Romantic vision for Alfie Boe ahead of Liverpool date
By Catherine Jones liverpoolecho.co.uk
Catherine Jones talks to Alfie Boe before his show at the ECHO arena
Alfie Boe who is bringing his new UK tour to the ECHO arena
I want to make the whole arena very romantic, with the lighting, with the sounds before the show starts, with the smell. Everything.
“I want to really make it transport people to another world when they get into the auditorium.”
No one could accuse Alfie Boe of lacking ambition.
And the 41-year-old is determined when it comes to the vision he had for his second UK arena tour which starts next month.
“No flashing lights this time. No jazz hands!” he grins. “Just beautiful images, trying to transport people to another realm, another era.”
That vision is based on the songs then man ‘formerly known as the Nation’s Favourite Tenor’ (as his own publicity puts it) is set to perform.
His last album, Trust, was ‘coolly contemporary’, featuring songs from a range of musical genres from country and blues to gospel music. There was a hint of Bob Dylan (Forever Young), a touch of Carole King (You’ve Got a Friend) and even a soupÇon of Elvis Costello (God Give Me Strength).
Now he’s about to release a new record, Serenata, which sees him returning to his first, youthful, musical love – classical Neapolitan arias that he first performed as a 10-year-old in Fleetwood.
Was it turning 40 last year that prompted the dad-of-two’s reflectiveness perhaps?
“I think that may have something to do with it,” he muses. “Also, it’s music that… I was at home one evening and I was cooking away, because I love to cook, I’m a very amateur chef, but I love experimenting with food.
“I was in my kitchen, cooking away, and I opened a bottle of red and was making this beautiful pasta dish, and I thought right, this is it, and I put on some opera. I put on an album of Giuseppe di Stefano who is, for me, one of the masters of this sort of style of singing. And it just spoke to me.
“And then I put on another album of an Italian pop singer from the 1930s called Carlo Buti, and I listened to him sing the songs. And it just started to resonate, and to fill me with such life and joy and energy and romance and passion for this sort of music again.
“It was a great opportunity and a lovely feeling when people went with it and we decided to make an album of this stuff.”
You can only imagine his rider if he wants to recreate that mood backstage at the ECHO arena.
Alfie laughs: “I need a 6ft basil plant in the corner of my room!”
Of course, anyone who knows anything about Alfred Giovanni Roncalli Boe (named after a Pope no less) will know the stories about the then teenager entertaining fellow workers at Blackpool’s TVR factory with operatic arias as he polished the cars.
And it appears showbiz runs in his blood. His great, great-grandfather Alfred Jones all but ran away to join the circus.
“When Buffalo Bill did a European tour he performed for Queen Victoria in Manchester,” Alfie explains. “And my great great-grandfather was there watching the show, and joined his wild west show as crew.
“We have a photograph somewhere of him sitting with Native Americans and Buffalo Bill next to him. It’s incredible.”
A century on, it wasn’t the wild west that attracted this Alfred, but the all together more English D’Oyly Carte Opera Company whom he joined for a spell before studying at the Royal College of Music, where he really discovered the full range of Italian repertoire.
His big break came courtesy of film-maker Baz Luhrmann who was searching for a tenor to perform in his Broadway production of La Bohème, while he’s also sung at Glyndebourne, and for the English National Opera and Welsh National Opera.
He remains best known on stage however for playing Jean Valjean, singing the role at the Les Miserables 25th anniversary concert at the O2 Arena and then in the West End.
There was some talk about his reprising the role on Broadway.
“I considered the opportunity,” he says, “but I’ve done the role, I did the 25th and I did my stint in the West End as well, so I don’t really want to be known for just doing the one thing.
And even though I loved the role, and who knows, in the future I may do it again, I just think it was time to give it a rest and time to move on to other avenues really.”
Those other avenues recently included a guest role in ITV drama Mr Selfridge, playing a music hall singer.
“I’d love to do some more acting,” he enthuses. “I’d love to do a bit more TV work. It’s something I’ve been interested in for a long time, and something that’s been part of my operatic career and musical theatre career, is having to act.
“So that’s something that comes to me as part of my job. And that’s also what I’ll be doing in the arena show, which is to make the show about the songs and about the sentiment behind the songs, and about the voice really. And I try and do that with every song I sing.
“So getting the opportunity to perform on a show like Mr Selfridge where it incorporated me singing as well was a blessing.
“I’d like to do some straight acting too, because I think that’s a similar thing. It’s just lyrics without music attached to it. You still have an emotion to put across.”
TV work – save for a recent appearance singing Bring Him Home on the newly-restored Sunday Night at the London Palladium – will have to sit on the backburner however until this latest tour is completed.
It’s a chance for Alfie, who now lives in Utah with wife Sarah and children Grace and Alfred (one of the reasons for the move was to be closer to his in-laws in Salt Lake City) to spend some time in the UK, although alas, the LFC fan has timed his visit to the ECHO arena very badly, missing a home game by 24 hours.
“I know, I saw that, I can’t believe it!” he laughs. “Do you know, I haven’t been to a game at Anfield for years, and I really miss it, I really miss the feeling. So I’d love to come back and also sing for the club as well.”
Now there’s an offer.
Liverpool will, however, be the closest date to ‘home’ for his family, and he expects to see a few familiar faces in the audience.
It may be an arena show, but it will, he hopes, be a suitably intimate affair.
“I think you really have to trust on the power of the songs, the sentiment behind them, and really believe in your delivery, believe in what you’re doing,” Alfie adds. “That’s really what’s going to work, that’s what is going to draw people in.”
- Alfie Boe appears at the ECHO arena on November 30.