With A Little Bit Of Luck!
I know so many talented individuals – composers, performers, actors, designers, directors etc. But how come so few, if any, of these people have received the recognition that they deserve? Why has their talent not catapulted them to the top of their professions?
Recently I was looking through some of my old CDs. I like CDs and vinyl. There is something wonderful about putting the disc on the player, or the record on the turntable, turning the stereo up and just lying back with your eyes closed, letting the music wash over you. I don’t get to do this very often these days, but it was something I certainly did in my younger days. I discovered opera in my mid to late teens, and quickly became a huge fan of Jose Carreras. I already had albums and VHS videos of him performing before the 1990 World Cup and the infamous Three Tenor concert. I don’t profess to be an expert on opera, but I know what I like. His tone was, and is, wonderful. I felt he was singing to me. It was an even bigger treat when at 16 I found an album of him singing Lloyd Webber songs, vocals I could understand as well as appreciate the musicality of what I was hearing. I truly believe that you can fall in love with a voice. Don’t get me wrong. It isn’t like falling in love with a person. You don’t lust after them, you don’t have the same feelings of passion that you might for a lover or partner, but there is something about that voice that you fall in love with. Isn’t that what bands and artists rely on from their groupies? It isn’t all about sex appeal. If it was there would be some very disappointed musicians out there. Equally, you can look gorgeous but sing like a howling dog! At that moment I fell in love with a voice that I am still in love with today.
Jose Carreras was fortunate. He had an amazing talent, but also seemed to be in the right place at the right time. He became even more popular after his cancer diagnosis, as he branched out into crossover albums which gave him popularity with the masses – and that is when I discovered him. And then, of course, he took part in the Three Tenors Concert in 1990, which elevated his popularity even further. I finally got the chance to see him live a few years ago. He is currently on his farewell tour, as he is planning on retiring in the next few years. He’s still got it though. He will be retiring when he is still top of his game.
Crossover artists seem to be all the rage at the moment. Michael Ball and Alfie Boe are on another tour after producing their third studio album together. I have the first two, and I like both artists, but I am going to be a little contentious here and say that I don’t always think that the songs they perform together are totally successful. Sometimes the voice has to dictate the material, and there are times when Alfie Boe’s more operatic tones are a little too operatic for the song being performed. This is only my opinion. I know that there are people who love Alfie and Michael regardless of what they sing. It would be a boring place if we all enjoyed the same things. Other very successful artists in the UK that have made the crossover are people like Il Divo and Andrea Bocelli, but in all instances they are opera singers singing popular songs as opera singers. You could argue that so was Jose Carreras, and you may be right, but I noticed it less.
Most of these crossover artists have some sort of gimmick. Whether that is dueting with another artist (like Russell Watson and Aled Jones) and therefore joining your fan base and extending your popularity that way, or having something else which makes you stand out from the crowd (nothing to do with the music). If you don’t have the gimmick you are at a disadvantage. You are also at risk of not being taken seriously by the ‘establishment’. I must admit that this probably happens less and less, but certainly 20, or even 10 years ago, if you were part of the ‘classical’ world you took a big risk singing a more popular repertoire. And this brings me back to going through my CD collection.
I found a CD I had thought that I had lost. A CD that I loved and had played to death when I had first purchased it. A CD of a wonderful tenor that I had discovered quite by accident, because he was interviewed on Steve Wright on Radio 2. He had collaborated with Cliff Richard and had produced an album. A brilliant album. A crossover album. Here was an amazing tenor, who sang as a classical tenor should when singing the more traditionally classical numbers but had a far more gentle approach to the ‘pop’ numbers. It wasn’t about how loud he could sing, how much vibrato he could put on a note, a vocal competition with the other singers or orchestra. It was about communication. Getting the meaning of the song across. And I fell in love with that voice, just as I had with Carreras ten years before. And when I found that CD again the first thing I did was look him up to find out when he might be on tour, so that I could go and see him in concert, because when I had bought that CD back in 1999 I didn’t have access to the internet. I couldn’t look him up and find out about his life, his music etc. And what I found made me cry.
Vincenzo La Scola had died in 2011 at the age of 53 from a heart attack. He had a successful career as an opera singer and had performed at many of the world’s greatest opera houses. He was a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador from 2000. Elsewhere in the world he was a popular performer, and every article you read about him talks about what a wonderful, kind, thoughtful man he was. And yet his death had hardly appeared in the press. In fact some of his friends commented on the fact that his obituary was short and on pages near the back of the papers, even in his home town. His Facebook page however was full of comments from fans, friends and colleagues, mourning the loss of a talented and generous hearted man.
This man, who I never met, but who’s voice touched my heart, has been on my mind a lot over the past few weeks. It could quite legitimately be argued that he was a very successful man. He sang throughout the world, he was an excellent teacher, and was actually giving masterclasses in Turkey when he had the heart attack and died. But did he get the recognition he deserved? I knew his voice, but I was unfamiliar with his name. He was considered to be one of the best tenors of his generation, and yet he was not catapulted to the heights of Carreras, Pavarotti or Bocelli. Was his crossover into pop too soon for the world? Did he lose credibility in the UK at a time when it was still not acceptable for classical musicians to dabble in the ‘pop’ world unless you were Pavarotti or Carreras, despite the fact that Classic FM had a video channel that played a lot of ‘popified’ classical music (at the end of the day though the videos were still of classical music). We will never know. In the meantime I will mourn for a lost voice and a good man, who died too young. A man who has left us glimpses of his talent through his one studio album, a couple of downloadable live albums on Amazon, and a few video’s on YouTube. Who gave so much in his live performances but had so much more to give.