Norman Lebrecht on shifting sound worlds
Una semi-trained voce goes only thus fa!
Personally I think this is cruel and unnecessary.
I’m no defendist of KJ but this negativity does no-one any favours.
Much is made of the fact that she never claims to be an opera singer. She doesn’t need to. I’m surprised that the WNO website implies that she is:
“Mezzo Soprano – The middle female voice. A darker voice than a soprano associated with a range of different roles often used to portray female characters of great complexity such as Carmen. Famous mezzo sopranos include Teresa Berganza, Cecilia Bartoli and Katherine Jenkins.”
This might be right in terms of technical ability, if a little harsh with the big FAIL sign slapped up every time. We get it. Her voice isn’t (yet) suitable for ‘proper’ opera & she makes money some people think should be going towards ‘proper’ opera singers but never under-estimate someone like Kathryn Jenkins as a gateway for people discovering opera in their own right. Or its use in adverts or films or football coverage.
I didn’t go to my first real opera until I was in my thirties. Put off by what looked like an expensive way to undergo aural torture in the company of snobs. But gradually I’d heard enough ‘bits’ to make me think that perhaps I was wrong.
I did go in the end & I love discovering new opera now but sometimes people need a connection to push them along & whatever her limitations as a singer Jenkins is one of those possible connections.
Plus in a time of austerity when budgets are being cut left, right & centre the perception of opera snobbery is probably something it doesn’t need. After all the Royal Opera gets a huge subsidy and is still a rather expensive place to watch opera in – to a person of limited means.
But why can’t the gateway be provided by a real opera singer – ie: someone who actually sings in operas?
This has been debated on more than one previous occasion, so I’m not going to repeat all the arguments, but is there any evidence that KJ does in fact act as a gateway? Comments by fans of KJ, Russell Watson etc imply that many already think they’re getting the real thing and just want more and more of the same.
I don’t see why debunking misleading claims made by, or on behalf of, certain crossover singers should be accepted as snobbery any more than comparisons in other fields should be accepted as jazz snobbery, rock snobbery, football snobbery or snooker snobbery.
Simple answer Alison. I don’t know. In a ideal world perhaps it would but that requires a whole different outlook from recording companies and artists.
Anecdotally I’d say she does but I hate it when people use anecdotes to back up an argument. I’d be interested to know if anyone’s ever done any proper tracking / research.
I don’t have a problem with the debunking – although I think FAIL! is a bit OTT really. It’s the attitude that comes across that ‘you shouldn’t like this because I say so’ that makes it snobbery. And snobbery in all these things is snobbery. It’s not so much debunking it is talking down to people.
People find there own paths to things & sometimes it is via odd routes (and Kathryn Jenkins might be one of them).
Should be their obviously.
(Bangs head on table)
‘you shouldn’t like this because I say so’
There’s certainly a perception that opera people think like that but I can’t honestly say that I’ve heard it voiced explicitly. On the other hand, coming from a very modest background, I’ve certainly been on the receiving end of rude, snobbish remarks of the inverted kind.
IMO, the reason why KJ provokes strong reactions here is because she allows herself to be promoted as an opera singer. She can dish it out as well:
“I’ve always faced prejudice. I’m a working-class girl from Wales. I have blonde hair and wear pretty dresses. There are a lot of people in the classical music world who absolutely loathe me. The critics slate me because I’m not what they consider the real thing. People expect a classical singer to be big and fat with Wagnerian horns on her head. Sorry, that’s not me. It never was and I always knew my looks would be my advantage. I’m totally aware of how to market myself, totally aware of the effect of the way I look. And personally I’d rather see an attractive man playing Romeo than a big fat old man. Why can’t opera singers look good? I don’t get it.”
Sorry, but with her income the victim card doesn’t really work.
Alison, I don’t think her income has anything to do with whether she might be, or feel, a “victim”.
As to “Why can’t the gateway be a real opera singer” the answer is that sometimes it is, for some people.
But here’s the thing – you don’t decide what singer people want to buy. Nor do the record labels (who decide which singers to promote, sure, but that often is unsuccessful).
The general public – who we want to have this gateway – it is they who decide which singers they are going to buy records of, buy tickets to go and see. It is they who decide who to make massively popular and / or wealthy. If they don’t want that to be a singer who you consider a “real” opera singer, then that’s just tough. You don’t get to decide how they should be educated and brought in to opera. You can only make an offer – and it is the public who decide whether to take that up or otherwise.
What a pointless, unnecessary video. Should we also compare Andre Rieu to Jascha Heifetz or Andrew Lloyd Webber to Mozart? No, because it serves no purpose except to belittle others and promote elitism and snobbery in the arts. Katherine Jenkins, Vanessa Mae and Andrew Lloyd Webber generate work and income for everyday jobbing musicians in a myriad of ways. [redacted: he doesn't]
If Andre Rieu were being promoted as the new Jascha Heifetz, then yes.
