What Will It Take?

How do you get through to opera stars who insist they know what other styles are when they don’t bother to go to the people in those styles to ask? Or maybe they do and the people they seek out are too intimidated to tell the truth.

What makes it possible for opera stars who claim to be singing “crossover” who use their same operatic vocal production in other styles to think they are being authentic or even viable?  They don’t know the difference between opera and anything else. They don’t want to know.

“Just change the vowels, dear, and smile more into your nasal resonances. It’s easy.”

I have heard personally from opera stars who were known for their big booming voices, not once but many times, that in order to sing effectively, you just take a breath and let it go. Really.

For these blessed few people with gargantuan bodies and voices, I truly believe that that is so. They learn a bit about breathing, they learn about “shaping resonances”, they learn languages, and off they go, having world class careers. Bless them. All of them, bless them.

I think of all the people over 6 feet tall who do well in basketball. If you are hoping to be a pro and you don’t top 6 feet, even if you play the game very well and have good skills in the sport, you don’t stand too much hope of being a star professional player. Ditto, if you are nearly 6 feet tall at 15 years old and you want to be an Olympic gymnast. Even if you are really coordinated, your chances of making the team are very small. It is a sport for small compact people. Is this fair? Is this reflective of the rest of the people in this world who like and want to do gymnastics? No. Does it mean that no one should be in basketball if they are short or in gymnastics if they are tall? No. Does it mean that the professional world will not take them seriously if they are in the wrong categories? You bet.

With singing, if you are going to have a chance at a mainstream operatic career in major houses, you had better make a good deal of sound. Even if your acting is awful and you aren’t particularly emotionally expressive, if you have a great big gorgeous sound, standing still doing almost nothing, you have a better chance than most to get to the world’s most famous stages. Same thing, different world – if you can belt pop/rock music to the notes off the right end of the keyboard, you have a better chance at a career than someone who couldn’t do that trying as hard as possible. Even with electronic help, the power to belt stratospheric notes effectively isn’t given to everyone. Having it really helps.

So, taking for granted that opera stars with very successful careers can do whatever they want to do when they arrive at that level of recognition, what makes them decide they need to go outside opera and show the world how “versatile” they are? Do they not HEAR? Do they not listen? Do they not care?

Truth is, I have no idea, but the reasonable answer is that they don’t. Truth is, most people in the audience don’t care either for the same reasons. Surely the people who are opera fans, who only listen to opera, have no clue and perhaps are genuinely impressed with the great “versatility” of the opera divi. Still, it is ever disturbing to know that they don’t know, don’t care to know, and this mindless attitude is being passed on to a new generation when they teach. That smarts most of all.

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