ENO

All posts tagged ENO

Will Barratt has been performing in London’s West End (Jersey Boys, Phantom, War of the Worlds, Producers) for a while now but he became someone to look out for amongst Alfie Boe fans when he understudied Alfie’s Billy Bigelow in ENO’s Carousel; he literally took over from Alfie half way through a show after Alfie came down with an ear infection.  Two more shows the next day followed, both to rave reviews. I interviewed Will after the end of the five week run and although he was quick to point out he had no expectation of performing the role, in the event that he did, said that “it was good to get on for a couple of shows together, like a preview and opening night in two shows”.  Additionally, Will said that although Alfie was sad to have to miss the show, he was “so pleased that I got on – he was dead happy for me”.  If you want to hear Will singing the soliloquy, click here for a pre-show talk and performance at ENO (soliloquy starts at 23m).

As Will’s only role in the production was to understudy Billy, I was keen to find out about the creative process and rehearsal period; how much was he involved?  It turns out that both Will and Molly Lynch, who understudied Katherine Jenkins as Julie, were as fully involved as Alfie and Katherine from day one.  Whoever plays the part, the blocking and direction is the same, it’s the thought processes of the actor that differs.  Will says that “Alfie, Katherine, Molly and I, we all got on, we worked through stuff together…Alfie was also going through the process of figuring out the role, he didn’t know what it was on day one either.  We were all doing it together”.

Now, you might be wondering about the headline of this piece – Confessions of a Justified Sinner.  This is the title of Will’s self penned debut album, released in 2015 and showcases his seemingly effortless talent for singing, playing multiple instruments and song writing.  Of the songs themselves, Will says that “all the songs on this album contain bits of me, my life, history, wants and needs, aches and pains, ups and downs…they are my confessions”.  He leaves it up to us as to whether he is a justified sinner or not!

Being self penned, this album is not what you might expect from a musical theatre performer – there are a few songs that wouldn’t be out of place in a musical but on the whole, the songs are a mix of upbeat, rockier, pop and jazz with a hint of Americana that really get you up and out of your seat.  To me, a great song is one that you instantly sing along to or you can’t sit still to and both the opening track, Give Me Some Time and Demon, towards the end, had me up and dancing straight away.  These two songs, together with Fearless (below), a beautiful ballad and the almost Buble-esque Never Thought, are my favourite songs.  Interestingly, Give Me Some Time and Never Thought are songs originally written when Will was at school, just reworked and rearranged to give a more sophisticated sound.

Will’s fabulous voice handles all these styles with great versatility and is a joy to listen to.

Confessions of a Justified Sinner is available here:

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I’ve got a confession – I have never before last night seen either the film or a production of Carousel, although I had a fair idea of the synopsis and some of the staging in the current production at ENO, not to mention most of the songs. This lack of prior knowledge meant that I came to Carousel almost entirely free of preconceptions about the show.  Having said that, prior knowledge would have prepared me for the huge amount of dialogue in the show – modern musicals tend to have very little spoken word in them and I’d forgotten that older shows don’t just rely on the music to carry the show.  Indeed, it is the dialogue that is integral to the storyline here.

The role of Billy Bigelow is Alfie Boe’s third musical theatre role in short succession (but his first in a newly opened show, albeit in a short, five week run) and his first appearance at ENO for over six years.  Alfie is on stage for most of the show and copes effortlessly with the physicality of the role, particularly in the soliloquy, which involves singing whilst using the whole of the stage, ladders included.  As you might expect, Alfie’s glorious tenor voice is a delight; soaring vocals when necessary, tender and soft when the music requires, yet blending in perfectly on the ensemble numbers.  Alfie has recorded If I Loved You and if I’m honest, I’ve never really liked his version because I felt that despite the beautiful vocals, there was no emotion behind the words.  It is a totally different experience to hear Alfie sing the song in this production – the emotion, especially in the second act reprise, bursts out.  You are left in no doubt as to how Billy feels and that is down to the acting.

