In just over twelve months Alfie Boe has become a big and popular name in classical music despite only signing with EMI Classics label in November 2006.He is now about to release his new album La Passione but being a singer wasn't always on the cards for the Lancashire born Alfie.He took the brave decision to leave his job as a mechanic to pursue his dream of an opera career going on to study at the Royal College of Music and the National Opera Studio.I caught up with Alfie to discuss his new album and his swift rise to fame.

Why did you decide to pursue a music career?
Because I was rubbish at every other job! (laughs) It was strange really I didn't intend to become a singer I didn't think it was something that I was able to do, I came from Lancashire a little town Fleetwood, and it's not something you grow up wanting to be I'm going to be an opera singer. I was working as a body mechanic in a car factory when I decided to make the leap, it's a bit different isn't it, I just got hooked on performing hooked on being on stage, I worked in a few theatres as stage crew so that gave me a bit of a buzz of being around the area of the stage, I just wanted to go for it to see if I could make it.
How were you introduced to classical and opera music?

Well it was something that I grew up listening to, not purposefully, it was my father who was the big fan of classical music he wasn't a big fan of opera but he liked listening to the old tenors. So I grew up listening to a lot of that type of repertoire and didn't realise the effect it was having on me until I grew up and started hearing the songs again and it brought back so many memories and I realised that I could produce the same sound and sing the same songs.

And how tough a decision was it to leave a secure job to pursue a dream?

It was a tricky decision, one that I was excited to do, my colleagues at the car factory were all behind me they said if you have got this opportunity of doing something with your life and doing something different then go for it don't hold back because you will always be second guessing, you will always look back and be thinking well what if I had done this and done that where would I be now?

You moved to London just how hard was it?

It very very different it was a completely different world to what I was used to, obviously coming from a small fishing town in the north of England to a big city like London it was a big adjustment. It was an exciting thing, I was very excited by the atmosphere of London, and how lively it is but also very daunting, especially when you were broke and you didn't have any money.

And you studied at the National Opera Studio

Yeah I studied at the Royal College of Music and then the National Opera Studio after that.

How much training was involved to hone your talent?

Well it's so important, if there are any young singers out there who want to try and develop their careers to become professional, then it's very important to get solid training on your voice because it has got to last you a lifetime there's not much point in trying to become a singer if you have not been trained, it's like any other job you wouldn't expect a cake maker to come and build you a wedding cake if they have never done it in their life, it's that sort of thing and you have to really have the training to support the voice and see you through a good career.

For me my time at the Royal College of Music and the National Opera Studio was invaluable because I learnt so much: I built a technique up, I learnt about repertoire, I did languages.

You went on to star in Baz Luhrmann's 'La Boheme' how did all that come about because it was said to be quite controversial?

Yeah I know I think I'm always questioning this why it was controversial, to me it was just a great production that spoke to so many people and touched people's hearts. The production itself, the only difference with it, was that we were performing on Broadway, and maybe that is what was controversial about it, we were doing an opera on Broadway and it wasn't in an opera house.

He spotted me over in London when I was performing La Boheme at Glyndebourne, it was broadcast on television, and they saw the production there and then asked me to come and audition, liked what I did and offered me the job. But to be honest I have always questioned why people thought it was so controversial to me it was just a magical performance.

You are now a successful recording artist how difficult was it to follow up your successful debut album with your new record La Passione?

Well both albums are very different the first album Onward is very amthemic it's got lots of strong solid anthems on there and some British nationalistic songs and there are also a couple of hymns on there so it's quite different to the album that I have just done, which is out pretty soon.

This new album consists of a lot of Italian songs and a couple of Spanish songs as well. They are very different, and I'm hoping that people will like this new repertoire, as it's something that I have been wanting to sing for a long time and wanting to record it's a great opportunity to bring this repertoire into people's lives.

I have read that this was an album that you longed to make why was that?

Well this music is so close to my heart it's music I listened to as a child, it's music that I studied at college. All of my professors at college said Alf what you should do is learn some of the Neapolitan repertoire some of the Italian folk songs they are really good training for the voice.

So I decided to have a go I looked at a few and was like wow these are really beautiful songs to do and if you really get inside them and understand the musicality of them, the language, and what they are saying they are really beautiful songs, and great poems really.

And it has been an album that I have wanted to do for a long long time and I'm glad I've had the opportunity now.

And how has the recording process differed do you have creative control or are you pushed in a certain direction by the record company?

Well it's a joint effort really there are songs on the album that I recorded that I liked but there are songs on the album that obviously the record company wanted to put on, as a point of sale, that are famous and people will recognise, and that's also important so that people can recognise and familiarise themselves with songs that they have heard in the past, but also there is a lot of repertoire on there that I chose that maybe are not well known and I want to try and introduce to people.

Opera still has quite a stuffy image here in Britain but not in other countries like Italy and Spain why do you think that is?

That is something that is an ongoing question really it's very strange that that is the case. I think opera over here, people have this image that it's an elitist thing and it's not, opera is available to everyone it was written for the man in the street it was written for the public it wasn't written for any particular class it was written for everyone: upper class, working class, middle class whatever.

So I think the barriers that are built up against classical music come from a lot of people who feel that they are not educated enough to listen to it, you don't have to be educated to listen to classical music or opera you don't have to understand everything that they are saying or the structure of music, if you like the tune and the feeling that you are getting from it then it's working it's doing its job it's always going to be available for people to listen to but it's up to them if they want to.

Opera singers have tried to broaden their audience by singing with pop stars do you have any intention of doing the same?

Well I think singing with pop stars is great it's a wonderful opportunity to reach another side of an audience a different audience, which is what Pavarotti is famous for doing, he broadened the horizon of classical music and took it to a popular audience, I think that that is great to do as long as you are singing something that is credible to your voice.

I wouldn't consider singing a popular song to try and do that my intention is to take classical music and cross it over to an audience who aren't that familiar with it not the other way around, to take a popular song and cross myself over.

That's the difference for cross over artists for me I think that cross over has gone in the wrong direction and people think that cross over is crossing over repertoire, one minute singing a classical song then next singing a pop song, I see it the other way where you should take classical music and cross it over to a different audience.

You are regularly compared to the likes of Russell Watson does this bother you at all?

No not all we are a similar age, we have sung a similar repertoire but the thing is with Russell he has sung a lot of pop music and I haven't sung any pop music and that's not the artist that I am I'm more of a classical opera singer.

But with someone like Russell he is a great guy who has done an incredible job and an incredible service to classical music as well if people have listened to him and liked his music and that has brought people to understand classical a bit more then he has done a good job and done what he was meant to do.

He has, in my opinion, a fantastic pop voice I think he sings pop and jazz and swing stuff very very very well I think that the opera side is maybe is not his forte but he does a very good job in it, he still works very well in the classical world by singing the popular stuff, and he has a good set of lungs on him so he does a good job.

And finally what is next for you?

I'm going to be obviously promoting the album a lot and am doing a lot of television appearances. I will be doing the Festival of Remembrance pretty soon at the Royal Albert Hall, I'm at English National Opera again next year performing the Merry Widow, I'm also performing at the Royal Opera House next year in a production of Electra, Strauss' Electra, so it's good to be back there. But I haven't got a summer season at Wigan's Welfare Miner's Club I was looking forward to that.

FemaleFirst Helen Earnshaw

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