“Why Make Everything a Fairy Tale?”: Interview with Alfie Boe
by Melissa Wimbish
Tenor Alfie Boe says that life as an opera singer is not at all like a fairy tale. But I beg to differ!
Don’t the stories usually start off really bad for the protagonist and then get more awesome as they work harder… and either outsmart or make friends with all the right people? Yeah…pretty sure that happens in all of the best stories and Mr. Boe’s is no exception. In this interview with Craig McLean of The Telegraph, the flat-knuckled, leather-jacketed tenor gives us the nitty gritty of life before the storybook ending:
“There is a class system in opera,” says Boe, born the youngest of nine to a working-class Roman Catholic family in Fleetwood, Lancashire, “and there’s no denying that really. It’s pretty damn obvious.” In last year’s autobiography, Alfie: My Story, his case was as plain as the book’s title: the tutors who wouldn’t back him, the directors who didn’t rate him, the high-art establishment that often seemed to look down its nose at the one-time apprentice car mechanic with the proudly northern accent. “I often wondered if my face fitted, being from where I’m from,” he says now.
Boe, 39, was raised by opera-loving parents and his staggering vocal talents became apparent in his youth. Teenage stints as a drummer in local blues bands and as a singer in am-dram productions led, via the TVR auto factory in Blackpool, to an audition with the D’Oyly Carte company in London and from there to training at the Royal College of Music, the National Opera Studio and the Royal Opera House. He did the legwork. But as Boe’s memoir makes clear, his progress was not without hurdles.
“The Royal Opera House Covent Garden, such hallowed ground,” he writes with an audible snort of derision. “It’s a bloody wooden platform. No better than the Marine Hall in Fleetwood.” What made him decide to be so honest? “I think if you’re going to write a book, you’ve got to be truthful. You’ve got to make it a bit gritty. Why make everything a fairy tale? Life’s not like that. I could have written it differently. I could have said I had so much support from the Royal Opera House to leave, and from Tisi Dutton and David Gowland, and, yeah, they were a little upset to see me leave, but they patted me on the back and on I went…” Boe says this with a sarcastic chuckle. He’s referring to the time a decade ago when he left an ROH young artists’ training programme, run by Gowland and Dutton, for Broadway – he had been hired by the film director Baz Luhrmann to star in his 2002 staging of La Bohème. “But it wasn’t bloody like that! I’d rather be truthful. I learnt that from my parents.”