From Russell Watson’s website: “The UK’s Best Selling Classical Artist”. Not “The UK’s Best Selling Crossover Artist”, please note.
So as snobbery is concerned, these people can dish it out as well.
Should be “So as far as snobbery is concerned….”
Yes, true, but bash the management, and the gullible public then if you like. However, I find it somehow pardonable. If someone has never heard Rosina’s aria before – is it so bad if they hear it at all, and be it from Jenkins? Eventually, they’re going to move on to other singers, and other recordings, and shape a taste of their own. About Jenkins, Rieu, and the like, I do like the fact that via them people are getting into contact with classical music who wouldn’t listen to it under normal circumstances.
I don’t like “crossover” very much, rather, I don’t like it at all, with a few exceptions. Furthermore, … is she really the UK’s Best Selling “Classical” Artist? This highlights the true fail behind it – it says a lot about the extent to which the marketing of Classical singers fails to reach any relevant audience in most cases, or there would be no way that Jenkins could be more successful (success measured in record sales here) than Garanca, just to pick an example.
Sorry, I should have made it clear. The “best selling” thing is about Watson himself, not KJ.
I agree that marketing is the issue. There have been numerous occasions when a true classical singer (ie: a singer who can perform in an opera house or a concert hall) could have been invited to perform on some high profile occasion but a crossover singer has been chosen instead. Availablity might have something to do with it.
Dankin, the problem is that very few people really go from crossover to opera. A lot of people today don’t even know what opera is. They here popera singers and they think “oh, this is opera”. Then one of the two things happens – either they decide they don’t like it and that consequently they wouldn’t like opera or they like it and then they get fixated on KJ and other popera singers.
Also, unlike Brightman or Groban who clearly stated that they are not opera singers – Brightman actually said “I’d need twice the voice I have” and Groban said he identifies his genre as traditional pop and that today people hear full voice singing with vibrato and think “this is opera” and that he finds it ludicrous – KJ keeps being promoted as an opera singer.
Totally agree, Roland. Hello!
Tom, I fail to see how she may be enticing new audience members to the art form that is opera. Her unmusical versions of well known arias/songs lack the technique required to do justice to them and these beige offerings are then sent out via microphone to the audience.
Opera singers train for many years so that their voices can utilise a variety of dynamics, tones and all without amplification – and there are plenty that are easier on the eye naturally than Miss Jenkins.
If I were to hear a bad acoustic version of a pop song or a jazz standard sung without any variance, I would not feel enticed to listen to more of the genre. Why must ‘jo bloggs’, especially in a time of austerity, be patronised by being made to believe that Katherine Jenkins represents a ‘prettier’ version of classical singing for those who don’t want to see an entire opera? Scenes and ‘best of’ are available from some of the leading operatic singers of our time. To imagine that the ‘public’ are discovering opera through a gateway such as Katherine Jenkins is absurd and adverts/films and football coverage would certainly benefit from the talent of the many young artists out there, capable of vastly superior and electrifying performances of those same well known arias/songs, also easy on the eye.
As a young artist myself, I did not discover opera until I was at music college but the exquisite talent of singers able to hone their technique to such incredible levels alongside the various others elements to being a good ‘stage animal’ is what excited me about the art form.
Assuming you mean me by Tom I’d refer you to my reply to Alison’s reply to my original post.
Look in the end the world is an imperfect place. In an ideal world people would come to opera by a more ‘acceptable’ route. But they don’t necessarily do that.
With the amount of material accessible on line these days I think the path from a Jenkins to other opera is a lot easier to take than it used to be. YouTube clips etc. I think you under-estimate people’s willingness and ability to go further.
I’m not a Jenkins fan I just think having a go at her for being unmusical may be right but I suspect isn’t going to convince a lot of people – to whom she sounds musical enough. You could have done the same video and instead of FAIL! you could have done a ‘here’s Jenkins singing this – here’s someone else singing it in the actual opera it comes from – listen/compare – make you’re own mind up – if you like it go listen to it on download – or see it live.’
To cut a long post short my objection isn’t so much to criticising Jenkins but the tone of the criticism.
Firstly, I do not like this video and I find it excessively cruel. There are ways to say things and there are ways not do so. This is the latter.
To take up your point about a path from Jenkins to opera, I simply do not see such a path. I have friends who would be considered opera fanatics and I have friends who are casual fans. None of them are Jenkins fans.
