Saturday, April 7, 2012

Josh Groban & Renee Fleming Live at Lincoln Center -- review (or ramble?)

I just watched this program, which is available online at the PBS website this week.

I have been sort of intrigued about what makes some people successful in show business and others not -- and also about types of voices..

Renee Fleming is an opera singer.  As I understand it, opera fans are looking for very particular qualities of voice in their performers.  The successful opera singer has to have a very clean, smooth tone throughout her range, with no hint of being gravelly or strained.  The tone can be quite heavy, though we can hear in this performance that Renee can drop that heavy, throaty sound, if she wants to, in a more pop song.  Nevertheless, there is a perfect, flawless smoothness to her voice, which an opera fan would love and a pop or rock fan might find dull.  Pop and rock fans seem to like when their singers get a rough, catchy sound in their voices, while opera fans do not.

As I understand it, the operatic singing style has been developed over hundreds or thousands of years to protect the singer's voice, while giving maximum strength.  The pop singing style does not have this advantage: see e.g. Adele who already blew out her voice once and is only 21 or 22 -- though her smoking obviously contributed to that problem.  Adele likes to let her voice go rough -- and her fans love to hear that -- though it did not surprise me to hear that what she does with her voice ended up with her needing rest and surgery.

Josh Groban is a pop singer, though many people feel that his voice is opera-like.

I think, hearing Josh & Renee together, you can hear that Josh's voice is not operatic.  It's a beautiful, rich voice, but there is an element of throatiness, which is missing, that makes it not operatic.  Part of that is that Josh is younger than Renee,  but part of it is that he's a pop singer  If you go listen to Jonathan Antoine, who just blew people away on Britain's Got Talent, you can hear a real opera voice in someone who is 17.

Another thing that was interesting to me, when Renee sang some pop or rock-like stuff, was that the register was lower than what she would have used in opera.  Popular singing right now seems to prefer that men sing in falsetto and women sing tenor.  I notice that Gaga, who has a classically trained voice, has tended to prefer to sing in the lower part of her range.    It's an interesting phase of music.   It seems like we don't feel so confident being who we are and want to be someone else.

I didn't think Josh & Renee had that great of stage chemistry together.  They were singing a love song.   Renee started out looking really infatuated with him, but when they started singing they both seemed more focused on producing the sound and on the audience more than on each other.

In general, I thought Renee's performance style was not all that well suited to close-up TV.  She's a person who has been trained to produce a huge sound that fills an opera hall without a mike.  That means standing stolidly, taking in huge amounts of air, and using a lot of interior muscles to give support.  It's not graceful.  By contrast, being on a close-up camera is about being more subtle, flexible, quick, and charismatic.  Small movements of the face are very important.  On TV, making a huge sound is not so important, as the microphone does that for you.  Basically I didn't think that she had that great of camera presence.

Josh did sound fairly good with Renee, certainly better than some of other duets I've heard, though I think some of the audience duets that Josh did on this last tour were a better match.

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