classic case of making music for the masses
by purists, so-called classical crossover is extremely
popular and profitable.
Rafer Guzmán | Newsday
Posted April 18, 2004
When Josh Groban comes to Melbourne tonight, he'll
have the King Center for the Performing Arts to
himself for his sold-out show.
in the music marketplace, the 23-year-old baritone,
known for his operatic voice and soft pop ballads,
is about to have company.
his latest album, Closer, selling nearly 3 million
copies, Groban has become the poster boy for the
classical crossover genre, an oft-derided but
increasingly popular style of music. But there's
a growing pack of similar artists looking to steal
some of his limelight. Some are younger than Groban,
some are sexier, and some already are rewriting
the rules of this relatively new genre.
the competitors: the Norwegian singer Sissel,
16-year-old Hayley Westenra, the five-member Amici
Forever and the alluringly named Opera Babes.
all part of the music industry's attempt to find
new stars at a time when record sales are in their
third straight year of declines. Overall dollar
sales in 2003 were down 8 percent over the previous
year, according to the research firm NPD Group,
with sales to teens decreasing at an even steeper
15 percent. One of last year's bright spots, however,
was a 6 percent uptick among listeners in the
55-to-64 age range.
older listeners "may feel a little disenfranchised"
by today's teen-oriented music, says Christopher
Roberts, chairman of Universal Classics Group.
But with the boom in classical crossover, he notes,
"All of a sudden, there seem to be choices
crossover is a broad term for just about any artist
whose repertoire includes both classical pieces
and soft pop. Increasingly, they're singing tailor-made
songs that blur the line between genres. Most
crossover singers possess not only classically
trained voices, but also the youth and beauty
of modern-day pop stars.
pop nor classical stations play these artists
much, so record labels have had to find more creative
marketing avenues, particularly television. One
of Groban's big breaks came while singing at the
1999 inauguration of California Gov. Gray Davis;
that led to an appearance on the Fox TV show Ally
artists such as Groban, Andrea Bocelli and Charlotte
Church have sold millions of albums, critics have
been less accepting. Crossover singers are often
accused of "dumbing down" classical
music by chopping complex compositions into short
songlets that are easy to digest. A more stinging
criticism is that most of these artists couldn't
cut it in the demanding world of opera.
artists say they're not looking for validation
from classical critics. "Every once in a
while," says Groban, "my CD will be
put on a classical reviewer's desk, which, I think,
is a terrible mistake. It's not meant for them.
It's not meant for that world."
crossover singers often play up their training
and vocal skills to distinguish themselves from
run-of-the-mill pop stars. For the average listener,
that helps give the music a certain snob appeal,
says Brian Kellow, an editor at Opera News in
like having a really great wine cellar or something,"
he says. "They feel like it gives their lives
a certain tone to listen to this music."
isn't the first crossover artist to capture the
public imagination. One of the genre's early stars
was Mario Lanza, a tenor-turned-crooner in the
1950s who recorded familiar opera pieces ("Aida,"
"O Sole Mio") as well as pop ditties
("Boom Biddy Boom Boom").
most of today's listeners, the genre begins in
the early 1990s with Italian-born tenor Bocelli,
who studied with Luciano Pavarotti before pursuing
a pop career. His 1999 album Sogno, featuring
a duet with Celine Dion called "The Prayer,"
sold more than 10 million copies. Bocelli's mainstream
success opened doors for the Three Tenors (a trio
led by Pavarotti) and for the Welsh soprano Church,
who released her blockbuster album Voice of an
Angel in 1998 at the age of 12.
generally tries to make classical music palatable
to pop audiences, but the genre's rules are changing.
These days, artists often work in the opposite
direction, taking modern pop songs and turning
them into classical-sounding pieces.
for instance, frequently performs an orchestral
version of "My December" by the rap-rock
group Linkin Park. Fans of both Linkin Park and
classical music heaped scorn on the rendition,
but Groban defends his choice: "The melody
is universal, the lyrics are very universal and
it's very poetic," he says. "I thought:
[Expletive] it, let's put an 80-piece orchestra
on it and see how it sounds. We went all the way
crossover stars weren't really classical singers
in the first place. Sissel began her career as
an Enya-like chanteuse singing soft pop, traditional
Norwegian songs and American standards. But her
new disc for Universal Classics, My Heart, contains
a wealth of classical material, from "Ave
Maria" to "O Mio Babbino Caro."
(She also reprises "You Raise Me Up,"
a hit for Groban.)
because this genre called classical crossover
suddenly popped up, and it suited me very well,"
she explains. "It had always been difficult
for record companies to figure out where to put
me. And now, it's easy."
Guzmán writes for Newsday, a Tribune Publishing
STORY | "Pop goes the classics"
| Apr 18, 2004