Jenkins’ concertizing is nothing like opera. Perhaps a Jenkins fan searching for another version of Una Voce or Ave Maria or Nessun Dorma (!!) may come across true opera singers on Youtube performing these pieces in concert. It is far less likely they will find these arias within an opera, even less likely that they will watch the full opera on Youtube and even less likely that they will hear Jenkins sing Nessun Dorma and then go to the opera house to hear it sung by a male in an opera.
I simply do not see the connection in the least between Jenkins and true opera.
I love first class cricket. I also love village cricket. The two are totally compatible; you don’t need amateur sportsmen to have world-class finely honed skills to be able to enjoy watching them play.
A listener totally unfamiliar with anything remotely classical would find little to differentiate between Katherine Jenkins and Kathleen Battle; no, really, to much of the population it’s all female warbling. Much like to someone unfamiliar with cricket it’s all people throwing, hitting, and catching balls. What’s wrong with them just liking what they do?
“What’s wrong with them just liking what they do?”
Nothing. You seem to be missing the point.
If I can throw a ball, and even catch one occasionally, can I describe myself as a “cricketer”? Of course not.
KJ doesn’t sing in operas, so she isn’t an opera singer. She’s described as a classical singer yet, for some reason, making comparisons with other classical singers is considered snobbish.
Do you appreciate great cricketers? If so, that makes you a cricket snob, doesn’t it?
OK Alison. Lets face a fact – you ARE an Opera snob.
Just one question. Tell me, who else other than Katherine Jenkins, has done as much to promote Opera? I will answer – NO ONE!
Pavarotti, Mario Lanza, even Lesley Garrett.
I don’t think it’s snobbery to slate KJ- she really does make a total hash of singing opera arias- she technically can’t sing all the notes, the pronunciation is poor, there is no expression, and the production of the sound itself isn’t good- she wouldn’t be heard without a mic.
I think an earlier comparison to football is good- nobody calls someone a football snob when they criticize a bad player. If I pay £50 to go to a football match I expect to see world-class players. If I pay £50 to hear a concert I am entitled to expect the same thing.
KJ is 99.9% marketing and .1% talent. She is the product of businessmen in the recording industry seeing a pretty girl and not knowing anything about classical singing. It saddens me to see people sold this as a world-class singer. Her own programme notes say her first album ‘soon outsold Maria Callas’, implying her talent is in the same league, which is absolutely is not.
The whole thing makes me very, very sad.
Oh, pul-eeze! That FAIL pop-up was simply uncharitable and even incorrect. Marilyn Horne used to emphasize the lower notes in various arias, so it is no big deal if KJ doesn’t hold the high B at the end.
I was really surprised by the depth and richness in her voice. Maybe she she seriously exploit that area. Other singers also fudged coloratura as well, not the least being Tebaldi. Of course, KJ is not (yet) on the same level as some other opera singers, but that is no reason to rip her up in such a nasty vid.
I’m no expert, and have no desire to get involved in the argument anyway, but can I just say that my overwhelming impression from that video was “Sh*t, that Joyce DiDonato kicks ass!”.
(And Cecilia Bartoli has always been fingernails-on-the-blackboard to me, but ymmv.)
To me Joyce’s rendition made me want to hear her in the entire role.
Awesome. Joyce can sing- and boy does she know it, too. What a twinkle in her eye, literally and musically! Can you imagine that kind of character and pizazz from KJ?
I do not think this video is necessary. I am not defending KJ in any way. I think she is awful and has some technical issues that need to addressed! I am a scholarship undergraduate student studying at an English conservatoire. Firstly, she should not be singing ‘Una Voce Poco Fa’. If you do not have every note secure especially top A’s upto top C’s you should not be performing this aria at a televised event.
The other technical issue is tongue tension which you will hear sounds gripped, tight, odd and over darkened! The sound is too far back which means the tongue is too controlling, probably worsens when she get nervous.
Another issue is her posture, poise and position. Her back is arched which means there is no chance for any air to fill the lungs in the ‘back support’.
The collapsing runs show the lack of support especially in the back and the vacant expression on her face clearly demonstrates her lack of knowledge/interest in the aria or maybe too scary for her to actually act.
There are many issues here that need to be addressed but i do not think this video is necessary.
I’ve never been a KJ fan, but I like her more after seeing the video.
While singing into a microphone she may not be the best, but to suggest she is a failure is woefully inaccurate.
She sings music from Opera and other classical music, she han’t attempted as far as I know to sing on an Opera but she is a very successful classical chart singer.
She’s successful as she has the package, she can sing to a standard, looks good and has financial backing and marketing behind her. Is that really a bad thing?
Do you have to be a true great to make a successful career?
Should Sinatra have stopped singing after 1970 when his voice no longer sounded just as good ?
Should Pavarotti have stopped when he became older and fatter and he was no longer as sting as he was?
Should only they very best actors get work and roles in big budget films etc?
