With his rich booming voice and smoldering good looks, Mario Frangoulis is the contemporary face of opera; young, smooth and sexy. He is a tenor of the 21st Century, with the ability to sing everything from a powerful operatic aria to a hard rock anthem. He’s collaborated with many artists ranging from Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras and Montserrat Caballe to Sarah Brightman, Lucio Dalla and Lara Fabian. These collaborations and countless solo releases have made Frangoulis a fixture on the music charts with his Greek and English albums.
Beloved around the world, Mario reaches a global audience singing in five different languages: Greek, Italian, English, Spanish and French. Born in Africa but raised in Greece, he takes great pride in his Greek heritage. He’s even created a program specifically for Greek-American audiences called The Light of Greece. These special performances will feature music and poetry, which everyone knows is at the center of our Greek culture.
The world-renowned tenor with the big voice has an even bigger heart. He is a true humanitarian working with organizations focusing on AIDS, leukemia, homelessness and at risk children. He serves as the Global Ambassador for Peace of the World Center of Compassion for Children International- an organization founded by Nobel Peace Prize Winner Betty Williams. Mario joins The Dalai Lama, President Gorbachev and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in bringing awareness to this campaign. He is also an International Ambassador for the Horatio Alger Association in the United States.
I recently had a chance to sit down with this larger than life figure to discuss all things Mario. You’ll see what makes the ladies swoon and why he’s affectionately dubbed, Sex and the Symphony.
Here’s our talk with the Tenor…
At what age did you realize you had this great gift?
At around age 4, I discovered that I could use my voice to express myself. I was aware that by changing the tone of my voice, I could influence people’s reactions and/or actions towards me. It also worked as a sort of “defense mechanism” in situations where I felt uncomfortable. I also discovered that singing could be a great “weapon”, of course, only used to help me be loved by those I wanted close to me.
Who were some of your musical inspirations growing up?
Manos Hadjidakis, Maria Callas, Mario Lanza and of course the Hollywood musicals of the 40’s and 50’s.
Who or what started your love of music?
My biggest inspiration was my Aunt Loula, my mother’s sister, who raised me from the age of 4 ½ and who introduced me to classical composers such as Beethoven and Mozart. She used to take me to Sunday morning concerts of symphony works, and she was the one who urged me to go to music school, to study music, and to play the violin at the Athens conservatory.
You’re so accomplished; name a few things in your career you hold close to your heart.
My first role straight out of drama school playing ‘Marius’ in Victor Hugo’s ‘Les Miserables’ directed by Trevor Nunn at the Palace Theater in London’s West End; The first time I played at the ancient amphitheater of Epidaurus in ‘The Birds’ by Aristophanes; Playing Tony in ‘West Side Story’ at La Scala in Italy; My first opera concert with Montserrat Caballe and my great teacher and mentor Alfredo Kraus; Singing with Placido Domingo in concert; And the first world tour of my first international album ‘Sometimes I Dream’ with Sony Classical.
Tell me about The Light of Greece. What will the program incorporate? How did you come up with the idea?
The program is a tribute to all the great poets that Greece has given birth to: Nobel Prize winning Laureates for Literature, George Seferis and Odysseus Elytis. Also, Nikos Gatsos and Manos Eleftheriou. Great works from Homer and Orpheus to Solomos and Kavafis to name but a few. This is our ‘treasure’ of the Greek language and culture — our heritage from our forefathers.
The music is by Oscar winning composer Manos Hadjidakis, and ‘Zorba the Greek’ composer Mikis Theodorakis, BBC TV winning composer Yannis Markopoulos and Stavros Xarhakos. All of these amazing people represent the power of Greece, and the magnificence of its light and splendor, a golden era of creation and of inner beauty. One of my dreams has always been to present the poetry and beauty of the music my country taught me, it needs to be brought into the “light” so that the world can see and hear it, and so that it will continue to inspire generations long after we are gone!
You were wonderful in the 2004 film, De-Lovely. Do you have plans to make more movies?
I am still flirting with the idea of making a movie about Mario Lanza. He was such an inspiration to so many people, and his life is an example of success under very difficult circumstances. Despite those, he still managed to make his ‘mark’ in history, even though he was so young when he died at the age of 38. De-Lovely was a great moment in my career, and of course meeting and working with Kevin Kline and Lara Fabian was such an inspiration. My collaboration with Lara Fabian continues today… with live performances and a shared commitment to the cause of peace and the protection of children in the world.
Your new album is coming out Fall 2010. What are we in store for?
It will be a brand new album of classical crossover ballads but with a distinct ‘pop feel’ to them. There are definitely some ‘hit’ songs in the line-up that will help the album get to the charts… It will be supported by Sony Classical for Sony Europe.
I am also in discussions for a major PBS special where I will invite some very special guest ‘friends’ of mine to perform with me and to give our audience throughout the United States an unforgettable and inspiring experience. I have a feeling that this will be a very special album, and like all of my records, the songs have been chosen by me — one by one — because this album will have a clear and definite message: love!
‘Sometimes I Dream’ was my first International album, and it was big and bold. My feeling about this new one is that it will be more accessible to a broader audience. I have taken away heavy, classical orchestrations and opted for more contemporary sound. As I have thought about it, I believe that audiences are asking for simplicity. A more direct way of expressing one’s self, and this is what I am aiming for with this album. We’ve all heard ‘big and bold’… Now it’s time for ‘bright and beautiful’!
You bring a different feel and vibe to classical music. Some have given you the title, Sex and the Symphony. Do you embrace that or are you embarrassed by it?
I love the idea that people play with words. I don’t feel embarrassed because I don’t think it has to do directly with me, but rather a feeling they get when they hear such good music, so if it lasts as long as a symphonic work, who am I to argue? I can only say ‘thank you’ for the compliment!
Above everything, your philanthropic work is unmatched. Why is it so important for you to give back?
There are a lot of good people out there who care about making this world a better place for us to live in, and I am one of those who try, in their own way, to help others realize their vision of hope and love — of compassion for our children and our neighbors — of a healthy and secure future for all of us. Sometimes it’s beyond our power to help, and we cannot help everyone simultaneously. That is why we put our trust in the hands of great organizations that have the skills and people to focus on these major issues and challenges, and of course in our own friends who share the same values and goals: hope for equal rights and justice for all.
It is important for me as a human being to be close to people in their hour of need. Whether it’s a war situation, an underprivileged child, or someone who is homeless. The truth of it is that any one of us could be in need at any given moment, reaching for someone’s help. It’s important for people to know that there are others out there to respond!
MARIO FRANGOULIS: “THE LIGHT OF GREECE” PERFORMANCES:
SUNDAY, APRIL 18, 2010 AT THE NORTHSHORE CENTER FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS, SKOKIE, ILLINOIS;
FRIDAY, MAY 7, 2010 AT THE SANDERS THEATRE, HARVARD UNIVERSITY, CAMBRIDGE, MA.