We have all unfortunately heard some one or other famous opera star sing a CCM song with operatic vocal production. Even if the musical style is appropriate and the artist has a valid and creative arrangement for the musicians to play underneath her, it doesn’t mean that she sounds like a CCM singer. In fact, in most cases, with women particularly, they cannot sound like a CCM singer because the mechanism doesn’t know how to go there, even if the mind wants it to. (See previous post). I have written here previously of the “Annie” of Deborah Voigt in “Annie Get Your Gun” at Glimmerglass Opera House which was, in vocal terms, completely disrespectful of what Irving Berlin wanted in terms of her character. I love Ms. Voigt as an opera singer but she should have chosen a “legit” role to make her music theater debut, not Annie. She can’t (maybe she wouldn’t) belt and the role was written for Ethel Merman, for goodness sake!
The same could be said to be true of the few CCM artists who have been courageous or foolish enough to make classical albums. Michael Bolton certainly didn’t succeed with his operatic arias album, at least in terms of the opera audiences who knew opera well. He got no calls from the Met to “come on over”. He did no better than Barbra Streisand in 1975 with her “classical album” of art songs. Mr. Bolton tried hard enough to get his voice to make the correct sounds but there were so many other things wrong that it didn’t matter much. I understand Mr. B worked with a voice coach, but not being able to get the rock-based constriction out of his sound, he was also not able to organize the necessary vocal elements into a classical performance that was eventually accepted by a classical audience. What happened? He has plenty of money, he surely hired the best people to help him. Was it just that he didn’t hear his own problems, that he didn’t care, or both? Being famous can skew your ego so much that you think you are really good at many things when, sometimes, you are not really good at even the one thing in which you had success, perhaps by accident, so who knows?
In order to sound different in different styles, you need to train differently for each style and few people do that unless they can figure it out on their own. And, if the styles are not going to conflict with each other (which is the fear that everyone has) such that the primary style does not suffer from learning other styles, artists have to learn appropriate boundaries for all styles and all vocal behaviors in each style. Who does that? (Somatic Voicework™ students, if I may be so bold).
If we are to respect our mostly American-created CCM styles we have to respect their history, their context, their own parameters of execution and the peer-based expectations of those who are mainstream artists in a particular style. In recent years several albums of “popular” music done by opera singers allow the classical singers to “play at” sounding authentic but no one has really been able to completely nail the vocal quality change necessary in order to be authentic. Going all the way back to the album by Placido Domingo and John Denver (Perhaps Love, if I recall its title correctly), the two tenors did not sound at all alike. Mr. Domingo did a wonderful job of scaling his voice down to match Mr. Denver’s but he couldn’t get rid of his “placement” and “resonance”. You wouldn’t have mistaken them, one for the other, even though they each sang the music from their hearts. Really, by now people in opera should be telling each other, “Don’t do that CCM album. You need to retrain your voice before you do. If you sing it the way you usually sing, just softer, it only makes you sound silly”.
Yes, artists can do whatever they want. There are no artistic police. But if Americans in particular are going to respect their own styles they can’t ignore the values those styles are expected to have. If classical music at a high professional level requires that people are fluent in at least four languages, know the difference between Bel Canto and Verismo, and understand the “fach” system, then the very least they can do when they go to CCM styles is know that you don’t sing jazz with the same sound you make in Mozart or even in old Rodgers and Hammerstein songs.
Stick to what you know until you can sing what you don’t know such that it doesn’t sound like that.