The Australian Tenor
The Australian tenor on changing voice types, on-stage chemistry and life as the son of two famous opera singers
When you’re a musical theatre star, the thrill is at the edge. Belting out a top note right at the edge of your voice is exciting, and the audience loves it.
But for Alexander Lewis, the thrill was fading. He was midway through a long tour singing Raoul in Phantom of the Opera, and those top As were popping out a little too easily. As the son of two opera singers, he had an idea what was happening.
Was it possible he was turning into a tenor?
From Boy soprano to tenor at the MET
Lewis grew up in a musical family. The son of renowned opera singers Patricia Price and Michael Lewis, he and his brother Ben spent their childhood hearing top voices in full flight. Joan Sutherland sang at their primary school fundraisers. Every New Year’s Eve, they watched their parents perform at the Sydney Opera House.
“I just wanted to do what my Dad did,” Lewis says. He sang in the Australian Youth Choir as a kid, and once the family moved to the United Kingdom, he became a cathedral chorister at St Alban’s under Dr Barry Rose. At high school at Newington College in Sydney, he did a lot of drama and performed in a lot of plays. “I was encouraged to push the boundaries a lot through drama.”
He discovered musical theatre at university and went on to the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts. He began to get the roles and reviews any aspiring performer could dream of. But at 26, he noticed his voice was changing.
Lewis auditioned for two of the world’s most prestigious opera training programs: the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program at the Metropolitan Opera of New York and San Francisco Opera’s Merola Opera Program. He won places in both.
“The Met took a bit of a punt on me knowing I had a set of performance skills they could develop,” Lewis explains. His training up to that point was probably unique among opera singers, but it had given him musicality, theatricality and languages that would more than underpin opera training.
Lewis bubbles over with enthusiasm as he speaks of his time at the Met. He raves about the training he received under brilliant conductors and famous tenors.
“It was great to sit down and talk to tenors who have been singing for 20 or 30 years and are at the top of their game. But it’s even better to watch singers up close and see how masterful they are. A lot of that comes down to technique. This is the kind of experience that money can’t buy,” he adds.
Fast forward seven years and Lewis is performing roles all over the country.
Performing The Merry Widow
“Danilo is a joy to perform,” he says. “This production is just staggeringly beautiful, from the set to what Graeme Murphy has done choreographically and stylistically… it’s a gorgeous, gorgeous show.”
Lewis talks about this production with the kind of joyful pride you see in new parents. The Merry Widow is essentially a rom-com on stage with good music, he says. But while creating the show for its first run in Perth, “we were able to ground it in an honesty and integrity that really focuses the lens”.
“There are these moments of froth and bubble and light-heartedness and then there are some moments of stillness with Hanna that bring the love story to a really intimate level, almost filmic.”
What’s next you ask?
After performing The Merry Widow in venues across Australia, Lewis hopes to juggle work in Australia and overseas — for the next 12 months, he plans to enjoy summer all over the world, as he and his wife juggle their respective careers. He is married to Australian performer Christina O’Neill.
Lewis is cagey about the roles he’s hoping to sing in the future, but hints that there are some newer works in development. “Given my background in musical theatre, roles that are being told in a contemporary style with contemporary text really appeal to me.”
He appears to have the gift for them, too, attracting rave reviews in his recent turn in Matthew Aucoin’s The Crossing in New York.