In the Wings

Backstage glimpses with Boston Lyric Opera

DR. VON LYRIC: Crossover and (probably) be damned!

Jan 15, 2015 12:55:00 PM
By BLO Staff

Having touched on Renée Fleming singing "Summertime" in my last post, the vexed question of "crossover" singing has arisen. Perhaps no other aspect of operatic performing has raised more questions or caused more bile, vitriol, and occasional praise to be spewed forth (particularly in the case of Ms. Fleming and her "courageous," "inspiring," "foolhardy," and "despicable" forays into the pop, jazz, and Broadway fields). Are operatic singing's technique and training totally inappropriate when applied to other fields? Is it, indeed, even a matter of technique, or rather a matter of style…or experience…or temperament…or soul?

Like most things, operatic or not, sometimes it works (and reveals)…sometimes it doesn't. I think a little relaxation is in order. Let's just take things easy and gain what we can from performers who may wander out of their comfort zones and show perhaps unexpected sides to both us and themselves.

Perhaps the seminal exponent of this trend was the great Metropolitan Opera star Ezio Pinza when he crossed over to Broadway with SOUTH PACIFIC (1949). We might forget, but this was a very controversial move at the time.

But famous opera singers, of course, had been singing "pop" music for ages, and recording it, too. Here is Adelina Patti singing "Home, Sweet Home" (her famous encore) at the age of 62 in 1905. From the accompanying photos of her castle in Wales, she could talk with some experience about a "sweet home."

A favorite singer of mine…stylish, elegant, witty, while doing anything.

A sidebar…Ava Gardner singing the same piece from the MGM musical film. In the released film, she was dubbed by Annette Warren, although Gardner had been promised to do her own singing. So here she is, revealed, as also stylish, elegant, witty.

Stephanie Blythe doing Kate Smith with affection and a refreshing lack of condescension.

Eileen Farrell (and Leonard Bernstein, no less) in another of my candidates for best American (or anywhere) song.

Next post, we'll contemplate the journey back across the bridge, from the pop world to opera. Barbra Streisand sings Handel? I'm not kidding, so stay tuned!

A final question for all you readers: Who is closer to the "soul" of Maria Callas — Joan Sutherland or Billie Holiday?

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