A duck quacks! A dog barks! A snake hisses! An Operatic Tenor…??? No there is no one word that describes what an operatic tenor does. On the coveted high C on a vowel resembling [a] (more than likely a neutral vowel that sounds closest to [a]) an operatic tenor, singing with a fully developed voice excites the surrounding air at over 500 vibrations per seconds, producing a dominant overtone at over 1000 or 1500 vibration per second and another one around 2800 vibrations per second, exciting the human ear with great intensity, while expressing emotions commensurate with that kind of vocal power, without the tone degrading into an unbalanced scream, through the most extraordinary music ever written and poetic texts produced by some of the greatest wordsmiths of all time, and looking elegant in the process.
Opera is nothing short of an Olympic level feat akin to a figure skater doing a Quad Axel while skating on an iced tight-rope.
It is that breath-taken when you hear a real tenor do it. Luciano Pavarotti often used the term “real tenor” to describe his singing as opposed to that of tenors who sang reinforced falsetto in the top voice. If Pavarotti felt a need to distinguish “a real tenor” from the “not so real tenor” it is because he had cause. His teacher apparently told him: “hurry and start! You are probably the last tenor!”
The degradation of operatic standards began almost immediately. Late 16th Century pedagogues were already complaining of singers not adhering to the principles of the Old School. As Claudia Friedlander expressed in a very inspiring article:
I believe it is now time for another course correction to steer opera back in the direction of its essential purpose.
Franco Corelli was a real Opera Singer!
Mario del Monaco was a real Opera Singer!
Andrea Bocelli is an Italian pop singer with a lovely vocal color and a love for his native country’s art of Opera. He actually took a few lessons with the legendary Franco Corelli as he explains in the next video.
Bocelli studied with one of the greatest tenors of all time and learned to mimic operatic sounds. It’s wonderful and it makes his popular singing healthier, stronger and more varied. His love for opera aside, if we take Bocelli’s microphone away, in the presence of an operatic orchestra he would be over-powered if not inaudible. Yet in an age virtually totally electronically amplified when it comes to music, the average person does not know that Bocelli is a pop singer singing opera and not an opera singer singing pop.
Michael Bolton is not an opera singer! He is a rock singer who developed a love for opera and with a voice not trained to sustain opera, he tries his best to do something beautiful. But he could not be confused for an opera singer. But many would say Michael Bolton is singing opera. Being able to sing the notes is not the same as maintaining optimal vocal balance and dominating over an orchestra without electronic amplification.
“I think we have a case of a little lump of coal here that is gonna turn into a diamond…” says Amanda Holden, one of the judges at this circus that has turned the world of music upside down. That was the pitch! Take a guy who looks like the ultimate underdog, have him sing the most popular aria, made famous at the first concert by TheThree Tenors and draw sympathy for an otherwise lost cause. Not that Mr. Potts is a lost cause, but that he was played as such! There is a basic material there that with a lot of work could develop into an operatically viable instrument. The patience required for this is the total antithesis of what American Idol and Britain’s Got Talent and such shows represent. The narrative is that “…you too can become famous quickly by appearing on one of these shows, even if you are the most unlikely person to win.” Yet millions of people probably believe that Paul Potts won because he has an operatic voice. Mr. Potts is not an opera singer. He sings an operatic aria with a wobbly voice in a show that makes no difference between him and Luciano Pavarotti, with judges who have no competence whatsoever to judge whether he can sing opera or not and an audience so lacking in basic arts education that they might not be able to distinguish between Potts and Pavarotti on the same stage.
Andrea Bocelli, Michael Bolton and Paul Potts and all the pseudo- or wannabe- opera singers are not the problem. It is the fault of the opera industry, so insecure about its own viability, that it would embrace any gimmick that brings attention to our sorry state of affairs. It is the fault of us opera singers, who are more interested in any kind of notoriety that we would sell out the art form for our own short-term glory. It is the fault of us singers who are so afraid of not being able to walk on stage at all, that we would do anything to get to sing this music even if the circumstances are totally against the principles of our art form and at the disservice of the music we claim we love.
Between Corelli and Del Monaco on one extreme and Paul Potts and Michael Bolton on the other, there are too many opera singers whose development fall closer to Bocelli than Corelli and they themselves do not know of the poor quality of their instrument. Why should they when agents and casting directors are more interested in their 6-packs and the size of their breast than they are interested in the quality of their voices. The democratization of Opera has been to reduce it to its least common denominator.
That narrative reads thus: “…if the average person believes that s/he can sing opera with little work, maybe s/he will be likely to come to it… If they see the opera singer as a normal person, then they might find the art-form more approachable.”
The opera singer is a normal human being doing something superhuman, like Cristian Ronaldo or Michael Jordan. These abilities take great dedication and work to accomplish and surpass human expectation.