Mario Frangoulis is a force of nature — his voice captures audiences around the world, from packed stadiums to historical theatres, awakening the nobility of the human spirit. Matched only by his captivating voice is his character, a humility and kindness that reaches out and embraces you.
“In every place I have sung, I feel a great love and respect for life,” says Frangoulis, who has collaborated with famous pop stars, performed for royalty, and has even been recruited by legendary composers such as Andrew Lloyd Webber. “I want to live every day to the fullest, like it is the last one. I want to learn from people of different cultures.”
Frangoulis was born in Rhodesia, modern-day Zimbabwe, where his family had emigrated from Greece in search of a better life. His mother and father had different musical influences in Africa, such as adoration for the famous Greek singer Kazantzidis, immigration songs, and native folk music. But Frangoulis left to live in Greece with his aunt and uncle, who cultivated his character as much as a love for music.
“My aunt and my uncle taught me to respect others and myself, to never stop evolving and learning,” Frangoulis says. “Since I was a small child, my aunt was taking me to the Pallas Theatre to listen to classical music concerts. I discovered many Greek personalities who inspired me to follow an artistic career, like Manos Hadjidakis, Karolos Koun, Mikis Theodorakis, Katina Paxinou.”
Raised in a family from Corfu and the Greek island of Kasos, literally everyone around him was playing the guitar or the lyre. Frangoulis recalls an idyllic childhood, brightened by his famous aunt, the Greek comedian Rena Vlahopoulou.
“I was a child originating from Africa who fell in love with Greece at first sight, which became my motherland,” he says. “We often visited Nea Makri, swimming and playing the whole time. Every August 15th, my name day, we gathered together with family and friends, taking our guitars and singing all day long. These must have been my first small concerts.” He smiles warmly.
After his carefree childhood, Frangoulis diligently studied classical music through adolescence. He earned prestigious scholarships that would transform his life, as he was able to study abroad in England, Italy and the United States.
“My meeting with the great theatre producer Cameron Mackintosh was a life experience for me,” he says. “I was very lucky meeting noteworthy people during my career, like Mackintosh, who gave me my first role in Les Misérables in London’s Palace Theatre. It was a definitive moment in my life.”
More mentors, such as the American mezzo soprano Marilyn Horne, continued to spring up in his life at the perfect moments, filling the virtuoso with wisdom that transcended music.
“Every artist’s duty is to impart his knowledge, but those people also taught me about generosity,” Frangoulis says.
Frangoulis’ prolific career has been filled with innumerable priceless moments for the singer — Les Misérables, The Phantom of the Opera, Grease, Ornithes (The Birds) and The Bacchae to name a few.
His role as Tony in West Side Story at the Scala in Milan in 2000 was particularly memorable, as he connected with his musical lineage. He recalls, “I remember that the show was held a little before the Scala was to be renovated, and the first thing I did was visit the dressing rooms and took a seat, thinking ‘Could my teacher Alfredo Kraus or Maria Callas have sat on this seat?’”
Frangoulis says if he had the opportunity to sing with Maria Callas, a Greek-American soprano and one of the most influential 20th-century opera singers, he’d play Mario Cavaradossi opposite her in Tosca. Though he didn’t work with Callas, his career has been full of unexpected, groundbreaking collaborations.
“My need to try a lot of musical genres, to play at the theatre, to collaborate with people, to travel, this was my motivation,” he says. “I couldn’t imagine myself just playing roles at the opera, I wanted to break the mould. I wanted to go against the tide. And in this way, collaborations emerged with artists like Justin Hayward of The Moody Blues. He was so generous when we first sent him our version of Nights in White Satin — in Italian, Notte di Luce — that not only did he accept recording with me in a duet, but he also joined me in many concerts! The strongest moment for me was in Thessaloniki, where the cheerful crowd truly showcased their love for us.”
From Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees to Klaus Meine, Harry Belafonte, and Celine Dion, unique, symbiotic bonds were formed with Frangoulis.
