It’s funny, but the 29-year-old Herefordshire lad tipped for stardom by English National Opera sounds anything but English. Anthony Gregory is a graduate of the Anglican church choral tradition, the Royal College of Music and Britain’s venerated National Opera Studio, but his light, bright lyric tenor is radiantly Italianate, more redolent of Pavarotti than of Pears. It’s a voice that has lit up smaller roles in recent years, especially at ENO, where his turns as Borsa in Rigoletto and as Haemon in Julian Anderson’s “Thebans” had critics reaching for phrases like “career-making” and “close to perfection”. This autumn, Gregory will take on his first leads, Quint in Britten’s “The Turn of the Screw” for Glyndebourne, and Monteverdi’s Orfeo at ENO; the opera world expects.
Offstage, Gregory is not a very operatic opera singer. He’s slight and softly spoken—it may be the hiss of the coffee machine near my ear in the café where we meet, but at times he is almost inaudible—and shows traces of bemusement that he is here at all. His was not a musical family, although his great-grandfather did sing in an amateur barbershop quartet in Plymouth. Boyhood fantasies of playing “any kind of sport for England” were later trumped by teenage dreams of being a chef, and then a rock star—he entered the reality-television show “Pop Idol” aged 18 and was told by Simon Cowell that his voice was the equivalent of a Vauxhall Corsa (“everyone laughed and I died inside”).
Gregory, whose iPod apparently holds “mostly cheesy pop music like Bruno Mars and David Guetta”, had never heard of elite classical-music schools until his old singing teacher suggested, after university, that he should probably go to one. He went on to take the top prize at Britain’s most selective conservatoire, where he was shocked by how “incredibly driven” everyone else was. “I never had that ‘I want to be an opera singer’ bug,” he confesses. “I was good at singing, I enjoyed it, and I’ve always lived in the moment. A lot of my peers tend to obsess about the future. I treat each audition, each role, as a chapter and then move on.” For all his professed nonchalance, on stage Gregory has serious ballast. And, underneath the glorious light and honey of his singing voice, there is, too, a hint of steel.
When we meet, a few days after our shoot, he is back in a suit; it turns out he’s on his way to audition for New York’s Met, arguably opera’s top gig. When I comment that he seems freakishly relaxed, he shrugs. “That’s because I’m pragmatic. There’s no way the Met is going to hire me in the next few years.” I notice, peeking out from under each sleeve, cufflinks with the initials A and G. Perhaps he is less self-effacing, more ambitious than he appears? “I love singing but it isn’t my whole life,” he insists. “If I had to give it up tomorrow, there’d be other things I’d enjoy doing. And if it got to a point where my life was being ruled by it, I would give up. Because life’s not about your job. No matter how much you love it."
“It’s the one thing I’d like about having a normal office job,” Gregory says. “Wearing a suit every day.” He’s accustomed to weird costumes on stage—he recalls his time in a “black Lycra onesie painted with skeleton bones” for a production of “Macbeth” at Glyndebourne—so first we offered him an eccentrically cut Alexander McQueen suit, a black-and-white spotted Dior number and a Gieves & Hawkes jacket in a subtle peacock print. But in the end, he picked a timeless single-breasted evening suit, which we complemented with tuxedo shoes and a ribbon tied at his neck Western-style. Classy, with a dash of wit: for a man with an unconventional approach to a most conventional art form, that’s a good fit.
Navy wool/silk shawl-collar evening jacket, £750, matching trousers, £350, and white diamond-text dress-shirt, £80, all by Hardy Amies; black slip-on “Drum” shoes, £159, by Reiss; black ribbon, from a selection at V.V. Rouleaux; silk socks, £28, by Pantherella; C900 Worldtimer watch with blue alligator strap, £1,575, by Christopher Ward