Go to the opera? Give me a break

By Keith Clarke

Tenor Alfie Boe dropped a brick into the placid waters of the opera world on a recent radio show. Desert Island Discs is a show where celebrities get to choose the records they would take if they were stranded on a desert island, with a bit of chat in between choices. It was the chat rather than the choices that got Alfie into hot water. He blithely said that while he happily graces the operatic stage, wild horses wouldn’t get him into the audience – he finds it just too boring. “I go there and I feel very uncomfy,” he told listeners. “I just feel like it’s not my world.”

He said that during his training he was required to sit through performances at the Royal Opera House and armed himself with a pillow to snooze through endless hours of Wagner. This was all too much for the sensitive souls of Covent Garden. A spokesman indignantly told the Independent: “Our productions entertain thousands of people every year, in the auditorium, in cinemas and on DVDs.”  By the time the fuss dies down, Alfie probably wished the desert island was for real.

It’s not the first time Boe has been in the headlines. A former car mechanic, he is considered pretty fit, with a physique of particular interest to female operagoers. For a Welsh National Opera Traviata a few years ago, he was required to strip off, but during open rehearsals this attracted such fruity comments from women in the audience (they’re a feisty lot in Cardiff) that he was told to keep his pants on for the performances.


Nothing new under the sun: “Opera to take place on surface of Lake Constance” screamed the Guardian this week, heading up a piece on the Bregenz Festival’s forthcoming Andre Chénier. True enough, but the floating stage was installed 62 years ago, which hardly makes it news.


As recession tightens its grip and the music business prepares to go to hell in a hardcart, some cheery news from the BBC Proms. Clearly director Roger Wright is doing something right: when the box office opened for this year’s season (July 15 – September 10), it sold 376 tickets every minute, clocking up 86,000 sales within the first 12 hours. Two concerts – the Simón Bolivar Symphony with The Dude and the Verdi Requiem – sold out within three hours.

Or at least, all seats were sold. One of the glories of the Proms is that 1,000-plus standing places are available each day, for a mere $8. And come rain or shine, queues snake away from the Royal Albert Hall on a daily basis.

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