“I feel very happy about my collaboration with Plácido Domingo because he was my hero and my idol,” he says warmly.
Paying it forward
While fame and fortune can often impact someone negatively, Frangoulis seemed to grow more altruistic with his blessings.
“A great lesson that I took from my uncle and aunt is that I have to give to others as well,” he says. “As I was growing up, this became a way of life, a part of myself. Even from my first concerts all over the world, I was realising that real issues do exist. Talented children that grew up without a family, with parents either destroyed by drugs or in prison, they could become the light, the hope for other children. I felt the need to offer, to help those children by offering them the appropriate means.”
Frangoulis’ heart led him to become an ambassador for the Horatio Alger Association, a United States institution that helps young people originating from problematic families to study. The singer believes that the inner nature of an artist is just as important as any other aspect of the art.
“Hadjidakis’ philosophy of life — to live without blinders, to be open to influences — it’s important to respect others, but yourself as well,” Frangoulis says. “To respect time, to not waste it, or else it might become your enemy. I use to say to singers just starting their careers, that in order to reach their destination, they will have to study and work a lot. And that it’s your duty to follow any profession with passion, strength and love.”
As Frangoulis gave back to the global art community, spiritual leaders were placed in his own path.
“A few years ago, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew invited me to Constantinople, my grandmother Efthychia’s birthplace, to give a concert for the strengthening of Greek-Turkish friendship,” Frangoulis says. “I walked down the alleys she grew up, I visited her school, and made a lot of Turkish friends. Of course the meeting with the Ecumenical Patriarch was priceless; he is one of the most deeply spiritual and educated people I have ever met.”
In the same vein, Betty Williams, the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Irish activist, invited Frangoulis to Canada to meet the Dalai Lama.
“I listened to him speak to 16,000 people, answering questions from children with such ease and simplicity,” says the world-renowned singer. “Sitting in the middle of a huge stage, he was not scared to say, ‘Really? I don’t know about that, tell me more.’ I was able to talk with him in private, about life, the children, peace, the way we can help the world, and I felt a great calm overwhelming me, a good energy.”
The Dalai Lama gave Frangoulis advice that still resonates deeply to this day: “Don’t be afraid. Move forward in your life, and always be positive.”
“At that time, I felt this man’s special quality and the way in which his attitude and philosophy push you to do something good for everyone.”
This summer, Frangoulis toured Greece and Cyprus with Thodoris Voutsikakis and 19-year-old Dimitra Selemidou. Frangoulis believes it’s his duty to support good music and new artists in this way. Every summer, he makes a stop to give concerts at the island of Kasos, his father’s birthplace.
“I always compare Kasos to Canada because their residents care for one another and every person cares for the whole,” Frangoulis says. “It’s an island with a lot of good things and great history. I have the feeling that everyone can live there happily with their culture and lyres.”
Frangoulis’ busy, creative year will continue with concerts and collaborations with old and new friends.
“Our new work with the record label will be released in 2017, featuring Paraskevas Karasoulos in new compositions of mine and of some very dear friends of mine as well: Eleni Karaindrou, Dimitra Galani and Giorgos Andreou,” he says. “At the same time, I’m working on a classical crossover album with the compositions of Burt Bacharach and David Foster that will be released in 2018. My dream is to record an album of arias.”
In the winter, Frangoulis will perform in Australia, the United States and Canada, and after that, he will be touring 23 European cities with Sarah Brightman.
“In 2016, we were together in a tour throughout Asia, where about 12,000 to 16,000 people filled the stadiums and gave us a warm welcome,” he says, a feeling he sends out as much as he receives.
“I’m interested in living creatively, in being able to witness love behind every act, in enjoying a beautiful quality of life while being empowered by the positive things around me.”
Interviewed and Text by Anastasia Kamvisi
English by Mary Clark Edited by David Lee Photography by Andreas Stavrinides Makeup by Gogo Nikiforaki Styled by Panos J. Albanis