Mario Frangoulis is a Greek tenor who is classically trained but specializes in the pop-opera repertoire, inhabited by the likes of Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman. He was born in 1966 in what is now Zimbabwe to Greek parents, but was sent to live with his Aunt in Greece. He has a sturdy tenor voice and knows how to sell a song. Add the fact that he is also dark and handsome, which never hurts a pop career, and you have a career that is becoming more and more successful worldwide.
Dallas audiences will have a chance to hear him on Wednesday when he appears with the Dallas Symphony for a special concert benefiting college scholarships for the Ebby Halliday Fund of the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, Inc. It is Halliday’s 100 th birthday and lots of celebrities will turn out for the occasion. TheaterJones caught up with the singer by phone.
TJ: How did you get hooked up with the Horatio Alger Society for this concert?
MF: I was touring in America with my “Sometimes a Dream” tour. I was in Baltimore and I met some of the leaders of the organization. They explained their goals and how they are working with young people to “strive and succeed”, as they put it. I thought they were doing important work so I became an Ambassador. I have been helping them for a number of years now.
This concert honors Ebby Halliday’s 100th birthday.
I am pleased to help celebrate with her. Her philosophy about doing a good deed everyday and being grateful for what comes your way is a lot like mine.
The young soprano Andriana Chuchman will also be on the program.
Yes. She will sing a couple of songs and opera arias and we will sing some duets. She is really wonderful and sings beautifully. You will like her a lot.
Speaking of “a lot,” a lot has come your way. You won some big competitions and were able to study voice with two of the greatest tenors of our time, Alfredo Kraus and Carlo Bergonzi.
They were two very different types of voices and I loved getting the two different perspectives. Bergonzi was a pure Italian tenor who sang Verdi and Puccini. Kraus was a lighter voice and sang a much more varied repertoire. Bergonzi was a natural voice and Kraus was a voice that had to develop.
How did you get in with these big guys?
I went to Rome to hear Kraus sing Werther [an opera by Jules Massenet]. I had an introduction to him from Marilyn Horne.
Impressive recommendation. I am sure he paid attention.
He gave me an audition. I sang “Dei miei bollenti” (from Verdi’s La Traviata) and he accepted me as his first private pupil and we actually became personal friends.
How were these two different as teachers?
Kraus was all about technique, placement of the voice, and using the voice correctly. He always told me that “less is more” and “sing on your interest not your principal,” which I try to do. Bergonzi was more about producing the sound and singing “on the breath” in the bel canto singing tradition.
You had another famous voice teacher in soprano Dodi Protero at Julliard.
In 1992, I received an Onassis Foundation Scholarship and moved to New York to study at the Julliard School. She was a very different teacher; a soprano for one thing (laughs). She was very patient and I was very inpatient (laughs).
You also won the Maria Callas Prize for opera. So why no opera in your career?
Opera is my greatest passion, but I saw a quicker path to success singing my current repertoire. I had to make my own way, remember, and didn’t have the family support for working my way up through apprentice programs and the like. I would certainly consider singing a role now. After all, Peter Gelb (who now runs the Metropolitan Opera) signed me to a recording contract years ago. Maybe he will remember me (laughs).
It would be hard to start out at the Met (joining in the laughter).
It would not be the best place to start, that’s for sure. Maybe somewhere like the summer opera in Santa Fe or one of the European houses.
You started out on the violin. Do you still play it?
I do. I have to purposely set aside time to play. You have to keep it up or it will disappear fast. It is a very difficult instrument and it made me a better person by teaching me to keep at something that takes a lot of time to develop. It is also a singing instrument. After all, what is the voice but two strings in your throat?
What is next for you?
I have a new album coming out. It will feature romantic pop ballads using contemporary and rhythmic sounds. This will be an album that I hope will offer a new perspective in the classical crossover genre. I will sing songs by composers such as Stefan Moccio and David Foster and many other great song writers and the album will be produced by Steve Wood who produced my first international album Sometimes I Dream.