Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Popera Singers: What is the role of Classical Crossover artists, or whatever you want to call them?

Most of my friends are not opera lovers.  It's not that they really dislike opera, it's just that they simply don't know.  "Opera?  You mean that fat lady with the horns?  Or do you mean Pavarotti?"  For most of the general public, this is all they know.  It's what mainstream popular culture tells us opera is.
Every now and then, when I converse with my non-opera-loving friends, our discussions turn to music.  And sometimes, one or another says something like, "Oh, I love Andrea Bocelli, and Sarah Brightman, too!  And how about that trio of teenage tenors, and Paul Potts?  And Jackie Evancho is absolutely amazing!  So, yeah, I guess I do like some opera!"

Now, after a statement like that, some more experienced opera lovers may be left scratching their heads and saying, "Huh?  Are you serious?  Have you ever even HEARD a real opera singer?"  I've seen many an online debate sparked by someone trying to compare Jackie Evancho to the likes of Renee Fleming.  And one time, my brother and I couldn't help bursting into raucous laughter when we walked past the music section in Target and saw a recording of Carmen starring Andrea Bocelli featured prominently in the Pop section, along with several other of his CDs.
Now, I could very easily join in with all the (sometimes good-natured) ribbing that often occurs at the expense of these artists.  Or I could point out that, while talent in its raw state may be present, only when Jackie Evancho hold her own with other singers on stage, be heard at the very back of a large opera house without the benefit of a microphone, and convincingly portray a role at the same time, can she ever be compared with Renee Fleming.  And, sure, I could have a lot of fun chuckling about these singers and their often rabid fan base.  But then I really think I would be missing the point of it all.
I mean, think about it.  Regardless of how you personally feel about crossover artists, actually stop and think about it.  Seriously.  I mean, there was a recording of CARMEN in the POP section!  Along with other opera-ish recordings!  Presented right there to the mainstream music audience, who might not even step foot in the classical aisle!

And that, right there, is the whole point I'm trying to make with all this.  These singers, while quite missing the mark for many of us, do play a vital role in the world of music.  They bring a taste of opera to millions of people who would otherwise never even give it a try.  And there is really no better illustration of this point than the talent shows that made many of these people famous in the first place.  I remember watching episodes of America's/Britain's Got Talent, with audiences full of average people, along with millions of national network TV viewers.  On those occasions, they often followed other musical acts, ranging from pop to rock, country to rap.  Then one or another of them would walk out onstage, open his or her mouth, and leave the audience absolutely astonished.  The next day, there would be headlines about this or that incredible talent that had just been discovered.  And each time, the singer continued through the competition to the very end, taking second place on the occasions where he or she did not actually win the whole thing.  And each time, it was mainstream audiences voting for their favorites who put these singers in the top spots.  People who were never exposed to opera before picked these artists as their favorites.  Many of those people have continued with independent exploration, and have thus arrived at the magical destination that is opera.  And those who haven't, have at the very least realized that opera is more than just a fat lady with horns.

1 comment:

  1. The people who watch those talent shows and think pop is such great music, and then when they are blown away when someone sings opera, do they start to question the quality of what they have been sold by pop culture?