We all gasped at the viral video of Spanish X Factor contestant Cristina Ramos singing Offenbach and AC/DC in the same breath back in March 2016.
Ramos’ rock solid technique gave her the flexibility to sound completely authentic in both genres, and she went on to win that year’s competition. I’ve never been an X Factor fan, but that performance still gives me chills.
But was it really anything new? It’s not hard to imagine that with many years of athletic training, vast reserves of stamina and encyclopedic knowledge of vocal technique that opera singers can turn their hand succesfully to many genres.
Have a listen to American opera superstar Renée Fleming performing a traditional American folksong on Elvis Costello’s show, Spectacle:
Fleming then went on to produce a whole album of rock covers, entitled Dark Hope, in which she covers songs by Arcade Fire, Leonard Cohen and Death Cab for Cutie*. They reveal a completely different side to her voice, without a hint of her operatic strength.
*No, I’d never heard of them either!
And here’s Dame Kiri Te Kanawa in rehearsal with André Previn beck in 1991. She sings several Jazz standards including ‘Autumn Leaves’ (‘Feuilles Mortes’ in French). You can hear more of the operatic tone in this than Renée lets slip in Dark Hope, but it’s still a fascinating change from the famous sound we’re so used to hearing.
What do you think of classical artists turning their hand to different styles of singing? Is it an interesting extension of their work, and a chance to see a new perspective, or a waste of their precious talents?