"Prepare to be swept away!," one critic wrote about Sometimes I Dream, the Greek tenor Mario Frangoulis's international breakthrough album for Sony Classical which another writer described as "bathed in the passionate atmosphere of the Mediterranean." Columnist Liz Smith hailed the album as "a dream trip," adding, "Move over, Andrea Bocelli!" And now Frangoulis is back with Follow Your Heart, a striking new collection of songs that reflect his personality and burnish the sound of his remarkable voice, to be released in early 2005.
The new recording will take Frangoulis in new directions, featuring gorgeous original ballads, dazzling arrangements of favorite classical melodies and a soaring duet with Latino superstar Alejandro Fernandez. The handsome young tenor tapped a worldwide audience with the 2002 release of Sony Classical/Odyssey's Sometimes I Dream, a Mediterranean-flavored album that showcased his versatile style, rooted in his operatic training but inspired by the energy and sound of contemporary pop. Television audiences got to know Frangoulis even better when Sometimes I Dream Ð A Concert premiered on PBS in November 2002. The film captured a live outdoor concert in the Greek city of Thessaloniki that included selections from the first album. Sony Classical also released the concert on DVD with special features than include audio commentary by Frangoulis, behind-the-scenes footage and other interviews.
The tenor's latest album Follow Your Dream, released in Europe just before the tenor performed at the Summer Olympic Games in Athens, was the highlight of an already been a remarkable year for Frangoulis. With such superstars as Alanis Morissette, Natalie Cole, Robbie Williams, Diana Krall, Elvis Costello and Sheryl Crow, he appears in the MGM film biography of Cole Porter Ð De Lovely, starring Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd Ð and sings Porter's "So in Love" with Sony Music artist Lara Fabian, featured on the Grammy-nominated original soundtrack recording.
Mario Frangoulis's remarkable story belies the fact that he is a young tenor from Greece. Born in Africa Ð in colonial Rhodesia, as it was becoming the nation of Zimbabwe Ð 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 was considered handsome enough to be a matinee idol. In fact, he has already wowed audiences on London's West End as the dashing young hero in both Les MisŽrables 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. His pursuits 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 Ð 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. And he is not quite 35 years old. He lives in Athens, surrounded by family Ð "millions of cousins," he says, with a laugh Ð and he loves sea sports, from wind surfing to scuba diving.
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 Hadjidakis (the Oscar-winning composer of "Never On Sunday") Ð 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.
The tenor began recording for Sony Classical in Greece in 1998, and his recordings always topped the charts at home. The release of Sometimes I Dream tapped an international audience, with material that drew freely on opera, rock, film and pop music. The new recording is the next chapter in his remarkable musical adventure.
Mario Frangoulis resides in Athens, Greece.