Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Opera Guy

I keep getting sent a video of Opera Guy, a guy on some UK Idol show who purports to be a shy opera singer just waiting for his big break who wows the judges with 'Nessun Dorma,' gets a standing ovation, and is presumably set for his life to be changed forever. "Thrilling!" said one person who sent me the link. "This is what it's all about!" said another. I have three points here:
  1. The good: Not being a viewer of such programmes I can only imagine the dross that usually appears on them. So when something as genuinely thrilling as 'Nessun Dorma' is performed, it's no wonder a thrill goes down the spine of everyone in the room! It's like a ray of light has appeared highlighting the morass of mediocrity that characterises most of the musical slop they're familiar with.
  2. The bad: It was a set up. This isn't just some shy carphone salesman who sings in the shower who the judges would not have heard before. This is a guy in his thirties who's already appeared before the judges to get this far; and he's already plied his trade and been found wanting: He's sung for Bath Opera, for the Royal Philharmonic and as a soloist on an Italian tour -- and yes, part of his tour reportoire was 'Nessun Dorma.'
  3. The ugly: First ugly point, he can't sing. The tin ears of those judges (and most of the audience) has probably been destroyed by too much exposure to garbage, but with all that training and all that performance experience this guy can't sing. (See Lindsay Perigo's analysis of his voice if you want details.) Second, everyone who's just been touched by what they perceive as a magic musical moment, a moment when the thrill of real music has appeared in and touched their lives will now head home with bland muck like Dire Sraits or Andrea Bloody Bocelli on their stereo. Thrills such as this music delivers when delivered properly are too much for most people. Mediocrity is far more comforting.
To get a genuine thrill, to hear what thrilling singing truly sounds like, listen to the best version of 'Nessun Dorma' I know: listen to how Mario Lanza sings Nessun Dorma [hat tip Lindsay P.] -- and don't imagine the recording was any more processed than Opera Guy's, this was a first take. Prepare to be genuinely thrilled!

For more where that came from, if you really, genuinely have been touched by the thrill of real singing, the BBC have just released a one-hour Lanza documentary that's on Google Video in six parts. Here's the first. And if you think (despite your ears) that Lanza's a flake compared to real opera singers, then perhaps my own review and comparison of him to those other great singers -- to Domingo, Pavarotti, De Stefano - might persuade you to lose your inhibitions: Italian Idol.

UPDATE: Several comments on this over at Tim Blair's. My favourites were comments about Opera Guy's choices of Puccini's 'Nessun Dorma.' 'Kiwinews' says, "someone around him is smart enough to get him in the spotlight here singing Puccini whose soaring harmonies thrill audiences while covering multiple sins of vocal technique in a way unforgiving Mozart or even Belcanto won’t - let’s hope he’s smart enough to grab the advantage."

And Mitch follows up: "He looked like he was going to piss his pants, but seemed to know what he was doing. I have to agree with kiwinews, though. Puccini makes panties fall off – most notoriously, those of the singer for whom he inserted Musette’s Waltz into la Boheme – but Mozart requires the performer to make everything look easy. That’s much harder. Hell, if Chris Martin can accomplish the same trick as Puccini, how difficult can it be?

"A pianist I met said that Chopin made him sweat when he played it, but Mozart made him sweat when he thought about it."


  1. "This isn't just some shy carphone salesman who sings in the shower who the judges would not have heard before...He's sung for Bath Opera"

    Hmmm, well I suppose the accoustics might be different in the two.

  2. Nessun Dorma may well be 'genuinely thrilling', but am I the only person who is fucking bored to sobs with it. It's such a damn cliche, especially when Puccini is so much more than 'Nessun' and 'O Mio Babbino Caro' - even when you move beyond the holy trinity of La Bohème, Tosca and Madama Butterfly.

    I once heard Domingo sing 'E lucevan le stelle' from Tosca. Perhaps not the cleanest recording or most technically adroit performance ever, but when he cried 'E non ho amato mai tanto la vita!' (And I have never loved life so much!) I could believe it. At the risk of sounding like a pretentious wank, Domingo at his best fuses technique and instinct, the heart and the head, passion and reason in a manner that's truly thrilling. Opera Guy? Meh...

  3. I remember someone asking Pavarotti once if he was bored with Nessu Dorma, he said no since he'd only performed it three times in the past decade, a couple of times with the Two Tenors and sometime else I think.

    Of course it's bloody cliche'd, the dude wanted to make an impression and the song does half the work for him.

    "E lucevan le Stelle" is a wonderful song, but unfortunately I don't think Domingo can sing (or conduct) but that's just me.

  4. 'E lucevan le stelle' is a magnificent song ... and it's the one I use in 'Italian Idol' to compare singers, including Domingo.

    Guess where he comes in my little competition? ;-)

  5. You didn't place them, but he didn't win which is fair enough. And what's with that Carreras nonsense. Find a bloody decent recording then if the one you have is crap. He should, if not win, come very close.

  6. That Carreras Tosca set under Colin Davis is one of the best -- although that bloody echo puts me off -- but fear not, young Eric, I have plenty of other Carreras vinyl. ~Early~ Carreras, when his voice was still at his best. None of them would change the placings, which are:

    1. Lanza
    2. (Early) de Stefano
    3. Bjoerling

    Come and test out the recordings some time, if you want?

  7. "E lucevan le Stelle" is a wonderful song, but unfortunately I don't think Domingo can sing (or conduct) but that's just me.

    And you may well be right on the button, Eric. I've still got a lot to learn about music in general, and opera in particular, so I just keep buggering on as Churchill used to say. :)


1. Commenters are welcome and invited.
2. All comments are moderated. Off-topic grandstanding, spam, and gibberish will be ignored. Tu quoque will be moderated.
3. Read the post before you comment. Challenge facts, but don't simply ignore them.
4. Use a name. If it's important enough to say, it's important enough to put a name to.
5. Above all: Act with honour. Say what you mean, and mean what you say.