’t think it’s only in opera singers. I think there are many fine singers in jazz and blues who breathe correctly use the same muscle control that classical singers do as well, so it’s interesting to notice that really.
Do you change how you approach a performance based upon whether it is opera, musical theatre or solo concert?
Alfie: The difference with being in an operatic production is you are playing opposite a number of other performers, you are playing a character for the entire show. The character has a journey, a story throughout the entire opera or throughout the musical theatre piece or actual play or whatever you are doing. But when I’m on stage in a concert I’m taking on many different roles. I’m taking on a lot of different characters and I try to adopt those characters in each individual song and even if a song isn’t about a particular character, isn’t from a musical but is just a popular song, I basically just become like a poet and try and tell the story. I become a storyteller really. I just like to paint pictures and paint images in peoples’ minds and use the sound of the music and the sound of my voice to do that.
Do you make a personal connection to your own life when you sing those songs, such as when you sing “In My Daughter’s Eyes”?
Alfie: I think you have to connect with those sort of songs in some way, and it just so happened that when I found that song it was quite apt for my own daughter. I spend a lot of time away from my family so songs like that remind me of my little girl running around a field or playing in the garden and things do hit me hard. I get very emotional about them. So for that particular song I would have to say I do think about my daughter when I sing that song, because that is my connection to it. There are many songs that remind me of my family and people that are close to me. Everybody has a soundtrack to their life and mine is still playing on.
Have the recent changes in the direction of your career been strategic moves on your part, or just the taking of opportunities when they come along?
Alfie: We all sit down in a conference room with a huge map of the world and say ‘right, who do we attack next.’ (laugh) No, it’s not like that at all. The opportunities arise and you grab them with both hands and try to do the best that you can. The result of one concert could change the whole way of thinking, the whole direction of your career.
And Les Misérables is a good example of that…
Alfie: Yeah, I didn’t expect a record deal would come from it and other things in the West End and two top-selling albums in the U.K. – I didn’t expect that would happen and I was just looking at it as an opportunity to play a role that’s close to my heart and to play a character that I’ve connected with, and open doors to another world of music that I wanted to explore. I never actually focused on the actual event itself. For weeks leading up to it I just concentrated on every single day that I had to work. I do that now. I only try to live for the day, live for this moment because tomorrow might never happen, or it might not be along your plans.
Everyone is very excited about your upcoming concert in Kansas City.
Alfie: I’m really looking forward to coming to Kansas City. It’s really going to be a great concert. It will be a little different from my recent concert at Royal Festival Hall in London, some new music and different sets with the band. It’s going to be a good time!