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The Who's 'Quadrophenia' is coming back with real opera singers

The Who's Pete Townshend and tenor Alfie Boe, stepping in for Roger Daltrey, are joining forces to revamp the 1973 rock opera "Quadrophenia." The BBC's Dee Sebastian met with Boe to discuss the new recording, "Classic Quadrophenia," which is being released on June 9, and the live performance, slated for Royal Albert Hall on July 5.

"I love Quadrophenia," Boe says. "It's something that I have been listening to for a very long time — obviously since I was in my early teens."

Interview highlights

You weren't born when the album came out, were you? Or you were just born when the first album came out?

I was a week old.  A week old and I told Pete Townshend that and then he hit me — he didn't really! It is weird to think that I am going to be singing something that was written around the time that I was born, but the music is fantastic.

 How do you feel about taking over for Roger Daltrey in the lead?

I'm feeling more about the role of Jimmy, rather than Daltrey. I think if I start thinking about taking over for Roger Daltrey, that's quite a daunting task. 

 Give us a quick synopsis of the story.

Jimmy is a very frustrated teenager. He is a 19-year-old; nobody understands him. He is so determined to be the rebel in this world. There's the fight between the Mods and Rockers.

Mods and Rockers was very much of its time, wasn't it? In the 1970s — but that translates to any gangs now.

It does now. The rest of the story goes is that his frustration continues when he sees his friends, basically they start growing up. They don't want to fight anymore on Brighton Beach. They want to just live a nice peaceful life, but Jimmy's still that determined guy.

The recording is out in a couple of weeks, but you're going to do a live show. What are you going to wear, Alfie?

I'm gonna get as rocky as possible.

Because I hear you quite like leather trousers.

I think Pete Townshend and Rachel Fuller, who did the orchestration, she said that I need to be wearing beautiful, slick DJ, like a mod-suit DJ, with a huge sequence target on the back. 

It's at the Royal Albert Hall. It's absolutely vast, isn't it?

Yeah, it's incredible. 

It's bigger than most opera concert halls.

Yeah, without a doubt. It's a beautiful place to play, I've played there many times and the excitement backstage is just as good as the excitement on stage. 

Your voice will obviously be amplified, unlike in opera. What about the range?

The range is pretty challenging. There are not many low notes. There are ridiculously high notes, which Roger does. I just think: how the hell did he do it? I sing it my way. I sing the piece as a trained classical singer. 

Let's talk about those songs. I just picked out a few that I've always liked. "The Punk and the Godfather."

 

That is a wonderful track. That is the duet I sing with Pete Townshend. 

Then there is the song "5:15." That is when Jimmy is supposed to be on the train to Brighton. 

Heading down to Brighton. In the movie, I think he's actually off his face.

Let's get onto that — the drugs and the drink and stuff, Alfie. So I'm wondering how, as in a normal concert performance you'll stand fairly statically in front of the orchestra. Are you going to be jumping about a bit? Taking the microphone off its stand and running up and down?

I won't be spinning it like Roger Daltrey does. I won't be standing still. You can't stand still when this music is playing. 

This is what Pete has been quoted saying about you:

"He reminds he of Roger Daltrey. He is a real pleasure to work with. He's funny and good-looking. The girls like him."

I can assure the listeners that is definitely true. What do you think of that?

I don't know. Did he also say that he was going to push me into the pit as well?

He did. He says he's going to push you into the orchestra pit. Do you think he is? That is a long drop if I remember rightly. 

As long as he doesn't hit me with a guitar, I can do what he wants. 

Let's talk about the ending "Love Rain O'er Me." The song, it sort of ends in a scream, basically. 

Yeah, it's a release of all the anguish, all the frustration, all the tension that he's gone through. He wants to be loved. He wants the girl that he adores to love him. None of this is happening. So it's like somebody grabbing his heart and pulling it to pieces, and then stepping on it.