Best thing I’ve seen all day. Flash Chorus!

Not to overly spoil the surprise, but the following video depicts a random group of people bursting into “Va Pensiero” at a mall.  Well-worth watching.

Couldn’t stop smiling. Who knew there were flash choruses?  I NEED to participate in one ASAP.

In other news, this is the article from which I got the video.  Apparently “Va Pensiero” only became a rallying cry for Italian unification some years after its publication, contrary to common lore.

The image of Verdi as a “revolutionary” composer . . .  became standard in the early 20th century; it was encouraged during the Fascist years (the state-sponsored 1941 Verdi celebrations were a high point), and was sustained post-war by a continuing adherence to the “heroic” aspects of Italian nationalism.

In spite of all this latter-day boosting, there is, alas, no evidence that the chorus excited patriotic fervour in its early years (a often-repeated tale about it being encored on opening night by enflamed patriots is a blatant invention).

Stream Purcell’s The Fairy Queen for free!

Here’s the link.  Streaming is available for free from now until August 17!

From Glyndebourne’s website:

Purcell’s intoxicating combination of words and music alternates elements of the plot of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with a variety of musical interludes. A magical brew has been concocted by director Jonathan Kent in inventive collaboration with designer Paul Brown.

The glass-fronted cases of a 17th-century cabinet of curiosities disgorge the black-winged inhabitants of a fairy world who make it their business to daze and confuse the poor humans who have accidentally strayed into their kingdom. The mixture is quintessentially English – one moment pastoral and elegiac, the next pure end-of-the-pier slapstick.

Baroque specialist Laurence Cummings will lead the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment from the harpsichord in this revival of a production that enchanted audiences on its first outing in 2009. The Daily Telegraph called it ‘an absolute riot, but executed with taste and style’ while The Observer said that ‘it is hard to imagine a more brilliantly creative approach to the work’.

When it was first produced at the Dorset Gardens Theatre in London in 1692,The Fairy Queen featured stage effects that nearly bankrupted the theatre. There were elaborate costumes, swans gliding over lakes, grottoes, woods and 12-foot high fountains. At Glyndebourne there will be dazzling singing and dancing, flamboyant cross-dressing, a flying horse and a warren full of rampant rabbits!

A revival of the 2009 Festival production

Sung in English with English supertitles

Co-Production with Théâtre National de l’Opéra-Comique

Supported by The Fairy Queen Syndicate

New edition for The Purcell Society by Bruce Wood and Andrew Pinnock. Performed by arrangement with Stainer & Bell.

High notes

I was listening to Minnie Riperton during an interview of her daughter on Fresh Air last week and it got me thinking about all the hoopla about her high notes in that song. I’m pretty sure that she topped out at a high G (G6) using her whistle register.

Here’s the video, for your reference.

Apparently, according to pop music lore, that note was the highest note ever sung by a lady on a popular record (which happened to be a number 1 hit).

Well, I was discussing the song with my aforementioned friend, Nate, of piano tuning and music pun fame, and he immediately asserted that opera singers didn’t sing those notes. To which I said, “hold up. no way. i know that’s not true.”

So then I had to start pulling out music to find proof. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the right book, so I had to do all my proving via YouTube.

Well, now I thought I’d share the fruits of that search and thereby make sure that Nate stands publicly corrected.

So here’s the proof.   The first video gets annoying but the rest are worth the listen:

This Mozart concert aria is notoriously difficult because it not only contains a G6, but it also generally difficult because the tessitura is so high.

From Wikipedia:  Popoli di Tessaglia!, K. 316, for soprano, with its two famous G6’s (i.e., the G above high C, or 1568 Hz by modern concert pitch – according to the Guinness Book of Records, the highest musical note ever scored for the human voice) that come shortly before the end. This aria was composed in order to be inserted into Gluck‘s opera,Alceste, and also specifically to showcase the superlative vocal skills of Mozart’s sister-in-law, Aloysia Weber, who was only 18 at the time. However sopranos who are able to cope with the aria’s demands have been few and far between, and the aria is usually omitted from performances of Alceste. It has been therefore redesignated a concert aria, to be presented in concerts by such rare singers as are able to deliver its fiendishly difficult coloratura.

Natalie Dessay appears to be the queen of high notes on YouTube, but just to make sure representation is varied, let’s check out this recording of Joan Sutherland (swoon!)

