Opera Singers Who Can’t
Can’t what? Quite a few opera singers have made “cross-over” recordings to show their versatility. They seem to want to say, “I can sing anything”, except, of course, they can’t.
I presented a lecture on CCM styles a number of years ago to a university/conservatory that was strictly classical. I was invited there by the faculty to discuss the possibility of having the school offer a degree in Music Theater. I spent the day working with students and talking to the faculty. One of the faculty was a star teacher, someone famous who had sung at the Met and other first level houses. After I was done, she said in her most imperious tones, “I don’t understand why this is necessary. I sing everything from Mozart to Wagner.” I responded by saying, “Yes, I’m sure you do, but do you sing rock music, or jazz?” She said, looking surprised, “Of course not.” My reply to this was, “That’s my point.” She was silent.
The university instituted the music theater degree and it is doing very well. I was not informed that my presentation had convinced the Dean to go ahead. I heard later, via the grapevine, that I had offended the diva. Uh-oh!
What happens if you are a star opera singer is that you can live in a world in which nothing else but what you do seems real or seems to matter. You can forget what is going on in the rest of the world where you and your persona are not given the same amount of deference you get in your own community. In point of fact, if you are an opera singer and you decide to make a jazz recording, and you bring your opera voice with you, even if you hire great jazz artists to play for you and you have great arrangements, people with ears are going to hear “classical training” in that vocal machine, and if they are serious musicians, they are not going to take you seriously because you did not bother to take the music seriously. Fair trade.
Don’t Make Yourself Sound Out of Touch
I recently heard a recording of a Broadway tune meant to be belted, recorded by an opera singer, who was singing in a high head-register dominant sound that was uneven and had little to do with the music or the text. The meaning was there. Clearly the artist knew what the song was communicating but she either didn’t hear or didn’t know to listen to the kind of sound she was making. The song is essentially bitter and we don’t associate bitterness with head register.
Remember, the music business, the people in the industry, don’t care about academia. They don’t care about your vocal technique, your degrees, they don’t care about how you trained yourself. They care about how you sing — just how you sing and what you do with your music while you sing. If you don’t listen widely and you don’t work with industry professionals you won’t know that you don’t know and then you can end up making yourself sound foolish. While you believe that you are showing the world how versatile you are, what you might be revealing is how unaware you are. You might be viewed as one of the opera singers who can’t. Be careful.