Whingers, that’s just the way the world works.
If you can sing better than KJ, want that kind of career and look good , get going.
Start with your video on YouTube and work at it!
If you don’t want that, pursue your own career and make everyone talk about you got your singing!
Let’s live and let live, not live and moan moan moan.
Misrepresentation is the issue here, not her performance per se. I don’t see why drawing attention to that is “moaning”.
What kind of idiot even bothers to make a video like this? My time is too precious to bother with singers I don’t like. What’s the point? She sucks, on a high level, but she sucks, of course. Oh, she is pretty though, if she happens to be your type. Still I don’t understand the hate.
I came here to see if there was anything sensible or interesting – there isn’t. Jenkins is like Vitas – of course this is not opera singing. However, who am I to judge if people happen to like it. I don’t, just to state this clearly. It’s like watching Twilight when you can have Lord Of The Rings.
When I first read the huge ‘FAIL’ I expected a serious train wreck, but although there were moments, and there is a substancial microphone its no where near as gruesome as I had prepared myself for. Like Nicolas I’m not one who will go out of their way to defend KJ, but agree this is a bit harsh …. Whatever the lovely KJ’s vocal talents at least at some level there’s a voice there, of course her looks certainly haven’t hurt her career….. I always die a little when I hear Russell Watson and tenor in the same sentence though …..
This video has been put together for one reason. Malice. Negativity gets you nowhere, and this kind of snobbery is why the classical industry is going down the pan . Would I go and see Jenkins in an opera? Answer no. This doesn’t however mean she’s not allowed to have a career. Get over yourself!
Have you actually read any of the comments here?
Nobody is saying that she’s not allowed to have a career.
The thinking man’s Katherine Jenkins?
I think the issue here and the thing that concerns me most is that she *reinforces* opera snobbery and perhaps some people’s perceptions that real and actual quality classical music and singing ‘isn’t for them’ and so ‘have KJ instead?’ as some sort of consolation prize/watered down version. Also that people think this is technically decent singing when it isn’t by any stretch, classical or pop considered because they haven’t been able to hear true quality or known where to find it. I feel for her as a singer. I believe her technique has deteriorated dramatically as a result of the sort of style of singing (amplified by a mic solo in the Royal Albert Hall? I have heard singers in the very same venue sing beautifuly, loudly and clearly over full orchestras and choirs!) she has been signed and asked to do and her potential as a decent singer is being damaged. She also has a reputaiton for diva-like and bad behaviour that I have heard so often now there can’t be any smoke without a modicum of fire and these are reliable sources not pathalogically Jenkins bashers. Miss J also opens herself to criticism tackiling such classic arias; all performers tackling such seminal works should expect crtiicism, the same is true of actors playing roles such as ‘Hamlet’, for example. Of course she ‘deserves’ a career, doesn’t everyone? I just feel sad that she isn’t allowed/can’t reach her potential as a singer and that this is touted as anything approaching proper technique and quality when it patently isn’t.
If only I knew who Katherine Jenkins was, this might matter.
People with longer memories might recall that, a few decades ago, Barbra Streisand recorded a classical album. This wasn’t the only instance of someone from the pop world dabbling in the operatic/classical repertoire. The difference, of course, is that Barbra Streisand wasn’t paraded around as an opera singer.
The conclusion is, if you don’t want to risk unfavourable comparisons, don’t stick your head above the parapet.
Am surprised at the number of people who are “offended” by this video. When will you wake up and recognize that the marketing of subpar performers like Jenkins is detrimental to serious artists who DO have the musical and technical means to communicate with audiences on a deep emotional level? I am OFFENDED at Jenkins’s attempt to sing “Una voce poco fa.” Does no one care about the music anymore?
And serious artists who’ve spent years studying and practising cannot hide behind lazy accusations of “snob” when they are criticised for sub-par performances, as they will be from time to time.
Who is offended?
You could make the point about her singing voice in a far more positive way than FAIL.
I’d agree with her being detrimental to “serious artists” (or artists you like) if she was keeping opera singers from working in opera, which she’s not. She might nab pop gigs here and there but no one is casting her in proper opera. She might disappoint you all by taking a label that you don’t think she deserves but has one proper opera singer lost a role in an actual opera in an opera house to her. No. Nor will they. She’ll probably make a ridiculous amount of money but so what.
How do you know she doesn’t communicate with audiences on a deep emotional level? She might do. She’s not my cup of tea but she might reach some people. In your view I assume you’d disapprove of those people as ‘detrimental to serious artists’. Well, maybe they are. Maybe they always have been.
She might OFFEND you (which seems a rather large over-reaction to the woman) I find the depth of loathing for her a bit OTT. That’s all.
