Review in the New York Times.
A Dulcet Tenor's 'Popsical' Debut

Strolling the stage of Carnegie Hall on Saturday night with a wireless microphone, Russell Watson was singing Verdi, more or less. The aria was "Va, Pensiero" from "Nabucco"; he was accompanied by the New York Pops and the Juilliard Choral Union. As it began, Mr. Watson sang in a breathy croon in English. Then he switched to Italian and opened up his operatic tenor, turning himself from George Michael to Ezio Pinza.

Mr. Watson, who was making his New York debut, is a 35-year-old British singer with a boyish grin. His debut album, "The Voice" (Decca/Universal), has lingered at No. 1 on the charts among nominally classical releases. The music ought to be called popsical: classical melodies with pop trappings, sometimes in pop arrangements. Popsical's drippy sweetness has been a financial boon for classical labels that expect hardly anyone to enjoy a whole opera.

The Voice, as it's billed, is actually three voices. One is a gentle, slightly nasal croon, like Mr. Michael or Justin Timberlake but with less rhythm-and-blues flexibility. Another is the more muscular pop voice Mr. Watson uses in power ballads like the theme to "Enterprise," the latest "Star Trek" series. The clincher is the quasi-operatic throb he applies to Italian pop songs like "Volare" and opera showstoppers like Puccini's "Nessun Dorma" and Leoncavallo's "Vesti La Giubba," complete with tearful faces.

Like an overeager golfer, Mr. Watson has a good upswing - a big, showy crescendo - without much follow-through; he cuts notes off sharply or lets quieter phrases just peter out. Two guests revealed Mr. Watson's shortcomings: Hayley Westenra, with her pure choirgirl soprano, and Lea Salonga, projecting natural pop emotion.

Mr. Watson has a wardrobe to rival 'N Sync. He changed clothes seven times on Saturday, modeling a black-leather duster and a series of shiny suits.

Classical tenors have been pop heartthrobs at least since Caruso, but they used to prove themselves as opera performers, singing complete works unamplified. Mr. Watson doesn't show that kind of stamina. He sang only two songs at a time, then ducked offstage for costume changes while his vocal coach, William Hayward, conducted metronomic overtures and interludes. (Even Madonna gets through more songs in one stretch.) When Mr. Watson did finally sing without amplification, his voice was already fading out in the 12th row.

He ignores any opera repertory beyond the tuneful Italians. In a way, he continues Britain's long fascination with Italy as an outpost of unbridled feelings.

Mr. Watson seemed most at ease belting songs like "Volare" and "Funiculì Funiculà," in which he could smile, ham it up and not worry about nuances.

Thanks to Keith S. for sending in this story from


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