3:30pm Gates Open
4:00-4:10pm Envirovision Competition Winner
4:15-4:30pm Sonig Songwriter Winner
4:35-4:55pm Rebecca James
5:00-5:20pm Julia Coles
5:25-5:45pm Tom Richards
6:15-6:35pm The Siren Sisters
7:30-8:00pm Laura Whrite
8:00-9:00pm Alfie Boe
*Please note that times stated above are subject to change
In 1994 Alfie Boe was crowned the greatest. It was a metaphoric crown; the West London Karaoke Championship don't do real crowns. Not even paper ones. But it was good enough. He won for a scorching rendition of Elvis' 'Suspicious Minds'; the locals in the pub that night hadn't seen or heard anything quite like it. Since then he's bagged a few more awards, including among others the Clonter Opera Prize, the John Christie Award, the Silver Clef for Classical Music, and a Tony. He's proud of them all, too. But Elvis is Elvis.
Alfie grew up - in Fleetwood, to a family of nine children - listening not only to Elvis, but to his parents' favourite singers - Richard Tauber, Karl Denver, Slim Whitman, Maria Callas - then later, as he developed a lifelong penchant for classic rock and blues, the likes of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. All of the music that has inspired Alfie over the years has influenced his singing, his ambition and his artistry. And after years of formal opera training - at the D'Oyly Carte, the Royal College Of Music, The National Opera Studio and the Royal Opera House - he reached a point where he wanted to stretch his wings and sing for new audiences.
He took flight in 2002, leaving behind his education to play the lead in Baz Luhrmann's production of La Bohème on Broadway. Many - critics, opera managers, singers and directors - said it was a controversial staging and that he was making a wrong move. "They were always questioning, 'Why are you doing this La Bohème on Broadway?'," says Alfie. "And I said, 'Why not?' That was always my answer. 'Why not?'"
They didn't see Broadway as a legitimate opera stage, and objected to the production's use of microphones for voice enhancement - although more often than not, Alfie's mic would actually fall off, and he'd end up singing acoustically. He never told Luhrmann; nobody could tell the difference anyway.
Alfie wasn't concerned about the British opera establishment's misgivings. When he was a kid in Fleetwood, in between attempts to catch fish for dinner off the back of the fish lorry, he would stand on the beach and look out to sea, dreaming of America. And here he was in New York, a leading man on Broadway, performing to an audience that included the likes of Tom Hanks and winning a Tony award in the process. Besides, this was Luhrmann's mission, and was, he said, exactly what Puccini intended - for the work to be played to whoever wanted to experience it, "from the street sweeper to the King of Naples."
Luhrmann had found a kindred spirit in Alfie, who had for some time been wanting to do the same thing. "Europe is much more relaxed and open to classical music, because it's something they've grown up with," he says. "In Italy, operatic songs and classical Neapolitan songs have been played to kids from a very early age. It's party music for them; everybody dances to it at street festivals, everybody, not just the rich geezers who can pay for seats at the opera houses."
Alfie had dabbled with bringing opera to different audiences a few years earlier, having been employed as 'Opera Dude' on ex-Inspiral Carpets' keyboardist Clint Boon's solo albums and tours. And after Broadway, there was no turning back - he travelled America singing musical theatre songs from the 30s and 40s on the Boston Pops tour, released albums inspired by his favourite Neapolitan songs and his late father's favourite composer Franz Lehar, toured the UK with the Fron Male Voice Choir, and was nominated for a slew of Classical Brits, as well as performing in countless operas for, among others, the ENO and the Royal Opera House.
And in the past year, Alfie has also conquered the West End. After slaying 38,000 enraptured fans as Jean Valjean at the Les Misérables 25th Anniversary 02 concerts, the relentless standing ovations he received there continued throughout his five-month run at the Queen's Theatre, where Alfie transformed the role, bringing a powerful new experience to musical theatre stalwarts. 2011 also saw Alfie enjoy Top 10 success with his first Decca album Bring Him Home, which has so far sold a quarter of a million copies, while the infamous video of him singing 'Nessun Dorma' in Matt Lucas' kitchen enjoyed a similar number of YouTube hits. His Desert Island Discs appearance – in which he paid tribute to Elvis, Bob Dylan, and those singers and bands that have inspired him throughout his life - caused tears in the studio (as he discussed his relationship with his father) and outrage from the opera establishment (for confessing he didn't much enjoy being an audience member).
His new album, Alfie, further showcases his versatility and ambition, particularly with his Robert Plant team-up on Tim Buckley's 'Song To The Siren'. Meanwhile, Alfie is working on his autobiography, which will be published by Simon & Schuster in late 2012, as well as writing his own material, which he plans to develop while touring the UK, America and Australia over the coming months. "I'm enjoying writing my own songs," he says. "When I first started in college years ago, I didn't know how to read music; learning by ear was the only way I knew, and I think that way of learning is more emotional, because you depend on your natural instinct, rather than your technical one. I try to retain that spirit now. Because if you know the rules, you stick by them. If you don't know the rules, you're breaking them all the time."