You don’t have to listen to her. Unless I’ve missed an new law somewhere.
I think the point is that people are being short changed. They’re encouraged to think they’re listening to an opera singer so, presumably, they think that’s as good as it gets. It isn’t.
“OPERA singer Katherine Jenkins looks gorgeous in a simple white dress as a bridesmaid to her sister.”
Read more: http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/showbiz/4856907/Opera-singer-Katherine-Jenkins-shows-off-her-classical-look.html#ixzz2WCvRPD2d
If she had a face like a bucket of mud, we wouldn’t be paying her any attention at all.
I’m impressed with the recent gain by KJ regarding pitch control… if Charlotte Church could take time off from emptying ash trays she might manage the same; and why not try dancing while she’s at it– after studying some of KJ’s Dancing with the Stars videos..
Thing is, KJ looks so good the average public semi-deaf ear likes to think she MUST sound good too… it’s all in the packaging you know.
Wonderful. You should do the same with Andrea Bocceli…
If she ever stepped onto the Royal Opera House without a microphone, I’d go for the hell of it just to give her one chance. I doubt if she would ever take that risk and why shoud she? She has done very well in reaching an audience who would never be enticed to a real operatic performance.
This is all down to marketing and if people think it is real opera then, to them, it is. To me, it aint!
I’m sure I’ve read somewhere that most of an opera singer’s training is to enable them to hit the frequencies that will allow them to project over (or be heard alongside) an orchestra. There is also a lot of fiddling and balancing done in the opera house and what is called by some euphemism like “auditory enhancement”. If you have no intention in singing in an opera there is no need for you to learn how to project your voice.
The issue is misrepresentation, yes — to hard core opera fans anyway — but it is surprising how many people will argue that she is an opera singer because she sings arias: in the same way that a folk singer is a called a folk singer because he or she sings folk songs. Personally, I have some sympathy with the opera snobs view that she doesn’t sing in operas, and therefore shouldn’t be called an opera singer. But a video like this one won’t educate anyone. Lebrecht is preaching to the fundamentalist choir — to fellow haters and fanatics — and is as important and valuable to classical music as the Westboro Baptists are to Christianity.
To get an album on the classical charts, it has to meet certain criteria. I’m not certain of the details but it is something like 60% of the album’s content must be “classical” or “traditional” and there must be no background synthesization. This is why you don’t see the Simon Cowel stable at the classical Brits, Paul Potts, El divo, etc, do use background sythesization, but Jenkins, Watson, and other crossover singers on the classical charts don’t.
>> To reply to Rob’s point (quoted below)
”I’m sure I’ve read somewhere that most of an opera singer’s training is to enable them to hit the frequencies that will allow them to project over (or be heard alongside) an orchestra. There is also a lot of fiddling and balancing done in the opera house and what is called by some euphemism like “auditory enhancement”. If you have no intention in singing in an opera there is no need for you to learn how to project your voice.”
‘What you have read’ is actually a simplistic piece of misrepresentation – and I know from your other comments that you dislike misrepresentation. It’s not that it is totally untrue, it’s just misleading. An opera singer is not like an acoustic guitar to which a microphone or pick-up has been added because it is being played in a larger than usual venue. The training of an opera singer is to produce the voice with a physical intensity of resonance which can be carried smoothly from one note to the next. Without the control and flow of resonance that comes from the advanced vocal techniques the phrases cannot be achieved as they were written to be performed. Rossini was himself an accomplished singer, and understood what he required technically from a performer in order that his music would speak. Without this technical ability (what singers refer to as – singing with ‘line’) these phrases will only be heard as disjointed individual ‘note events’ . So, the so-called ‘projection’ of a voice over a large orchestra – only comes about as a (necessary) side-effect of achieving the technical highground that is a prerequisite to sing the music authentically. Somebody ‘singing’ the music through a microphone and a PA because it is necessary in order for them to be heard in a normal-sized theatre can never convey the same intensity – however good the electrononics involved.
To your other point: I can also vouch for at least one major opera house: The London Coliseum, home of English National Opera, where I worked from 1987-2007. In that time they only ever used sound re-inforcement for the sung voice in one opera. The Opera was ‘Nixon In China’ This was sanctioned by the composer, because of the unusually heavy orchestration in the wind section. Other than that they were only ever used for occasional spoken dialogue effects or off-stage voices and instruments (usually to allow reverberation for a distance effect) and in ‘Musical-Theatre’ pieces as is standard practice. Please bear in mind that The Coliseum seats nearly 2400 and is one of the largest theatres in Europe.
