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Music > Greek tenor Mario Frangoulis June 28, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Ballet Dance Opera, Music Life Greek.

Mario Frangoulis is a young tenor from Greece, but those facts alone do not begin to describe him.

Born in Africa, in colonial Rhodesia, as it was becoming the nation of Zimbabwe, he survived a childhood marked by hardships both at home and in the world outside. At the age of four, his mother found a home for him with her sister in Greece, at a time when the political situation in Africa was explosive and dangerous. Raised by his aunt in Greece and separated from his beloved older brother, Mario was surrounded with a large extended family. Today, he speaks fondly of both sets of parents and the feeling for music they instilled in him.

He studied the violin and even composed a bit when he was a boy. At the age of 17 he was sent to London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama to study acting. The stage was an obvious choice because, among other things, Mario is handsome enough to be a matinee idol. In fact, he has already wowed audiences on London’s West End as the dashing young heroes of Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera.

But in his days as a drama student at Guildhall, Mario discovered the operatic side of his tenor voice, winning the Maria Callas Prize, which he auditioned for simply because he knew some arias and a friend encouraged him. Juggling this newfound ambition with his burgeoning stage career, he found himself on a path that took him to New York’s Juilliard School of Music as a scholarship student and won him the support and counsel of such operatic legends as Alfredo Kraus and Marilyn Horne. He was the only private student the late Kraus ever accepted.

“I always sang, from an early age, with a record player, with Greek singers, of course, but also recordings of movie musicals, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand,” Mario remembers. “I knew I had a good voice but I didn’t know I had an operatic voice. In the beginning, I was against anyone saying I had that kind of operatic sound. I had always felt I didn’t belong in that category. I wanted to communicate the music, and I didn’t think opera singers sounded young enough, modern enough. Then I saw a performance of Carmen in Athens with Jose Carreras and Agnes Baltsa, and I realized I could be all of those things.”

At the instigation of Horne, Mario went to Rome for Kraus and Nicola Rescigno, who was Maria Callas’s favorite conductor. Both were impressed. He became Kraus’s student, flying all over the world to take lessons as the great tenor continued to perform. The experience gave Frangoulis a solid vocal technique and good high notes, both hallmarks of Kraus’s style. Yet the career Mario has built is anything but a conventional operatic career. He sang the role of Tony in West Side Story in its first performances at Milan’s Teatro alla Scala. He has appeared in films and on television, in concerts and even in epic presentations of Greek tragedies.

In his native Greece, Mario has been acclaimed in everything from the role of high-school hero Danny Zuko in Grease to a production of Aristophanes’ The Birds featuring the songs of Greek composer Manos Hajiidakis, the Oscar-winning composer of “Never On Sunday”, in the ancient amphitheater at Epidaurus. As an actor, Mario has played leading roles in King Lear, The Bacchae and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and he created the title role in Kit Hesketh-Harvey and James Mackonnell’s Yusupov.

“Any beautiful song without strong lyrics is like a child without a family.”
Mario Frangoulis



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