An Interview with Alexander Boyer

Alexander Boyer as King Idomeneo in the 2011 company premiere; photo by Bob Shomler.

“From earliest childhood I remember my parents’ house filled with opera and other classical music,” says tenor Alexander Boyer. “When driving, my dad would have the radio on a classical music station.”

Boyer grew up on Long Island, New York. In elementary school he played the cello, an instrument he chose because it was large. He never really listened to popular music until he went to high school. His public school had an excellent music program, occasionally offering field trips to the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center, where Alexander saw his first opera, Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov. His school also offered a voice class and “I signed up to sing in the choir. The choir director was the music director of the student shows and I participated in the productions,” Boyer said. “They were my first on-stage experiences.”

The summer after his senior year of high school, Boyer attended Boston University’s Tanglewood Institute in western Massachusetts. That fall he enrolled at Boston University, majoring in music. “I wanted a university rather than a conservatory, so that I would have flexibility and choices in my education.” Boyer discovered that the music program at BU was so intense that it was very much like a conservatory. “I got a great technical foundation and some stage experience, such as when I carried a spear as a supernumerary in Boston Lyric Opera’s production of Don Carlos.” He also sang in the chorus of Idomeneo at BU, making him the only member of Opera San José’s cast to have been in that opera prior to the 2011 company premiere.

Boyer next enrolled in the Manhattan School of Music for graduate study, staying a year after he earned his Master of Music degree in order to get a Professional Studies Certificate. While there, he had a coaching session with Luciano Pavarotti, one of his favorite tenors.

Boyer responded to Opera San José’s call for auditions at the Manhattan School of Music; he is now a fourth-year resident with the company, sponsored in part by a fellowship grant from Howard W. Golub. He has participated in the Merola and Santa Fe Opera programs, and is a winner of the Mario Lanza scholarship award.

Alexander Boyer sings as a lyric tenor. His first principal roles were in Lee Hoiby’s A Month in the Country and Lennox Berkeley’s A Dinner Engagement.  In Opera San José’s 2009 production of Carmen, he sang the role of Don José–one of his favorites, along with Luigi in Puccini’s Il tabarro. This season, Boyer will sing principal roles in all four Opera San José productions, including Canio in Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci (opening November 12th).  “I may be a younger Canio than is usually the case, and Canio is already a complicated and difficult character to play.” It is a new role for Boyer, intense and emotional, and he is prepared to bring a physicality and violence to the role if the director wants that kind of interpretation.

When studying a new role, Boyer usually does not listen to other recordings. Rather, he reads a translation of the opera and does a bit of historical research, before plunging into the music. He appreciates the stability and constant stage time that he gets at Opera San José, saying, “It allows me to refine a role and polish my performance and technique. I keep striving to be a better performer.” Boyer does not think a good singer must necessarily have the most fabulous voice; he feels that it is more important for the singer to understand the composer’s intentions and the drama of the piece, as well as its historical context. “A good singer has awareness. One must be aware of oneself, of the performers around you, of the audience, aware of how he or she projects this art form.” He further notes that many singers do not sing well in their native language.

“For opera to survive,” Boyer says, “it is important that it not be locked into tradition.  There must be new and creative productions. Of course, these new interpretations must be ‘aware’ and the singers and directors must always keep in mind that opera is entertainment.” As the end of his time with the company approaches, he plans to audition all over the country. Let’s hope that his travels bring him back to Northern California—he likes the Bay Area, despite his observation that “There are no good delis here.”

Editor’s note: Any former New Yorkers out there who can offer Alex some tips on a good deli in the Bay Area? I’ll admit that I like the pastrami reuben at Max’s Opera Café in Palo Alto, but I suspect that true deli aficionados will not approve… ;)