Having said all that(!) I don’t necessarily condemn Ms Jenkins on the basis of seeing a microphone in front of her for a TV broadcast – the voice has got to be picked up from somewhere if one is broadcasting. I would be mildly interested in hearing her with a sensible sized Rossini orchestra singing the aria without a mic in a theatre, but I suspect the line would get lost from time to time, and actually I should probably be doing more important things. Thank you everyone for your contributions to this discussion. I still think the big ‘FAIL’ thing is un-necessary, but it has provoked an interesting discussion.
I’m afraid looking good is nothing to do with being a great singer unless it’s accompanied by real talent and musicianship.
Sorry Katherine, stick to being a squaddie’s pin-up
I contest the use of the expression “takes on”.
She’s clearly no match for any real singer, or musician, for that matter.
Norman- Ouch! And to start off with Callas, no less. That was some kick in the solar plexus. Still if Jenkins reaches a broader market that is not studied and educated like your readers, and can expose it to fine music, whether or not she’s got all, or enough of the musical goods, it’s something. And maybe the rising stars can learn something from her marketing prowess.
The video is gratuitous and cruel, but she allows the label of opera singer to be applied and her PR machinery actively encourages this. So, unfortunately for her, she is fair game. But she knows the contempt in which she is held by those who truly understand how to do what she is attempting. In fact her position (reeking of denial) is the worst kind of inverted snobbery, at the expense of the most dedicated and vulnerable of professionals, and of their very art-form. I’m sure that her legion of fans are not above touting their middlebrow ‘superiority’ over those who do not appreciate the ‘finer things in life ‘(ie: KJ etc.). I’m minded of the saying ‘…and the office boy kicked the cat’!
Ignorance is, apparently, bliss.
What causes real anger and resentment among real opera singers [including the myriad able and hard working mezzos her age whom most hetreosexual men would find easily as (or more) visually attractive (for what it's worth)] is that they know they have to – and willingly do – subjugate their egos to something greater – namely the music they serve. Real singers serve the music – they do not use it as a vehicle for their own short term glory and to make their agents rich. Being a world-class solo singer is a lifetime’s work and it is maddening for those that achieve this to feel the gulf of ignorance between a, relatively small, educated and committed opera audience market and the clearly vast number of the sort of people who buy a CD because ‘it’s got this slightly posh looking girl on the cover that I’ve seen on the TV, and it sounds classy’.
We sadly live in a free-market economy and quite a long time ago, there were people who got the idea that it was more lucrative to market something 3rd rate to vast numbers of people of relatively average attainments and aspirations, than it was to educate them to desire the same cultural and philosophical stimulants as the cogniscenti. Opera is an expensive undertaking, because of the number of expert professionals who need a modest living wage while putting one on. A few KJ size audiences at ENO or ROH events would do wonders for the Arts. If she truly cared about opera (and, frankly, why should she?) she could use her popular platform to consistently promote other singers (of real attainment) as guests, while they launch genuine opera careers.
The thing is: (big breath!) she is not as bad as all that, technically. I’ve heard singers make good careers with the technical faults outlined by some other writers – but there is a woeful lack of musical integrity to everything I’ve heard her do. She needs to work with a world-class coach and conductor. Nobody could turn her into Joyce DiDonato – but that is no disgrace. The musical vision and passion is stunted. A great performance comes from an artist who knows, both artistically and technically, how (AND WHEN) to thrill their audience. In Rossini ther are plenty of alternative coloratura options that have been sanctioned by time and tradition. A great coach will identify what works and teach her how to make those options her own. A great vocal teacher can identify the technical areas of mediocrity and relative strength, and implement appropriate excercises. A great conductor will give an authoritative overview and teach her which notes of which phrases matter most and explain that breathing happens because the music needs it, rather than because the singer does! All of these people could be hired. I’m sure she could afford better than mediocre sychophants – but , if it’s only about entertaining that audience, then why bother? There must be great pressure to be expected to trot out una voce poco fa at the RAH to coachloads of earnest fans who will applaud indiscriminately as long as you don’t actually die on stage, in front of an orchestra that can sense your fear and know that you will never truly dominate them as a great soloist will. If you ever were a caring generous musical artist, then part of your soul must die incrementally in that situation, but if you are contracted as an ‘entertainer’ then that is what you must do – work to your audience. Why should she plough back her takings to raise her game if the audience response is what matters? – because the audience knows no better. This view of audiences has also been taken by some very eminent musicians about some of those filling west-end theatres for productions of popular musicals.
That is why opera-singers are artists and not ‘entertainers’. An artist allows an audience to attend an exchange between his/her soul and that of the composer. The audience is there to witness something that only some of it’s members will fully comprehend, but most will have the intelligence and humility to attend absorb and grow by witnessing that exchange. That is why Europe (once a model of cultural integrity, even to the loudest nation on earth) has traditionally seen opera-house subsidy as necessary to cultural stability.
