Monday, November 10, 2008

Tenor Mario Frangoulis visits with Omaha teens

It’s not every day that students at Omaha’s South and Central high schools get to hear from an international singing sensation. Greek tenor Mario Frangoulis, who performed November 7-9 with the Omaha Symphony, stopped by to share his talent and personal story with the schools’ choir classes last week.
Even with his creamy tenor voice, dreamy looks, and skyrocketing career, Frangoulis’s message to Omaha teens was decidedly down-to-earth: “No matter what your background is, no matter how much trouble in your life, no matter who your parents are or what money they have, you can come out of it ahead. Don’t give up. Keep your passion going.”
It’s a message these students have heard before, but rarely from someone who has become so successful in such a competitive field. Frangoulis has not only made a name for himself in the world of opera, singing beside greats like Marilyn Horne, Luciano Pavarotti, and Jose Carreras, but he’s also nabbed some of Broadway’s top roles. He’s starred as Raoul in Phantom of the Opera, Marius in Les Miserables, and Tony in West Side Story in productions across the globe. Most recently, he’s embarked on a recording career.
“It wasn’t always easy for me,” he admitted to the teens. Born in Africa, Frangoulis was sent to live with his aunt in Greece when he was 4 years old. He didn’t see his parents again until he was 8. In the years in between, music started molding his life.
“I was always noisy, always too much. I couldn’t always express myself clearly. I had to do something with my energy and focus it in a productive way. Music was a source of healing. It has done miracles in my life.”
South High School student, Sidney Coleman II, nodded his head as Frangoulis spoke of music’s uplifting power. At 17, Coleman has dreams of pursuing music professionally and knows he’ll need encouragement like this on his journey.
“Music broadens my mind. Even when I was little and got in trouble, if my TV was taken away, I’d be okay. But I didn’t want anything to take away my music,” Coleman explained.
A love of music isn’t the only thing that he shares with this international talent. He goes on, “Mario’s background reminds me of myself. I’ve stayed with my aunt since I was 3. I got into music young, too. Him saying that caught my attention.”
While it’s clear that the words of Frangoulis resonated with these music students, the real magic happened when he opened his mouth to sing. Mouths dropped, eyes widened, and a hush fell over the typical teenage chatter. After he finished a short Greek love song, the room erupted into applause.
“It’s not all about me. This is about you. It’s about sharing,” Frangoulis concluded. That’s why he works with the Horatio Alger Assocation to create scholarships and educational opportunities for high school students who have the odds stacked against them. That’s why he finds school visits like these in Omaha so important.
Before he left South High School and headed on to Central, Frangoulis encouraged two of the young men in the audience to perform for him. Nervous at first, the teens belted out a beautiful duet, slowly gaining confidence. Frangoulis looked on intently, his toes tapping and eyes sparkling. Reflecting on his young audience of musicians later in the day, he said, “If I can inspire even one of them to keep going and to follow their passion, I’m happy.”

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