Alfie Boe: “I realised how far I could push myself”

The tenor who is equally at home performing opera and musical theatre looks back on a hectic year

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Tonight Alfie Boe gives his formidable singing voice a break and nominates instead his own favourite pieces of music, in Your One Hundred Best Tunes (8:00pm, BBC Radio 2).

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As surely every interviewee before him would attest, he admits that it was hard to choose his favourites, but proclaims himself happy with the final selection – which includes recordings by opera stars Maria Callas and Enrico Caruso, plus excerpts from Ralph Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending and Sergei Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.

But isn’t it the case that guests on these sorts of shows tell little white lies? Like the politician who claims to love Coldplay, would we really find any of these tunes on his iPod?

“Yes, a number of songs, actually. A lot of the stuff that I chose was theme tunes from movies and I’m a big fan of John Williams, Ennio Morricone and people like that – so yes, they were on my iPod.”

But he also professes a liking for rock music and confides that, if he’s feeling in need of a boost, he turns to “a song called Oh Sherry by Steve Perry [the lead singer of Journey]. I think that really fills you with a lot of hope and inspiration.”

Boe, of course, is himself a permanent fixture on many an iPod, whether you know him from his classical and operatic repertoire or his relatively recent foray into musical theatre.

In November his five-month stint as Jean Valjean in West End phenomenon Les Miserables came to a close (he also played the role in the 25th anniversary production at the O2 arena the year before). The six-shows-a-week schedule tested the tenor to his limits, though not perhaps in the way you’d expect.

“My voice seems to have got stronger but my body is a wreck! I broke many fingers, hurt my back and knees… It’s quite a physical show, so there’s a few injuries. But all worth it! I realised how far I could push myself, how much my voice could take, and how much I could take physically.”

This role in particular, plus the two albums he’s released in the last year, have garnered him a lot of fan interest, and I wonder how the man who seems quite shy at stage door copes with all the attention.

He admits he’s taken a slight step back from Twitter – “Sometimes social networks can get a little bit obsessive” – and stresses that, though he is truly grateful for his fans’ support, “I think you have to focus on what you’re doing as a job first and make sure that you’re doing a really good job, to be able to get that attention and get that praise.”

He describes his experience of Les Mis as the pinnacle of his career so far and – despite the physical wear and tear – wouldn’t rule out a return to the musical in future, perhaps on Broadway, if the circumstances were right.

For now, though, he’s focusing on his UK tour. When we speak (on 1 December), he confesses with a laugh, “I’m in the middle of sorting out all my music. It’s scattered round the apartment floor!”

He’s spoken in the past of his desire to perform his own material, but fans will have to be patient a little longer – his responsibilities to Les Mis mean he hasn’t had time to finalise any original pieces for the tour: “I want my own music to be absolutely perfect and right before I first release it on the public.”

Before I leave him to sift through his musical scores, I ask if there’s a role he covets that he hasn’t played yet?

“You know, I don’t really covet roles. Roles always seem to come across my path and find me, in a way. So I don’t go looking for them.”

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Fans will be hoping the next role seeks him out soon. Meanwhile, on top of the tour, he’s started work on his autobiography, currently slated for release in October 2012 – and, of course, a new arrival to the family is due early next year. It looks like the months ahead are shaping up to be just as busy for Alfie Boe as the year just gone.