A Letter to The Confused

Dear Confused,

The Phantom of the Opera is not an opera.

The Phantom of the Opera is a musical. In fact, it could be one of the greatest musicals of the last century.

That being said, it is still not an opera.

Now don’t get me wrong. It’s hard enough to find another opera buff to engage in musically inspired conversation with at any given time, and we appreciate your efforts to connect with actual opera watching audiences.

Now that being said, Phantom is inspired by an opera house, has elements of an opera, and for a musical, draws a striking parallel in many aspects to real opera itself, it is still not an opera. You are not alone in your confusion. The minute someone switches from chest voice to head voice, it automatically becomes “opera” to members of the uninformed public.

Even in the classical music world this is confusing to. Classical singing and opera are different as well. Take Schubert’s ‘Ave Maria’ for example. It’s written by a classical composer, sung by many opera singers, and is usually sung in head voice. That does not mean it is opera. It is a wonderful piece of classical music.

It is not opera.

Now please enjoy some beautiful, honest, non-opera below sung by Luciano Pavarotti below:

Opera, starts and is meant to be a complete art form. It’s not just the singing, and while the vocal aspect may be the main and most important of the cumulative art form that is opera, it is composed(no pun intended) of so much more like direction, language, poetry, dancing, set design and all other aspects that make good theater.

This also means that no matter how fantastic Charlotte Church or Andrea Bocelli or Sarah Brightman or(cringe) Catherine Jenkins might be, they are not opera singers either. These are all crossover singers and they have enjoyed successful and (most of them so far) lengthy careers. They have thrilled many an audience of opera fans and non-opera fans. But an “opera singer” is a title you earn.

Now many of these singers do not necessarily consider themselves “opera singers” but more “classical crossover singers”. It’s their adoring fans that falsely label them, and that leads to many misconceptions.

Talk to any young singer. There are hundreds of time consuming and expensive steps you have to go through. College, grad schools, young artist programs, private coachings and lessons, the list goes on and on. It takes years to build and perfect your technique and preserve your voice to have a long and happy career.

The reason people think that die hard opera and classical music fans are “mean” about this topic, is because as I said before, it takes years to build a career as a singer. It takes hard work. When someone just enters the scene, claiming to be an “opera singer”, but they haven’t worked for that title, is what makes us mad. Even for myself, not a singer, has an extreme appreciation and respect for singers, and this makes me mad.

Some of you may remember that in May, accomplished and world renown soprano Deborah Voigt took to Twitter with her opinions on Il Divo as seen below.

<blockquote><p>Just saw an ad for “Il Divo.” They picked up their microphones and began screaming away…..oooo wait…..think I’m gonna toss my cookies.</p>&mdash; Deborah Voigt (@debvoigt) <a href=”https://twitter.com/debvoigt/status

Now being on Twitter, I witnessed a lot of the responses and playback of her tweet. A lot of people stood with Il Volo and defended their group, while a lot of opera buffs came out in support of Voigt.

I would just like to formally say that I do not only agree with Ms. Voigt’s opinion, I support it. While the phrasing could have come off as offensive and I understand that, I appreciate that she made a statement about this group and what people perceive as real classical music.

Classical crossover is pretty mainstream now. Groups like Il Volo are being dubbed “The Jonas Brothers of Classical Music” and have performed on places like the Today show. Recently, in fact, Kathecringe Jenkins sang a duet with legitimate opera singer Placido Domingo on Dancing with the Stars recently. You now have permission to facepalm.

Take Jackie Evancho, for example. I would like to preface the following statements by telling you all I am not at all jealous of Jackie Evancho. When I talk about her, it comes from someone who is (relatively) knowledgeable about classical music and vocal technique. I wish her a long and happy career, singing crossover. But seriously, no matter how oddly mature her voice sounds, it cannot possibly be healthy for a twelve year old to be singing a transposed version of ‘Nessun Dorma’, an aria written for a man to begin with. Many singers don’t attack Puccini until they are absolutely ready. The type of singing she is doing at such a young age, is putting stress, strains, and pressure on her vocal cords. She should not be singing this type of music. And just by watching this video, it’s very easy to see the stress and strain she is putting on her vocal cords to make these notes come out. What kind of voice is she going to have in ten or even five years? It will not be the voice so many fans adore now. It may not even be a voice at all. For further opinion on Evancho in particular, I refer you to a blog entry written last year by my Twitter friend, mezzo soprano Nicole Warner. The video below is of her singing ‘Nessun Dorma’. Don’t even get me started on this crazy diction or the weird vibrato technique or any vocal technique she uses either.

The public’s view of opera is distorted. Recently, I conducted an experiment. I plugged in just the word “opera” into the search function on Youtube. Out of the 22 results I got on the first page;

  • Two results were related to the web browser, Opera.
  • Two were opera related fan videos.
  • One seemingly pop music video(I was too afraid to click onward).
  • Five were legitimate opera videos with legitimate opera singers.
  • Four of the videos were of something from the Phantom of the Opera.
  • Six of the videos were “opera singers” from America’s/Britain’s got Talent.
  • The rest were miscellaneous classical music videos misidentified as opera.