Here’s a song I loved to sing along with as a child.  We had a recording of Maria Callas doing it when my sisters and I were little and we would just howl along with it.  I’m sure it was lovely.

It’s important to note that Minnie Riperton’s high G6, though lovely, was not the same as these high notes sustained by these opera singers.  Minnie Riperton used her whistle register, which is generally considered a less than desirable or less authentic sound in the classical voice.   It’s somewhat akin to a man’s falsetto.  Or I should say that my understanding of the whistle register for a coloratura soprano is that it is desirable not to use it.  My teacher wanted me not to use it, but perhaps that is because she thought that she could develop my voice without relying on it, i.e. for my voice it was undesirable to use.  I guess I’m not entirely sure.

Wikipedia explains the whistle register in Classical (western) Music thusly:

In European classical music, the whistle register is used primarily by coloratura sopranos. Many parts in the coloratura soprano repertoire extend beyond “high C” and often extend up to high F (F6). Although many coloratura sopranos use whistle tone vocal production to sing these notes, some operatic sopranos are capable of singing up to “high F” (F6) without utilizing the vocal production associated with the whistle register but remaining in the modal register. That being said, most coloratura sopranos do utilize the whistle register, particularly when singing staccato notes in rapid succession, during high trills, or other elaborate coloratura ornamentation in the upper tessitura. Rarely will coloraturas use whistle tone when doing high extended notes. However, singers like Mado Robin were noted for doing so. Also, some rare coloratura sopranos do not need to use whistle register at all.[citation needed] Probably the best-known example of the whistle register in European classical music is in the “Queen of the Night” aria (properly titled “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen“) from the Mozart opera Die Zauberflöte; it calls for pitches up to F6.[4]

And because Wikipedia brought it up, here’s a performance of the Queen of the Night by Diana Damrau.  Skip to 2:10 to get through all the spiel of this singspiel.

(Her performance is very harsh to me, but then again, her character is pretty angry, so it’s fitting).

Here’s a performance by Edita Gruberova.  The recording quality is much worse, but it provides contrast:

And finally, Natalie Dessay:

Child “prodigies”

Just read an interesting article from this guy:

Dr. Winters received his Doctor of Music from Northwestern University, and also holds the B.M. and M.M. in piano performance from Indiana University. His background includes teaching college-level piano, arts administration at two universities, and extensive performing experience as solo pianist and accompanist. As an operatic baritone, Dr. Winters has sung over a dozen principal roles; he made his Virginia Opera debut in the 2004 production of The Merry Widow. His compositions include two children’s operas commissioned by Virginia Opera’s Education department: History Alive! and Tales From the Brothers Grimm. His first book, THE OPERA ZOO: SINGERS, COMPOSERS AND OTHER PRIMATES is available from Kendall Hunt Publishing. He joined Virginia Opera’s Education and Audience Development Department in 2004 as Community Outreach Musical Director.

(from here)

It basically discusses how bad this child opera star phenomenon is in terms of the health and future career of the child. Here are some of the “stars” he has in mind:

1. Jackie Evancho

2. Same song, different singer – the 90s sensation, Charlotte Church:

Here’s what Glen has to say about these children:

For one thing, the great majority of child performers will eventually crash and burn attempting to make the transition from intuitive tot to analytical adult. . .

Furthermore, that “unusual musical maturity” you think you detect in the oh-so-polished phrasing of a Chopin Nocturne or Paganini Etude is not organic maturity at all. It’s apery; it’s mimicry; it’s the result of carefully imitating some adult’s interpretation, be it from the teacher or some recording. Musical compositions which express profound insights about love, loss and life are beyond the ken of a nine year old and that’s just how it is. Having a good ear is not the same thing as musical insight. . .

Another problem relating to emerging from the prodigy stage: child stars become accustomed to being the most successful performer wherever they are. . .They are able to play difficult compositions eighty percent perfectly with little effort. That in itself poses a problem: when such young musicians go on to major in their instrument at the college or conservatory level, they are too often content to continue achieving 80% perfection with 40% effort. It’s not unusual that they find, to their bewilderment, that they are surpasssed by less gifted students who achieve 95% perfection with 110% effort. . .

Let’s get something straight: opera is to singing as neuro-surgery is to medicine. No pre-adolescent children should ever do it, and few teen-agers should do much of it. Yes, yes, I know all about Roberta Peters having made her Metropolitan Opera debut at age sixteen. Big whoop, don’t care. Until their hormones have finished percolating, children should sing (duh) music written for children . . .

