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2002-08-14 Crossing the classical pop divine

When I was very little (neither today nor yesterday nor indeed the day before that) I became aware of Classical Crossover when I first heard the Beach Boys singing Lady Lynda (also first time I saw my sisters name spelt pretentiously).

 

I had been exposed to pop music of course but was more fascinated by this piece of baroque music which was the framework for this attractive song. This was the first time I had heard Jesu joy of mans desiring. Obviously one of the Beach Boys was a man who was desiring Lady Lynda, and there was the link, or maybe he just liked Bach? Then there was A whiter shade of pale which used another Bach piece (pity he missed out on the royalties).Here the well-known Air on a G string(stop that immature giggling) from his second suite became the basis for this huge hit.

And why is the Bach-Gounod Ave Maria so called using the names of two composers? Well, Gounod borrowed Bachs first Prelude in C and composed a lovely melody on top to the Ave Maria text. So, was Gounod in fact the first ever classical crossover artist?

About a century after that, enter stage left the flambuoyant Freddie Mercury alongside the Spanish Diva Montserrat Caballe with Barcelona, produced by Mike Moran of Celtic Tenors fame! Barcelona is arguably the first huge crossover song. Freddie, in his own inimitable style gave it everything, as he had done in Bohemian Rhapsody and countless other massive concerted anthemic numbers, and Montserrat stood there in her designer tent soaring up to those stratospheric operatic notes, as only she can do (possibly my favourite soprano).

Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli of course gave us their wonderful bilingual Time to say goodbye which also seems to successfully bridge that gap between popular and classical repertoire. The quasi-operatic feel to this timeless piece and the big full-throated final phrase give this popular anthem a real classical crossover feel to it, and still it doesnt seem out of place on Top of the Pops. Sometimes the treatment of popular repertoire with a classical idiom really does work, and indeed vice-versa, when a classical piece is given a slightly more poppy treatment. Of course the purists are jumping out of their seats now and cursing the Bocellis of this world, but as with most newspaper columns, this is one opinion. Anyway, isnt musical snobbery a very negative thing?

Despite her weird and almost nonsensical hand gestures, Sarah Brightman is someone who has come out of the classical mould and fitted easily into the world of pop, with a little help from her ex-husband Sir Andrew I expect. Her sellout concert tours and millions of record sales only serve to highlight the point.

Lesley Garrett, who began by singing many roles for English National Opera, also seems to have been able to combine both careers and is another big-selling and popular crossover artist (well, a lot of people like her) who seems reasonably at home in both genres.

There are of course those who have failed, or maybe I ought to say they were less successful. Some of the great voices of the operatic stage like Dame Kiri te Kanawa, and indeed Big Luce himself will always sound operatic (and beautiful)in whatever they do, but in my opinion they do not successfully cross that divide. I am a huge fan of the early recordings of Jose Carreras (before he was the third tenor) but I am afraid his attempts at the more popular repertoire will never find their way into my CD collection. My favourite of the Big 3, Mr. Domingo, has of course given us such gems as Perhaps Love with John Denver which was quite honestly a little silly, though financially viable Im sure. Dawn Upshaw and Anne-Sophie von Otter would be two of my tips for singers who really have crossed the divide very successfully.

And what about Charlotte Church of the worryingly wobbly chin? (What about her!) And no room to talk to you about Russell Watson, ah well, another time maybe, or maybe not.

My two Celtic colleagues love wearing clothes with labels, but feel a little uncomfortable with the Classical Crossover label, but whether we like it or not, that is really where we are at. However I am not about to give my opinion as to how successfully we have bridged the gap. Ill leave that to you.