Here in the UK, having (sadly) long crossed the Rubicon of cultural prostitution to the short-termism of random fads – what we (the musicians) need to be saying to the larger population is :
1) Please bother to come and buy a ticket
2) Please bother to find out what you will be listening to/seeing, then please actually listen.
3) Please try to care about what you hear. Humbly venture an opinion to another audience member.
4) Try to learn something from the experience – it may make you a more complete human being.
What we are saying to the popular names (like KJ and her business machine) and all the soapstars/celebs etc who put bums on seats in the west-end is:
1) Be gracious – that they have bothered to buy a ticket to see and hear you ( Michael Ball is a paragon of virtue in this respect, but then he’s a real theatre professional)
2) Encourage them to actually listen ( and not just to you!) Use your blog or Twitter to promote other artists you admire to your thousands of followers.Being generous is good Karma.
3) If you are blessed with followers – but secretly fear that they are indiscriminate – educate them! Put yourself under pressure to raise your own game.
4) You are in the rare, and incredibly fortunate, position where you can start to aspire to an artist’s rather than an entertainer’s philosophy. Merely entertaining without stretching, moving or challenging an audience is squalid showmanship. Even a decent stand-up comedian will ask us questions about the human condition. ‘Good enough’ won’t do. Art is the work of a lifetime.
Hear hear! I don’t think anyone could have put it better.
Enjoyed reading your reply very much.
Excellent. I particularly like your point about using her influence to promote others.
Sadly, I don’t think Ms. Jenkins cares a whit about promoting other singers or improving her own performances so that she is aspiring to an artist’s philosophy instead of that of an entertainer only interested in making loads of money and basking in the adoration of her musically uneducated fans. If she did care about her “art”, she would have bothered to learn how to sing properly during her time at the Royal Academy. She obviously knew that she didn’t need to do this but could instead just sell herself on the basis of her looks. After all, she has said that she always knew that her looks would be her advantage. It’s sad that she wasted a space at the RA instead of letting someone who really cared about learning something have her place there.
Perhaps you could negatize for a while on her dancing ability … her non-opera-non-ability-couldn’t-be-worse factor seems to be dragged into the scope of this thread ad infinitum leaving no other possible descriptive prospects… have you considered a bumper sticker to be sure everyone knows out on the highways and city streets as well… can’t be too thorough you know.
To those who fail to understand why this generates such a fuss- imagine it where comparably popular as sport. Why did/do we want team GB, our football team, or Andy Murray to win? Because winning is about being the best at a game, or endeavour and feel most pride at achieving the highest by “winning”. People don’t cheer, ” come on Tim or Andy, it’s don’t worry about winning, just taking part is ok!” Having KJ perform this aria at the Albert Hall on live TV in front of millions, & earning millions whilst there are many more talented trained singers,(& just as if not “more” beautiful) just because it might open a “gateway” is a route to mediocrity in the arts. What would people think if instead of Man Utd vs Chelsea they only televised the women’s football final instead, because more people might get turned on to it as the players are more attractive?? Surely it’s about the best quality being the deciding factor. Imagine a crazy world where for some reason KFC was prized and cost as much to buy as the finest restaurant? What message does that send out- eat KFC, because it’s still chicken, ain’t that different to coq au vin?? The only reason the whole classical crossover thing happened was that pop started to get bland and repetitive and formulaic, so the money men turn to whatever can earn them money. Classical music was ripe for the music companies to come along and do what they wanted. They don’t care as long as it sells, and we all know when something is popular generates loads of cash that’s only gotta be a good thing hasn’t it? Who cares if its half baked, if people don’t know any better, they’ll carry on digesting whatever they’re fed by the clever dicks who want to feed it to them!
I’m not a fan of Ms Jenkins, BUT this kind of video is exactly what is wrong with the classical music industry. It’s smug and totally unnecessary. All it does is make other people seem jealous at her perceived success. If you don’t like her voice, don’t listen to her. And if you don’t like the music industry look far higher up it than a pawn like Jenkins.
What a thoroughly brutal, savage, elitist, and sneering attack on one who clearly knows no better.
Well done. Keep up the good work!
We are not elitist. The real ELITES here are the powerful few controlling the PR machine and classical music markets. If those higher-ups wouldn’t push this mediocrity on us, we wouldn’t complain. You need to side with the PEOPLE instead of the rich executives who call this woman an “opera singer.” Stop regurgitating the capitalist party line and learn to think for yourself!
OK, the FAIL! stamp might be a little bit on the tough side but if just ONE KJ fan watches this and thinks, “Oh! THAT’S what it was supposed to sound like.. Holy crap that Joyce lady can sing,” I will be so happy!
I would like more videos like this but with quicker cuts between the artists, without the FAIL! sign (the excerpts speak for themselves, let’s face it) and with a wider selection of opera singers for comparison.