As mentioned earlier, Carousel is Alfie’s third musical theatre show in a short time but since both of those were on Broadway, this was my first opportunity to see Alfie in an acting role on stage.  I wasn’t disappointed.  The vocal demands are all in the first act and I felt Alfie relaxed into the role more as the show went on.  However, the characterisation of Billy was always totally believable and although there were moments when Alfie seemed almost awkward, I felt that was part of the character; Billy, as we understand from the opening dream sequence, is an awkward character who has not had the easiest start in life and it would be wrong, in my view, to have him portrayed as someone who is happy in own skin.  Anger is an emotion that is never far from Billy, always bubbling under the surface and Alfie plays this to perfection – he’s on a knife edge the whole time which lends an air of unpredictability that is central to both the character and the storyline.

Billy’s relationship with Julie Jordan is the the plot driver in Carousel and the role of Julie carries high expectations.  Katherine Jenkins makes her stage debut here and honestly, you wouldn’t know it. At no time did I feel I was watching an actress who had never performed in a stage musical before. In Katherine’s hands you felt that there was no other way for Julie to behave – of course she would run off with an unemployed carousel barker and inexorably start down the road of unhappiness.   The difficult relationship between the two lead roles is fully explored, with Billy going from the confident barker to an angry husband who resorts to domestic violence and Julie doing her best to save and reform him.  The violence is not shown on stage but much more powerfully, it is the constant belittling of Julie by Billy that remains with the audience and you understand just what compels women in Julie’s position to stay in such relationships.  Integral to this sensitive portrayal was the cracking chemistry between Alfie and Katherine which made the relationship believable.  Both were outstanding.

In addition, the whole cast and ENO chorus were sublime, with Alex Young as Carrie and Brenda Edwards as Nettie being in especially fine form.  Nicholas Lyndhurst’s role is tiny but pivotal to the plot and he displays his mastery of comic timing (Alfie also uses his natural gift for comic timing throughout) to devastating effect.  However, the laughter that greeted Lyndhurst perched on a ladder has possibly nothing to do with Carousel and everything to do with his previous incarnation as Rodney.  Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote some wonderful tunes for this show and the ENO orchestra make the most of them, beautifully conducted by David Charles Abell (yes from the 25th Les Mis concert).

Carousel is a show that I think will stay with me for a long time and not just because Alfie Boe stars.  Both he and Katherine Jenkins were outstanding but it is the overall story of redemption that sticks with you.   Does redemption mean that our earlier deeds are forgiven?  Perhaps yes, but not forgotten.  During the finale, having achieved his aim, there is nothing left for Billy but to disappear from the scene and it is entirely fitting that we are left with the happy ensemble.

Carousel is on at the London Coliseum until May 13 – tickets are available here and I urge you to go – you won’t regret it.

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What exciting news to wake up to this morning – Alfie Boe is to return to London’s ENO for a limited season of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, Carousel.  In the semi staged show, Alfie will play Billy Bigelow opposite Katherine Jenkins’ Julie Jordan, a casting that reunites them immediately after their one off Dubai Opera appearance on March 30th.  The pair have worked together many times previously, including a sublime duet of Barcelona on Katherine’s album, Home Sweet Home.

Carousel is full of iconic songs and Alfie has sung two of them before: You’ll Never Walk Alone is the encore song for the current Together tour as well as featuring on the top ten album of the same name and If I Loved You appears on Bring Him Home:

Carousel is the latest in a line of ENO semi staged musicals to grace the London Coliseum, with Sweeney Todd and Sunset Boulevard gaining rave reviews and sell out audiences (Lonny Price who directed both shows will also direct Carousel).  You’ll notice that I haven’t included the ill-fated Kismet – the less said the better!  Jenkins will make her stage debut in this production of Carousel and that, coupled with Alfie’s legions of fans is bound to mean that the show will be amongst the most sought after in 2017.

Alfie last appeared at the London Coliseum with ENO in Jonathan Miller’s production of The Mikado back in 2011 and since then his career has taken him in a different direction although he has of course played the lead in two Broadway musical productions in the last year.  Will this announcement mean Alfie will take on more roles like this?  I can’t wait to find out!

Alfie and Katherine’s Barcelona is available here:

katherine jenkins

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…with Michael Ball at his Musicals Prom at the Royal Albert Hall.  Alfie and Michael had recently struck up a friendship after appearing together in the ENO production of Kismet.  As anyone who has seen / heard Michael talk about this production and / or read Alfie’s book, My Story will know, Kismet was not a particularly happy experience for all concerned.  As mentioned in an earlier On This Day post, Alfie almost leapt into the public’s consciousness with an appearance on Michael Parkinson’s chat show but as with so many other things it became yet another ‘nearly’ moment.

