Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Crossover Artists: What is the Harm?

There was an article I recently read calling Welsh mezzo-soprano crossover artist, Katherine Jenkins, a fraud. (she gets a lot of scathing reviews and criticism) The title reads, "Katherine Jenkins hasn't got the voice or technique to sing opera - so why does she pretend she can?". I am not a fan of Miss Jenkins but I felt like a case needed to be made for someone in her shoes. The aforementioned article contained video of her singing the aria, Una Voce Poco Fa.

I have included it below. No need to watch the whole thing, just start at minute 3:40

Now watch this video of Elina Garanca (trained opera singer) sing the same aria. Again, if you just start at minute 3:45 you will hear enough to see my impending point. 

Please let me know if you couldn't tell the difference, but, Elina is classically trained and has performed in staged operas. Katherine is a recording and performance artist who has not actually been in an opera, but has strong views of bringing the genre to the attention of the masses. Her intentions are good as far as I can tell. Like I said, she performs all over the world, she does a tremendous amount of charity work and was just appointed, Officer of the Order of the British Empire for her services in music and charities. She is very successful and falls into the same category of Susan Boyle, Sarah Brightman, and others who sing classic works along with popular songs, musical theater pieces and hymns. 

My question is, "What is the harm in what Miss Jenkins and others like her are doing?"

The videos I posted above were side by side and you can see the dramatic difference, but if you just went to a concert given by Katherine Jenkins and she was joined on stage by Andrea Bocelli (another artist who is not technically up to par with classically trained tenors in the opera world, but still has a lucrative career in singing songs from the genre) would you be disappointed? 

Artists like Miss Jenkins cause quite a stir in the opera world. As far as I can tell she is not claiming to be an opera singer. She just sings songs from that genre. And what if we were to look at this the other way around, operatic voices singing contemporary music? How well does that go over? Here are some famous voices covering John Denver songs:

Beautiful, but do their voices truly work with the genre of country/folk music? I would have to argue with few exceptions, they do not. I think in each genre of music we have our extreme artists who sound strange trying anything else but what they are trained in or what niche they have found. And then you have those who can crossover successfully and it actually isn't too bad sounding.

The first video I posted of Katherine singing was not her strongest song choice, but I am sure there are other arias she could pull off beautifully. And she sounded quite lovely with Andrea. I think it is great that a vocalist can make a living dabbling in different genres. Yes, they may not be the best technically, but they still have something to offer the world and apparently there is a market for it. 

So, the bottom line for me, is that vocalists like Miss Jenkins shouldn't be judged so harshly. She doesn't claim to be an opera star or to have sung at the Met. She is indeed a crossover artist who markets herself well and is easy on the eyes. Let her sing. Let her put bread on the table for her family. And if you don't like her...there are PLENTY of other artists out there to choose from.