That would not be slating, merely illustrating a very illuminating point. If it was made in a kinder way, this video could really do something. Less of a KJ slap-down and more of a “If you already kind of like this version, then you might REALLY like this one. Check out THIS lady’s voice!”
P.S. In all other consumer markets comparisons are considered not unkind but merely informative… ‘Which?’ magazine reviews cameras, cars, white goods and rates them against each other. Why should consumers not be offered a form of comparison before they buy a recording – although it would be better done in a less critical way than this one! in which we offer the choices and let the consumer make up their own mind (as of course we’re dealing with art here and not an electrical appliance!). But in principal I really like it as an idea! If you buy a new car, you ask someone who knows about cars, no? I’d love if people who wanted to listen to classical music but don’t know where to start felt they could actually approach people who DO know something for recommendations. We should all be offering more tasters of quality performances out there via our blogs and social media accounts for our non-musician friends to find, rather than spending TOO much time bitching (although it’s sooo cathartic to have a little bitch sometimes ) My wonderful bass singer friend Richard Wiegold is a genius at this. I’m always discovering incredible singers and operas I’d never heard of through his Facebook posts… Just a thought xx
…Except now we’re in danger of crossing back into the ‘YouTube’ who owns what of a performance argument of a week or two ago and what we should and shouldn’t be posting/sharing! Minefield…
Comments that are fair and even positive like yours are most likely to do some good in this controversy… thanks for relief from the constant whiners cluttering this thread.
Ah, thanks Richard!
She’s a beautiful pop singer and that’s all she is. As a fan I wish she would stop singing arias that demand far more technique than she has. She should stick to songs like Cinema Paradiso(which she sings really well). I have bought her pop albums but would never buy an “opera” album of hers.
There are millions of people, who like myself, do not twig the finer points of an “Opera” singers voice, as you opera snobs keep spouting. However, we love KJ singing songs from opera and wish you would stop this continual criticism of her. She is a wonderful crossover artist who is more successful in the world of selling recordings that any “Opera” singer. Leave her alone.
In fifty years of developing and promoting patented products in medical and consumer fields I found the most successful ones looked twice as good as they functioned … seems that no matter how well something works if it doesn’t look the part users simply can’t believe it can work and there seems to be a parallel with Ms. Jenkins as she laughs her way to the bank in the midst of scornful commentary regarding function… when and if she starts receiving negative comments on her appearance she’ll likely be iess successful.
oops– less successful.
Ordinarily I would be offended by seeing the word “Fail!” emblazoned across the face of a performer this way. In Ms. Jenkins’ case, however, I’m not offended at all. For years she has acted in a pretentious manner, touting her Royal Academy credentials (One has to wonder how she ever managed to be admitted to the RA, let alone allowed to graduate…though it must be said that she received a teaching credential, not a degree in vocal or opera performance.), and saying that she fully intends to sing roles in operas one day. People say that Jenkins says she’s not an opera singer but rather a classical crossover singer, but I’ve never seen her correct anyone who introduces her as ‘Katherine Jenkins, opera singer. She didn’t even correct the talk show host who spoke of her as “Dame Katherine Jenkins” even though she has never been accorded that honor. Jenkins also makes ridiculous excuses for why she hasn’t ever been hired to sing opera roles. Before she turned 30, she claimed that nobody can sing opera until age 30. Someone simply must tell this to Frederica von Stade, who sang at the Met in her mid-20s, and to the many other singers who have successfully launched opera careers before age 30. Then, after Jenkins had turned 30, she started claiming that opera singers are all fat and ugly, so she’s too beautiful to be hired as an opera singer. Someone should also tell this to talented opera singers like Anna Netrebko, Elina Garanca, Juan Diego Florez, Danielle di Niese, and Jonas Kaufmann, who are also physically attractive. In opera it’s the voice that really counts. Physical attractiveness is no barrier to being hired to sing opera, provided that the voice is good enough. Ms. Jenkins sings with horrible technique, breathing loudly every couple of notes, straining on the top notes, singing with sloppy, blurred coloratura, and forcing out her low notes in an effort to sound more like a mezzo. She also is incapable of singing without a microphone. The ridiculous comments by Jenkins concerning her failure to be hired by opera companies have been documented many times and by reputable sources. Ms. Jenkins and her huge marketing machine refuse to admit the truth: that Jenkins has not the voice nor the technique to be an opera singer. Furthermore, she had a wonderful satirical blog about her shut down because she in apparently incapable of laughing at herself. When I consider all of this, I can only say that Jenkins is asking for every bit of criticism and ridicule that she is getting…including being unfavorably compared to real opera singers and having the word, “Fail!” plastered across her videos.
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