However, all was not lost as the burgeoning friendship between Alfie and Michael led to Alfie’s guest slot at the Prom – as far as I know his only appearance at the Proms proper (rather than Proms in the Park).

Michael is not a classically trained singer but he makes a lovely job of duetting with Alfie.  And if you want to hear what Michael had to say about ENO and Kismet, here is him talking on the Jonathan Ross show in 2007 (the Kismet talk starts about 7.15):

Wouldn’t it be lovely to hear Michael and Alfie sing together again?

Alfie’s My Story is available here (the ‘winter’ cover is also available):

alfie autobio

 

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…at the Coliseum in the ill-fated ENO production of Kismet or as Alfie calls it in his autobiography, My Story, “the horror”.  According to Alfie, the production was a nightmare of a project.  The only good thing was the chance to appear on Michael Parkinson’s chat show to sing the show’s most famous song, Stranger in Paradise:

I remember seeing Alfie on the Parkinson show but I was not remotely interested in either him or his voice at that time; it must have been the combination of Alfie, the beard and Les Mis (not to mention the puffy white shirt) that hooked me! I believe this is also how Alfie and Michael Ball became friends…and if that hadn’t happened, Michael would not have been able to recommend Alfie for the role of Jean Valjean for the 25th anniversary concert of Les Mis. So, everything happens for a reason, even if that reason remains a bit unclear at the time!

If you saw Alfie in Kismet, leave a comment with your thoughts on the production – thank you x

Alfie’s My Story, is available here:

alfie autobio

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If you’ve read Alfie’s autobiography, My Story, you’ll know that The Pearl Fishers, which features Je Crois Entendre Encore, is probably not Alfie’s favourite opera.  You might recall that the first line of the book is “Bizet nearly killed me” (I don’t normally recall the opening line of biographies, but it’s a cracking opener).  As Alfie acknowledges, it wasn’t really Bizet’s fault; rather, Alfie suffered a bout of chlorine poisoning whilst filming a segment for the ENO production of the 1863 opera.

The Pearl Fishers is set in Ceylon and features a tenor (Nadir) and baritone (Zurga) both falling for the same soprano (Leila) who is having her own dilemma in choosing between secular love and her oath as a sacred priestess.  Although it was a not a brilliant success when it was first premiered, the music is often popular with modern audiences.  Indeed, Alfie’s duet with Bryn Terfel, Au Fond Du Temple Saint at the 2012 South Bank Show Awards topped the recent Alfie Boe Favourite Duet poll.

Je Crois Entendre Encore has been recorded by a number of tenors (inlcuding Alfie’s brother Michael on his recent album A La Voix), and also by other artists such as David Gilmour and Alison Moyet.  Gilmour’s interpretation was interesting but I liked Alison’s version.  The video below shows Alfie singing “acapulco” (watch the video if you don’t know what I mean) at Westonbirt Arboretum in 2012, but before you take a look, here is Janet Hudson’s story about her favourite Alfie Boe song:

My favourite Alfie song is Je Crois Entendre Encore as performed at Westonbirt Aboretum July 2012. My daughter had bought tickets and was taking me to the concert as a birthday treat. I was so looking forward to it and dared to hope Alfie would sing this song. Just a few days before the concert my then 12 year old grandson was rushed to hospital and diagnosed with Leukaemia. Needless to say we didn’t make the concert. Every time I hear Alfie singing this beautiful song I am moved to tears with all kinds of emotions. I am filling up now!! Happy to say Mikey is in remission and doing well x

Thank you Janet for sharing your Alfie story we all hope Mikey continues in remission xx

Thanks to Linda Wellington for sharing xx

If you don’t have the Classic FM album, click on the image below to order:

classic fm album

 

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I am often asked what it is about Alfie that I love – if this often happens to you as well, this post is for you to share with everyone that hasn’t yet been Boe’d so go ahead and click on the share buttons at the bottom of the post xx

So here goes – I’d love to know what you would add to this list!

