Opera Arias and Art Songs That Aren’t

I recently attended a concert that presented a range of art songs and CCM music. It was sung by very good classically trained singers and covered R&B, blues, jazz, and opera arias. The presentation of the 10 singers was well done, in terms of staging of the material, and the jazz musicians (piano and bass guitar) who alternated with the classical pianist were very good. Still, the program was a hodge podge. The four women were much worse off than the six men. All of their songs were too high. They were stuck in head register and classical “resonance” and most of the songs suffered badly due to that.

Clearly, the singers were left to their own devices. This was a poor choice on the part of the producers. Classical singers doing material that isn’t classical often carry their classical production with them when they leave that repertoire. If you are singing a song that was written to be a belt piece by taking it up a fourth and turning it into an aria, you are not only not honoring the music, you are making yourself seem highly ignorant of correct style.

That this still happens isn’t news. That it isn’t news says how far we have yet to go. The double standard of the classical vocalists, upheld largely through obliviousness, is unacceptable but they don’t even know that there is anything wrong. I have said here that until things are really equal on each side of the bar, I will campaign to make sure that all the CCM styles, most of which originated here in the USA, are honored by singing them in the way the composers intended, including using the correct vocal quality. Doing this typically requires adjusting the keys, and with women those adjustments can be as much as a fifth up or down, in order to help the song stay in a “speech oriented mode”.

If I am a rock singer and I only sing in a rock sound and you put me in a concert and assign to me the song “Caro Mio Ben” and I sing it like a rock song because that’s how I sing, would you take that as being valid and acceptable, or would you tell me that it needs to be sung in an entirely different manner, using different sounds and feelings? Would you think that the song was OK no matter what I did with it or would you wonder if I knew that it was a classical song and typically done in a classical manner? Would you just let it go and present it alongside other songs as being equal?

Woman are at the greatest disadvantage here because men, singing mostly in chest register, can adjust the songs by simply lightening up, changing vowel sound shape and paying attention to the words. Women classical singers are going to be very head dominant in mid-range and have to do a much bigger gear switch than their male counterparts.

A few people have taken classical pieces and turned them into jazz pieces or folk songs, singing them in a chest register dominant, speech oriented sound. They have been successful with their performances in these new arrangements. But if you leave the song pretty much as written and try singing it as if it were something else, you are not totally in either a CCM or a classical world. You look and sound like you are at sea.

Leave the arias in classical music. If you sing a Kander and Ebb piece, don’t turn it into something by Strauss. If you like words, be careful that you aren’t sustaining up high (because it doesn’t work to do the words easily if you do). It’s hard to go to a performance like that, where the performers are singing in a sound that doesn’t suit the music. I want to say “NO!!” but, really, what would be the point?

Each of us can help this situation. If you are a classical singer and you are asked to sing a CCM song, find out about the style and do your best to follow that style authentically in your own way. If you do not know how to get the right vocal quality, you must learn. Notice the key, and volume and the tempo and stick closely to those things until and unless you have a very good reason not to. Learn to use a microphone, amplifier and speaker. Learn what style the piece you want to sing has been done in by others in the past.

Many singers can sing all over the keyboard comfortably. They can be very loud or very soft and can be very expressive if they choose to and they can do a wide variety of styles authentically. If you are not one of those people, please be very careful about what you sing and how you sing it. Don’t just assume your way is the right way…..find out!

Here’s a post of someone who should have known better. Great artist, awful rendition of the song.
Go to YouTube and put in: Kiri Te Kanawa I Dreamed a Dream.

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