The vocal folds which produce musical tones are a highly delicate, extremely fragile, easily damaged organ. Adult opera singers are at risk of incurring injury from over-use; what chance do you think Shirley Temple Junior has? Think about it. That Tweenie girl singing opera is writing checks her body can’t cash, even though, yes, it might sound perfectly lovely to YOUR amateur’s ears. You don’t get to hear her ten years later when her instrument has degraded to the point that a career in the opera field is no longer an option. . .

Here’s my recommendation: if your ten year old daughter has a nice voice, do her a favor and let her take piano or guitar lessons. Then she’ll have the solid musical foundation and musicianship skills that will pay dividends when she reaches the age Mother Nature intended for serious vocal study to begin. If that highly educated private teacher gives her simple songs to sing with a modest range, asking her to perform only in studio recitals, you may just scrape by without doing permanent damage.

I mean, what’s your hurry, anyway? Children sing in church, home and school. Leave the stage and the recording studio to the big bad grownups. Thanks.
My mother didn’t let me take voice lessons, no matter how much I pleaded and prodded, until I was 15, and even then, she had misgivings. We would watch the Charlotte Church appearances and she would harumph and talk about how unhealthy and inartful the whole thing was. Of course, I, who was around Charlotte’s age, was simply jealous – I wanted to sing! But I’m definitely grateful not to have been pushed like that. I didn’t turn out to want to be an opera singer, or professional musician at all, but if I had decided to pursue that route, then I’m glad I didn’t muck these up early like these children.
Makes me wonder . . . how’s Charlotte doing now? From Wikipedia:
Church released her first album in five years, titled Back To Scratch, on 17 October 2010. . .

In 2000, she released Dream a Dream, an album of Christmas carols. It included Church’s first foray into a more pop-influenced style in the title track Dream a Dream, borrowing the melody from Fauré’sPavane and featuring young American country singer Billy Gilman. Church also sang with Gilman in “Sleigh Ride” on his CD Classic Christmas.

Cover of "Dream a Dream"
Cover of Dream a Dream

In 2001, Church added more pop, swing, and Broadway with her album Enchantment. That year, Church made her first film appearance in the 2001 Ron Howard film A Beautiful Mind. Celine Dion was beginning a concert engagement in Las Vegas and was not available to perform the film’s end title song, “All Love Can Be”, so composer James Horner enlisted Church and the song was rewritten for her vocal range. Church also handled other vocal passages throughout the score.

In 2002, at 16, she released a “best of” album called Prelude, and took p

art in the Royal Christmas tour alongside Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, concluding her classical music career.

Even worse than the fizzling “classical career” that failed to grow with her, is that, accostumed to the spotlight or performing or what have you, she decided to pursue pop music (gag!). Here’s an embarrassing example:

To make matters worse, the album more or less tanked:

Four singles were moderately successful in the UK with “Crazy Chick” reaching no. 2, “Call My Name” number 10, “Even God Can’t Change the Past” number 17, and “Moodswings (to Come at Me like That)” number 14. Although these were released in Australia as well, they failed to reach the same level of success there, and in March 2006 it was announced that there would be no US releases of Church’s pop work until she had achieved a number 1 hit in the UK.[citation needed] Tissues and Issues accounted for no more than 2% of her total sales.

Makes me really wonder about those Brits that “Crazy Chick” made it to no. 2, but that’s besides the point.

Anyway, Sony dumped her in 2006, or perhaps, as her PR team put it, they mutually decided to part ways. Will probably never know, for sure.

It looks like she has another recording contract now, but it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere:

Church’s new album, Back to Scratch, was released in the UK on October 25, 2010. The 14-track set has been produced by Martin Terefe.

The rest of the wiki discussion deals with her personal life and some contract disputes with her promo people – not really good news for the album.

The sad thing is that maybe, if she hadn’t been pushed so hard, she might have been a good classical musician. Maybe not as rich and famous as she is now, but perhaps more content and respected and less emotionally damaged by having her life followed in tabloids (granted, I’m assuming that that damaged her; I don’t know).

Anyway, my point is, I agree with Dr. Opera – let these children be children, teach them musicianship through piano, and slow them down on the YouTube fame-seeking.

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