1. This is his most famous song – do you need another reason to love Alfie?

2. Alfie hails from Fleetwood, Lancashire (although he was born in Blackpool in 1973).

3. Alfie is the youngest of nine siblings (4 boys and 5 girls) born to Alfred and Pat.

4. Alfie loves cooking and once considered becoming a chef (although he did once cut his finger on live TV!)

5. Other career changes considered include a personal trainer for the Salt Lake City police force.

6. Alfie is a Lyric Tenor which means his vocal range (excluding falsetto) is approximately the C one octave below middle C (C3) to the D one octave above middle C (D5) with the ability to extend a little to either side.

7. Alfie played Jean ValJean in the 25th Anniversary Les Miserables concert and at the Queens Theatre for 5 months in 2011 – but you all knew that one right?

8. When playing JVJ as The Mayor in Les Mis, Alfie used to wear the socks belonging to the convict JVJ costume in order to better inhabit the role.

9. Alfie is married to an American actress, Sarah Boe.  They met in San Francisco.

10. Alfie was the subject of a South Bank Show documentary in 2013.

11. Alfie once supported the Fron Male Voice Choir on tour.

12. David Miller of Il Divo was in La Boheme on Broadway with Alfie (they played alternate nights as Rodolfo).

13. Alfie recorded some demo Queen tracks at Abbey Road studios whilst a student – he listened back with obvious embarrassment on a recent documentary!

14. Alfie used to work at the Blackpool Opera House in a backstage / security role.

15. Alfie has recorded Empty Chairs, Empty Tables with two of the singers who played Marius: Michael Ball (original Marius and 10th anniversary concert) and Nick Jonas (25th anniversary concert).

16. Alfie was a body mechanic at the TVR factory in Bispham – if you know nothing else about Alfie, you know that!!

17. After graduating from the Royal College of Music, Alfie went on to train at the National Opera Studio.

18. Won the Christie prize at Glyndebourne for Albert Herring.

19. Appeared on several Clint Boon Experience albums as “opera dude”.

20. Spent a few nights sleeping on a park bench in Hyde Park “in between digs” so to speak.

21. Played drums in a local rock band, Whisky Train as a teenager.

22. Alfie is an ambassador for the Prince’s Foundation for Children and The Arts.

23. Alfie sang at the wedding of Peter and Autumn Phillips. (Ave Maria and Panis Angelicus).

24. Alfie famously prefers to perform in opera, rather than listen to them – this is usually quoted incorrectly as “Alfie hates opera”.

25. Alfie often takes fans cameras and phones and takes photos of himself and the band on stage – perks of being front row!

26. Alfie auditioned (and was called back) for Raoul in Phantom of the Opera – the RCM beckoned though and we shall have to imagine his Raoul.

27. Won a Tony Award as part of the cast of La Boheme on Broadway.

28. First professional audition was for the D’oyly Carte Opera company – he sang You Are My Hearts Delight.

29. Moonwalked across the stage during final performance of Romeo et Juliette at the Royal Opera House.

30. Appeared on Vanessa Feltz’s BBC Radio 2 programme as part of the Wednesday Words of Warmth – his tip to get through a Wednesday was to make a big bowl of meat pasta sauce.

31. West London Karaoke Champion 1994 singing Suspicious Minds.

32. First recording Alfie appears on is Die Fledermaus, with the D’oyly Carte company (in the chorus).

33. Suffered from chlorine poisoning whilst filming a projection for The Pearl Fishers at the ENO.

34. Brother Michael is also a talented singer, recent album is called A La Voix.

35. Alfie and Sarah’s first dance at the their wedding was Led Zeppelin’s Rain Song.

36. First, and so far only,performer, with Renee Fleming to sing on the balcony of Buckingham Palace (at the Diamond Jubilee celebrations).

37. Alfie was first introduced to La Boheme by his brother Michael – thank you Michael!

38. Alfie is great at comedy falls – as witnessed by viewers of Jonathan Ross show in October 2013!

39. Twitter often mentions how much Alfie looks like Declan Donnelly – maybe, but only without his beard – judge for yourself:

dec

40. A photo of Alfie; together with his amazing voice, what other reason to you need to love Alfie Boe? (thanks to Carole Hunt who took this gorgeous photo and generously allowed me to use it on my blog – what a star xx)

alfie-carfest.jpg

 

 

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