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Opera Daily 🎶 — The "Crossover"
Good morning, friends! When we shared last week’s post with countertenor John Holiday, we mentioned the term “crossover” when discussing his performance on The Voice. Let’s dive in to what we mean by that term.
Traditionally the musical genre referred to as “crossover” usually has performers singing popular music in a classically trained style. But for a term that has been so pervasive, “crossover” is hard to define. There is the classical crossover which we will discuss in this post. But also the country crossover. Remember when Taylor Swift was a country singer? At the time, fans talked about Swift’s crossover from country to pop. Also, the Christian crossover. If you look back at Carrie Underwood's work, despite being considered a pop artist, much of her music has been overtly Christian, including “Jesus, Take the Wheel”.
We shared the below snippet from an interview Cecilia Bartoli had with Charlie Rose in 2000 in a previous post. In the below, she shares her perspective about when opera singers crossover from opera to other genres with the explicit purpose of attracting new audiences.
“I think the real crossover for me is not the one that we are used to listening (I mean, to move to a different kind of repertoire). I think the real crossover is to bring an audience into what are you doing and not just go to them with something else. So to bring the audience to me is the audience listening to Vivaldi music. Yes, to bring a new audience to Vivaldi. So this is a real crossover for me.”
For Bartoli, instead of going to a place where a new audience is familiar (for example, popular music or musical theater) she brings the audience to her and tries to make that familiar.
I tend to agree with Bartoli here, but it all comes down to your intention. If your goal is to bring new folks into opera, I am not sure the best way is for classically trained singers to sing music that isn’t suited to their voice. I think in some ways, it has the opposite effect. Too often, operatic singing is too vocally heavy, and the vibrato is too much for other genres. However, if your goal is to bring your talents as a musician to a new genre because that's what interests you, and you can embrace all the nuances of that genre, I think it’s a fantastic idea.
The American soprano Eileen Farrell, is probably one of the first opera singers to record a crossover album. I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues, her pop and jazz standard album was released in 1960.
Here is Eileen Farrell singing the Liebestod (Mild und Leise) from Act III of the German opera Tristan und Isolde by Richard Wagner. After Tristan has died, Isolde looks upon him in a trance. She believes that she sees her beloved coming back to life as she hears a lovely melody around her. The hallucinations become stronger and stronger until she eventually dies next to Tristan.
Now let’s listen to Eileen Farrell, “I’ve Gotta Right to Sing the Blues” from 1960. Yes, this is the same person!
The Three Tenors, the popular operatic group during the 1990s and early 2000s consisting of Spaniards Plácido Domingo and José Carreras, and Italian Luciano Pavarotti, is probably the best modern version of the classical crossover, although some might say that The Three Tenors were doing what Bartoli recommended — bringing an audience into what they were doing and not just going to them with something else (although there are plenty of examples of when The Three Tenors did not do that).
Here is their famous Rome performance of “Nessun Dorma”, an aria from the final act of Giacomo Puccini's opera Turandot.
Renée Fleming is probably the most well-known opera singer to move successfully into other genres. She also became the first opera singer to perform the National Anthem at the Super Bowl in 2014.
Like Eileen Farrell, I believe for Renée; it’s less about reaching a bigger audience and more about the music and artistry. I don’t think she considers herself an opera singer, rather a musician and her voice goes where he curiosity goes.
I think that’s why Renée Fleming was adamant about describing her indie rock album, Dark Hope from 2010 as not a crossover album. Her goal, she explains, is “to bypass the middle ground and get to the other side of the divide entirely. This album is not a crossover,” that it occupies the “other extreme of the spectrum,” that making the recording was like visiting “a parallel universe.”
Here’s Renée singing “Oxygen” from her album Dark Hope (written by Willy Mason, first released by Willy Mason in 2007). You will notice that in this album Fleming does not use her “operatic voice” (to compare, here is Renée singing Marietta’s Lied from the opera Die tote Stadt by Erich Wolfgang Korngold from one of our very first posts)
Want more crossover?
Here’s Juan Diego Flórez, the Peruvian tenor, singing “Cucurrucucú Paloma”, a Mexican huapango-style song written by Tomás Méndez in 1954. Huapango is a Mexican folk dance and music style. “Cucurrucucú Paloma” tells the story of a man whose lover died. He’s so devastated, and the only thing that calms him down is when a dove 🕊 (“la Paloma”) comes to his window sill and coos (making him think that it’s the spirit of his lover who passed).
Thank you for reading (and listening),