Sometimes even the most innocent of meetings can have the most spectacular outcomes. Late last summer two executives from Warner Bros Records were having a coffee in their local Starbuck’s. They were discussing how to go about finding young singers for a fresh, commercial and totally British classical group. What they didn’t know was a senior tutor from the Royal College of Music was sat behind them hearing the whole conversation.
He immediately thought of four of his young opera students who would fit the brief perfectly and after an exchange of details and a few phone calls later both parties met. To the Warner team it was immediately clear this group was uniquely talented, charismatic and passionate - they were signed straight away to a 6-album deal.
These people might only be in their early-to-mid 20s, but they have done a colossal amount of work, from recitals and festivals, to performing for Presidents, for royalty, for the experts who gather on BBC Radio 3, even – as children – singing at the opening of the Millennium Dome. This is a story of four lives dedicated to music. The quartet of musicians in Amore can point to more than 30 years of training between them. These people know precisely what they’re doing.
“You’re born as an opera singer,” offers Monica McGhee (Soprano). “You don’t choose to become one. It’s a vocation and I couldn’t be satisfied doing anything else.”
“The truth is that you can hide behind an instrument,” says Victoria Gray (Mezzo Soprano), “but you can’t hide behind your voice. What we do is tough. Singing is deeply personal and people’s reactions can be painful. But it’s part of who you are.”
Victoria, Peter, Monica and David are friends who have lived, studied and worked together; even their boyfriends and girlfriends know each other. Their performances are driven by a real relationship with a real dynamic. There is a genuine camaraderie at work here that you only get from spending hours and hours in each other’s company.
Peter and David met while they were still teenagers and singing together as part of Truro Cathedral’s choir. “We did a service every day apart from Thursday,” Peter laughs. “So we all went out on Wednesday night…”
The pair were given a house to live in and £400 a month wages. Both needed other jobs; David got one in The Body Shop (“it was full of nice girls…”), while Peter ended up in Dixons (“terrible, we had Avril Lavigne on a loop all day…”)
Monica and Victoria met at the Royal College, having both sung since they were young children. “Monica makes things happen,” Victoria says. “She’s a motivator.” The pair would sing and perform together as often as they possibly could, as pianist and singer or singer and singer.
The girls have known the boys for six years now, but all of them say something special happens when they sing together. “Our voices match so well,” Monica says. “It’s true for personality and sound and energy too. We also have a lot of fun together!”
Not so long ago, as students, Amore would claim to be an opera group signed to a major label just to get onto club and party guest lists. Now they actually are signed to a major label and they’ve made their debut album with the Grammy winning producer and arranger, Simon Franglen. As for the music, among others there are crisp, true to the score performances of Nimrod, Nella Fantasia, The Flower Duet, Brindisi, The Pearl Fishers and Amazing Grace.
Welsh born and bred, The Siren Sisters, are singing up a storm in both Wales and beyond with their distinctive voices and classic fashion style. This 1940's inspired trio; the blonde, brunette and red head combo from Wales are crooning tunes from the 40s.
This talented musical sensation each have their own unique passion for 1930's, 40s and 50s music. The Siren Sisters were set up by Sarah Perryman, and the rest, they say is vintage history!
After studying Classical Music at Cardiff University, Sarah trained as a Musical Theatre actress in London at the prestigious Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts. Jo, Sarah's real sister, studied for a degree in Journalism, Broadcasting and Sociology at Cardiff University while doing her music exams in guitar and tenor horn with the Associated Board of the Royal School of Music. Helena trained in Musical Theatre at The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and was recently in the final for The Young Welsh Musical Theatre Singer of the Year Competition.
Rebecca James is a 16 year old Singer/Songwriter and instrumentalist from Wales.Rebeccas love of music came from a young age and she appeared in musicals in the New Theatre, Cardiff from the age of 7 as well as taking many leading roles in school productions. At the age of 12 she started her classical vocal training in Cardiff and with the help of her vocal coach went on to win Best Musical Theatre voice in the prestigious South Glamorgan Music Festival in Cardiff at the age of 14.
In 2010 Rebecca entered the Open Mic UK competition and progressed through the audition round and regional finals and reached the Area Final in London. It was at this competition that Chris Grayston of Future Records London saw Rebecca and realised that she had huge potential so put her in touch with record label BGM in London. After working with BGM for a year Rebecca was offered a 5 song production deal with Gold Disc Productions. She is currently working with them and will release her first EP later this year. Rebecca is a regular performer at the Hilton Hotel in Cardiff and the Millenium Centre as well as other venues across South Wales where she amazes everyone.