Greek tenor Mario Frangoulis has a huge following in his home country but is relatively unknown here in the States. However, that status is likely to change with the release of Follow Your Heart ( Sony ) , a sensuous follow-up to his debut CD, Sometimes I Dream.
The newest CD certainly boasts impressive credentials. One track, 'Come What May,' comes from the soundtrack of the film Moulin Rouge. 'Here's to the Heroes,' a song that is set to the main theme from Dances With Wolves, was introduced by Frangoulis at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. In addition, most of the tracks were written and produced by Emanuele Ruffinengo, who is primarily known for his Grammy-winning work with singer Alejandro Sanz.
Frangoulis has also appeared on stage and screen. He has done everything from performing on London's West End ( in Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera ) to acting with Ashley Judd and Kevin Kline in the Cole Porter biopic De-Lovely—and, yes, his voice is featured on the soundtrack ( on 'So in Love' with Lara Fabian ) .
Windy City Times recently spoke with the handsome and accomplished singer ( who also speaks several languages, including Italian, English, Greek, Spanish, and French ) and discussed his work, his early childhood in Zimbabwe—and even his looks.
Windy City Times: You were born in what is now Zimbabwe and you and your parents moved to Greece when you were four [ due to the political climate ] . Do you remember anything from that time?
Mario Frangoulis: I don't remember very much. I remember my parents being very upset. I know that my family was against violence and the injustices of the whole situation. I also knew that white Africans were not always exactly the nicest people to Black Africans—and that was something that I wasn't too proud of.
I do feel that the violence was justified. I still feel that Zimbabwe was not treated with the respect it deserved. What I was against was racism—and that's something I've kept as part of my upbringing.
WCT: Have you been back since?
MF: No, I haven't—but I plan on going back in April because I have some concerts.
WCT: Do you have mixed feelings?
MF: I do, but not because of Africa. I do because of my father; I didn't get along with him that well. I'm actually looking forward to seeing Africa; it just seems like such an extraordinary [ place ] .
WCT: What was it like growing up in Greece?
MF: Greece is very normal in many ways. You have neighborhoods with kids playing; it's a safe place to be. We're very secure in our past—but hope for a better future.
I'm very proud of the Greek people because we had the Olympics last year and we proved to ourselves that we can [ handle such a large event ] . Everything was very smooth.
Going back to your question, I couldn't be in a better place in Greece. I'm very proud of my heritage and proud that I could play in the neighborhood without feeling threatened. Until recently, people could leave their doors unlocked. The Greek life is very good; there's a high standard of living. Even with just a little money, you can have a fantastic time or a romantic night. Greek people don't need too much to be happy. They have the sea, good company, beautiful people, and respect for each other.
WCT: Let's not forget the food. I love spanakopita ...
MF: Oh, the food!
WCT: When and how did you recognize your talent for singing?
MF: I sang my first song when I was four years old. I loved anything that produced music, like the TV or stereo. From a very early age, I started singing in choirs. However, my first love was acting. I went to drama school for three years. I became an actor who sang instead of a singer who acted. After a few years, I auditioned for ( and won ) the Maria Callas scholarship. Then I realized that maybe I should become a singer.
WCT: How is your latest CD different from your previous one?
MF: There are more English songs so it appeals to a [ wider ] audience. Also, some arrangements are more pop-oriented, like in the songs 'Hay Mas,' 'Dance,' or 'Bridge of Dreams.' The first CD was definitely a classical crossover record. This CD is closer to who I am. I love and embrace all kinds of music—and I try to express it through this album. This one is more relaxed.
WCT: One critic [ from Global Rhythm ] described your music as 'hip-shaking.'
MF: Hip-shaking? [ Laughs. ] No way! You won't really shake your hips to this one.
WCT: When you sang with Alejandro Fernandez [ 'Hay Mas' ] , were you thinking of crossing over to the Latin market?
MF: No, I didn't think about that. I just wanted to sing something with Alejandro because I think he's a great singer. I got his CD [ based on someone's recommendation ] and I enjoyed it; he's young and passionate and has a sexy voice.
WCT: What was your experience in De-Lovely like?
MF: It was great. One of the producers of my first CD ( Sometimes I Dream ) put together the album for De-Lovely. He recommended me for the song on the soundtrack. Kevin Kline actually made the final decision to pick me. When I met him in London, he said that he was proud of himself because he was partially responsible for me being on the set of the movie. It meant a lot to me because he could've chosen anyone. It was interesting because only one week before I was chosen, I was watching Sophie's Choice, with Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline. I thought 'Wow! I love this guy. He's a great actor.'
WCT: You've been called handsome by critics and even been described as having 'the body of a dreamy Greek god' [ in the publication The Hamptons ] . Are you worried about people paying more attention to your looks than your music?
MF: Well, I don't think that there's anything wrong if one complements the other. However, I think it's wrong if people just perceive me as [ just a pretty face ] . I don't want that and I don't have [ an inflated opinion ] of myself. I didn't grow up thinking, 'You're a great-looking guy. You're going to go far.' I actually grew up thinking, 'How can I get what I feel out there?'
I am romantic and I love singing about love. But I'm not really a hip-shaker. I don't see life from outside; I see it from within. My work belongs with people who don't care about [ looks ] . My audience will grow—and grow old—with me. They'll start getting wrinkles, and will not be obsessed with staying young. I look forward to getting older.
WCT: Do you have a favorite on the CD?
See www.mariofrangoulis.com .
( Also contributing: Jerry Nunn )