It’s highly likely that even people who don’t know Maria Callas from Marie Callender will be curious about Mario Frangoulis.
Just look at the guy.
Then again, don’t, because his smoldering Greek features aren’t, believe it or not, his best attribute.
That would be his voice, a creamy, fluid tenor that could melt candle wax whether he’s singing in Italian, English, French, Greek, Spanish, German, Russian or Chinese.
With: The Richmond Symphony
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Landmark Theater
Tickets: $25-$60 with discounts for children and seniors
Details: (804) 262-8003 or www.richmondsymphony.com
So Frangoulis is handsome, talented and multi-lingual. Let’s make it worse — he’s also unfailingly polite, unassumedly charming and a warm storyteller.
He’s calling from his apartment in the Chelsea area of New York, where he moved three weeks ago to minimize cross-country traveling and cultivate new professional opportunities.
“It was pointless spending all of this money on traveling. At least I feel like I’m here with so many great orchestras I can work with,” Frangoulis says. “For me, it’s a major step, the beginning of a new part of my life.”
The 39 years of Frangoulis’ life thus far have been stuffed with drama, hard work and many opportunities to gain experience as a singer and an actor.
The short version: Born in what is now Zimbabwe, Frangoulis was sent to live with his aunt in Greece when he was 4 years old because “situations were putting our lives in danger in so many ways in Africa,” he says. He didn’t see his parents again until he was 8, so his early musical inspiration came from his aunt.
“She took me to a classical concert when I was 6, and I fell in love with the violin and started taking lessons, which I did for 10 years. For me, music took a different kind of weight in my life. I saw music from the inside out rather than just as a pretty sound.”
Opera wasn’t a consideration at first, but as an older teen, Frangoulis saw a production of “Carmen” with Jos? Carreras and a new infatuation was born. Buying Callas’ recordings and reading the librettos became unlikely teenage pastimes, but even with this deep-rooted worship of music, Frangoulis still thought acting would be his future.
At 21, he scored the romantic lead role of Marius in “Les Miserables” in London’s West End and that same year won the prestigious Maria Callas Scholarship for Opera. When “Les Miz” ended, he went to Italy to study with tenor Carlo Bergonzi in the Verdi Academy.
While in Italy, Frangoulis met famous tenor Alfredo Kraus, who became, says Frangoulis, “my great friend and mentor”
After a year of such intimate training, Frangoulis returned to London’s West End in 1991 to star as Raoul in “The Phantom of the Opera,” then moved to New York for three years in 1992 to study at the Juilliard School of Music.
More than a decade and several albums — later, his melding of acting and singing hasn’t diminished. Last year, Frangoulis played Achilles in a 14,000-seat amphitheater in Greece.
“It was no mics, no sound. The way those theaters were built, they didn’t have anything. But to know that on that stage people like Maria Callas and Laurence Olivier performed . . . “
Frangoulis’ neo-classical style often draws comparisons to Andrea Bocelli, but along with traditional performers such as Callas and Kraus, he is a fan of at least one notable pop singer Queen’s Freddie Mercury.
“I think he was a great voice and one of the few tenors — I say tenor because he has an amazing range — and he was a great showman, and the passion on the stage, the way he expressed himself, no fear of being himself. There’s a lot to admire in Freddie Mercury.”
Because of his contemporary reach, it is plausible that someone listening to Frangoulis’ “Sometimes I Dream” recording could be motivated to delve deeper into classical opera, that his existence could turn a casual, curious fan into a student of the classics. It’s a responsibility he says he’s not sure he wants, but shoulders nonetheless.
“If it can inspire one or two people to appreciate opera and understand that this is a world that evolves all the time, that is wonderful” Frangoulis says. “Coming to America, I see more and more that there’s so many young, talented performers to show people that opera can be contemporary and beautiful, that’s it’s not an old person’s music.”