Yesterday morning, in spite of a hotel fire alarm test going on, I caught up with one of the nations best known and most loved classical singers, Alfie Boe, to talk about Wes Anderson films, Come Dine With Me and his new album ‘Serenata’, which is out on Monday 17th November, preceding his UK Tour later this month, arriving at The Brighton Centre on Tuesday 9th December 2014, with support from Samoan operatic trio Sol3 Mio. Here is my Alfie Boe interview!
Good morning Alfie. Firstly, you have worked with a number of charities including Prince’s Foundation for Children and the Arts, which you are an Ambassador for. Are there any projects upcoming that you’re working on at the moment?
There are a lot of charities which I am constantly working with and also lots that I’m getting more involved with. I have been asked by Teenage Cancer Trust to perform in a concert that they are putting on which would be great. I want to get more involved with Elton John’s Aids Foundation because I think that is a really important charity. There is always something going on with the Children and the Arts which is a great charity. It inspires children and shows them the potential that they have for a career in the arts, possibly if they weren’t even thinking about it. It’s important for developing the future of the arts.
Over the last few years, you have developed a close friendship with Matt Lucas. What was it like to work with him on stage? Did he ever put you off by making you laugh?
Matt Lucas is a great guy. He’s also really professional and he was really focused on his role. There were a couple of times where he’d pull a funny face or something like that, but he took it very seriously – I know that’s probably hard for a lot of people to imagine, knowing what his personality is like. He really wanted to perfect the role. It had been his dream since he was about 11 to perform in Les Les Misérables so it was great to be there to see that come true for him.
Do you have an ideal role to play in a musical or opera and where would you like to perform it?
There’s one role which springs to mind right away and that is Sweeney Todd. He’s a really interesting character, somebody you can really get stuck into, and the show has a great story and amazing music. I wouldn’t really mind where I performed it really. In the West End or on Broadway would be great! (Any directors looking for a Sweeney Todd, get in touch with Alfie!)
I’ve read that your favourite films include ‘The Good The Bad and The Ugly’ and ‘Back To The Future’. Do you have any favourites from the last few years?
There was a film that I saw a couple of weeks ago that I thoroughly enjoyed, called ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel‘. I love the monologues that the characters have in the film. (I liked the moment when the bell boy pushes the villain off a mountain and Ralph Fiennes’ character is hanging off the edge!) Haha! “Shit, you got him!”
Do you like any other Wes Anderson films?
I really liked Royal Tenenbaums and Life Aquatic. My kids love Fantastic Mr Fox too so that is often playing at home. I love the way that Wes Anderson creates a whole different world with his films, from the way they’re shot to the styling. It is all very visual and beautiful and nice to be taken away to another person’s world.
Coming from a working class background, how did you find studying at the Royal College of Music? Did you get on well with the other students?
When I went for my audition at RCM it was a really daunting experience. But when I was offered a place, it gave me confidence that I must be capable and deserved to be there. I threw myself into every class. I made a lot of friends there from every walk of life – some from working class backgrounds like mine and some from the other end of the spectrum, and they were all really nice. We were all just studying music and trying to be the best that we could. Quite a few of my classmates I see around, performing in orchestras and as soloists in concerts which is really nice.
I hear that you’re areal food lover. What would be your favourite thing to cook if you were on cooking show like Come Dine With Me and what cocktail would you serve your guests?
I can’t think of anything worse to be on. I really hate that show, but I think that’s because a part of me is hooked on it. I criticised the commentator before because sometimes it seems like he just jumps on everything that they say, but a lot of the time he does have it spot on. If I were on the show though I don’t know what I’d cook. Something traditional, like a Shepherds Pie and an apple pie with custard for pudding. Keep it simple! I don’t really drink any more so not sure about a cocktail – maybe a pint of Guiness with a straw and an umbrella in it!
Supporting you on the UK Tour is the Samoan trio Sol3 Mio. Where did you first meet/hear about them?
I’m kinda ashamed to say that I first heard about them through the label, Decca Records. I had a look at some videos of them on youtube and I was really impressed. They are wonderfully talented guys and are incredible singers who are also really funny performers. They play off each other really well to provide a really comic delivery, but they would be great individually too. I’m really looking forward to being on tour with them. I am sure that they are going to be great fun to work with and there won’t be any dull moments.
You have previously performed ‘O Sole Mio’ and Sol3 Mio have a version of ‘Bring Him Home’ on their self-titled album. Is it challenging to sing a song that is well recognised by the public and how do you try to put a unique spin on it?
Bring Him Home has been a really important song for me and I think I’ve made it my own now. I think you have to make your own mark and put your own style on everything you do, especially if it is a well known song. You have to be careful about what you choose to perform though. If you take a Sinatra song like “Fly Me To The Moon”, it would be really hard to cover because why wouldn’t people want to hear the Sinatra version. (Like the Beatles too.) Yeah exactly. Song selection is so important.
The album is almost mostly sung in Italian. How is your spoken Italian and do you think that audiences can find it hard to relate to songs with lyrics that they don’t understand?
Absolutely. The first thing you do when singing a song in another launguage is to get the translation down, so that you know what you are singing. Then you can take the emotion behind that to portray it to the audience, even if they don’t know the exact meaning of what you’re singing. There’s a big difference between singing and speaking in a language – when you sing it is more poetic whereas speaking is factual. I can get by with Italian, but it feels almost Shakespearean the way that I speak it, not as natural as I’d like it to be.
How did you prepare for recording an album of Italian 1950s songs? Did you get the chance to go to Italy before recording?
Unfortunately I didn’t have time to do any researching in Italy. That would have been a real luxury. The songs have been in my repertoire for years and I researched them online over the years. I did get to go to Italy for the video and photoshoot for the album but it was a short visit.
Do you have a favourite track on the album?
I really like the first track, Serenata Celeste. There is a great recording by Carlo Buti from the 1930s. He was a pop singer with a really classical sounding voice. The song has a wonderful melody and a really heavenly sound. I love it.
What are your musical plans for next year, after the tour?
I’ve got quite a few concerts coming in for next year which is nice. There’s a lot of new projects on the table – there’s one very exciting one which will be happening in a couple of months. I can’t say any of the details yet, but there will be an announcement in December so watch this space!
Finally, I read that as well as singing, you also like to play the drums. If you could play the drums for any band, past or present, who would it be?
Ooh, great question. Pink Floyd or Led Zep, not that I’m good enough to play with either. I love a good solid rhythm though. Or maybe The Stones – but I don’t think Charlie Watts could ever be replaced! I started playing when I was 12 and I love it, it’s great fun. I don’t think I’m quite ready to play in a band though!
Alfie’s new Album Serenata is available from November 17th here.