It is now almost mandatory for there to be a classical vocal performance in a television talent show. Rather than getting on my high horse and launching into a hoity toity opera snob tirade, I have to concede one huge positive that comes from these amateur renditions: opera is being broadcast into living rooms all over the world. It's not as good as actually going to the opera, of course, but that's not the point of these shows. Contestants are first screened by producers who are looking for a "story"; probably tonnes of talented people don't make it onto the shows because a suitable "angle" can't be wrangled.
Lucy Kay, a gorgeous young woman who was clearly terrified on Britain's Got Talent a few weeks ago, had a story: she was bullied. But rather brilliantly, Simon Cowell told her he didn't want to hear anything more about her sad past: let's get to the singing. The chin was wobbling, she was a bit "pitchy" in parts (a word coined in the early days of American Idol, and I use it here with tongue positively IMBEDDED in my cheek), and you could have driven a truck through her vibrato (how very Maria Callas of her!) I don't know what Lucy would like to do with her voice in the future, whether it be crossover or opera, that isn't what we're here to discuss. She sang a section of "Vissi d'arte" from Puccini's Tosca; an aria beyond her capabilities at the moment, (dear God I hope it doesn't become the new favourite for child singers!) But guess what? I was just so thrilled to NOT HAVE TO LISTEN TO "O MIO BABBINO CARO"! Go Lucy!
If these TV shows were to be believed, there are only two arias in the whole world. Bloody Babbino for the girls and Frickin' Nessun Dorma for the boys.
The average viewer does not know who composed these arias nor from which operas they come (actually probably the singers themselves don't know either and why should they, boring details!) but they know the songs. They've heard them a million times.
Surely I'm not the only one bored out of their mind? Why the reluctance to stray from this overdone repertoire?
When these shows first started the importance of song choice was impressed upon contestants. The clever ones managed to find crowd pleasers that also showed off their abilities. But my favourite all time American Idol contestant was Katharine McPhee who sang "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" in the finals. A very outdated song. She sang it absolutely beautifully - it was an inspired choice to show yet another facet of her talent. She wound up coming second to Taylor Hicks with his get-up-and-dance Bruce Springsteen. McPhee was - and is - the more accomplished singer, but that night, it was about song choice.
So many others have fallen into the trap of choosing the songs they like as opposed to the songs that will win. And now I'm obviously not just talking about reality TV. In the world of opera, your careful selection of aria competition and audition pieces is absolutely tantamount. A young singer embarking on a series of competitions is advised to have a minimum of five arias that demonstrate their talent and suit their temperament and vocal colour. For example, a young tenor with a light, pretty voice, who wants to make it in the world of opera should not go into a competition with Nessun Dorma. 1. It is a completely inappropriate aria for his voice type, 2. he will be inevitably compared to Pavarotti and simply won't measure up, 3. it is not realistic that he will be playing the role of Calaf any time soon. It would be a bit like a Miley Cyrus-type pop wannabe with a 5-note range rocking up to a competition to sing Aretha Franklin's "Respect." I know that Simon Cowell would back me up on this one.
As for Babbino Caro, a soprano with the suitable lyrical qualities may well sing this piece beautifully, but why would anyone select a piece that is so cliched? There are literally dozens upon dozens of equally lovely arias that would be so much more impressive. Similarly, why would a dude with a gravelly rock n' roll voice chose Aerosmith's "I Don't Want To Miss A Thing" when it's one of the most performed songs in American reality TV history? Surely Aerosmith had other hits?
Poor Lucy, I daresay will be booted out of the competition in favour of a) aerialists or b) a dancing dog but she has done viewers a great favour by bringing something a little bit different. A new aria in people's subconscious. For that I applaud her. Who will be brave enough to follow her lead next season? (Hopefully not a 9-year-old...yawn.)
Posted by Georgia Jamieson Emms