To quote my childhood the children’s show Cyberchase as I did above, “This is not good. This is not good at all!”

It’s 100% alright for people to enjoy and appreciate Jackie Evancho or the Phantom of the Opera, but as tried and true opera buffs, we have to politely explain to them, that that is not what opera is. They can go on and be die hard crossover fans. That’s fine. I don’t care. But it’s important for them to know what they are listening to is not real opera. Maybe they would be interested in real opera, and it’s certainly alright for someone to like classical crossover over real classical. Just make sure they know what they are enjoying.

Opera is an art form that takes years upon years to create and perfect. Classical crossover is just not.

With affection,

The Opera Community

10 comments on “A Letter to The Confused

  1. Thank you very much for this blog post, OperaTeen! Very elegantly put to the point!

    I so agree with you! Opera is an art form which should be enjoyed live at the opera house. The next best thing is opera on record, video or on TV, but that doesn’t beat experiencing opera live in an opera house.

    The way many people nowadays consume opera (yes, consume!) is by listening to a string of opera arias in concert or on record. I love doing that too, but it’s not opera. I love listening to individual opera arias too, but it’s when I listen to the opera aria in its operatic context that I really appreciate the aria. Experiencing a whole opera is something completely different than just listening to a string of opera arias.

    Classical crossover, opera crossover, popera, or whatever you’ll call it is here to stay. It’s a new genre which have its charm, but it’s not opera. On the other hand, because opera crossover is all over the place it’s hard to argue for the real thing, for instance that “Nessun dorma” is really a man’s song.

    Opera singers have always sung other kind of music than opera, like classical songs, sacred arias, or various popular songs of the day. Today it looks like opera singers sing crossover even more than before, and I’m afraid that Pavarotti did contribute a lot to this development. Pavarotti argued that his concerts recruited new audiences to opera. I’m not that sure. Pavarotti’s concerts made us love him, his voice, tenor opera arias, and popular songs, but very few went on from there to the opera houses.

    So thank you once again for speaking out for opera as an art form! 🙂

  2. Reblogged this on Odd Pavarotti Blog and commented:
    Here is a very good blog post about what’s opera and what’s not opera! It’s so good I hereby reblog it to you all! So now let’s see if this reblog thing on WordPress works …

  3. Well said, Operateen! And I would like to add that people should know that there is a big difference between real opera singers (those who perform full length operas) and singers of opera arias (those who can sing Nessun Dorma or O Mio Babbino Caro nicely, and that’s it).

  4. My only issue here is that you never really say how Phantom of the Opera, as a piece of work, isn’t opera. Because while it’s certainly not Die Walkeure, it’s not terribly different from Les Contes d’Hoffmann. And no less an operaphile than Ethan Mordden seems convinced that La Chiusa’s Marie Christine belongs in an opera house–and it’s creators consider it musical theater. And many opera companies have staged The Most Happy Fella–granted, usually with a pops air to the occasion–and what makes it really so very different from “opera”? The musical idiom the composer works in? Is something opera because it’s a through-composed piece of musical theater? Carmen was intended to have as much spoken dialogue as some musicals have (I was going to cite Hoffmann again, but we’re still not sure exactly what the final product was intended to look like). Is Sweeney Todd an opera? Beverly Sills thought so; Sondheim himself thinks not. Who’s right? What in god’s name is Candide, anyway?

    While I applaud differentiating between classically trained singers and pop performers, since the technique is hard-won and difficult to maintain, I don’t know that “opera” as a form, is so easy to pin down. The twentieth century in particular saw all types of musical theater being placed on a continuum, with more interaction between what were considered discrete forms than ever before. Philip Glass certainly writes opera, but I think The Phantom of the Opera comes a good deal closer to even the average operagoer’s idea of what opera is than does something like Einstein on the Beach, which has plenty of music but no plot. (Glass even uses miked voices when it suits him–as does John Adams–though it can be argued that the singers are at least classically trained.)

    Anyway, nitpicking, of course, which I’m sure you’re becoming accustomed to with opera fans. Very smart, well-stated remarks overall, and nice to read.

  5. […] couple of weeks ago, Opera Teen posted A Letter to the Confused on his website.  It was a very good article, but what struck me most was a comment on his post.  […]

  6. Nothing says “I’m not jealous” like BIG BOLD TYPE and long explanations as to why you’re not jealous. LOL

    • LOL that is true and Jackie is still cruising along, making videos, doing concerts,singing with music legends,travelling the world and her voice has done nothing but grow stronger, richer and more beautiful. It’s kind of fun to read all the doom and gloom predicted by these people yrs later and laugh at their prognostications.

  7. Elegant my foot. I am still confused. You did not clarify anything to help me understand what IS an opera. I only have a short list of what is not. Try again.

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