Gok's Divas: solid picks, despite the packagingEditorial
Gok Wan, the UK-based fashion expert, TV-presenter, and “all round national treasure”, has recently revealed himself to be a fan of opera. He released Gok’s Divas, an album of “my personal selection of favourite arias by opera’s greatest stars”.
Opera fans might get a little prickly if they spend too long watching clips from his opera-centric TV appearances, like his appearances on Sunday Brunch and Loose Women. He calls arias “songs”, he says things about opera that are pretty Captain-Obvious (like how opera singers don’t use microphones), and generally has an air of dumbing down the art form of which we’re fairly protective.
But when you take a look at Gok’s Divas, it’s hard to argue that it’s a decent collection of arias and ensembles, taken from everything from Dido and Aeneas to West Side Story. Though it’s more than likely the selections weren’t entirely curated by Wan himself, the picks are pretty solid recordings of great operatic moments. He includes a recording of “Casta Diva” by Maria Callas, some Handel sung by Marilyn Horne, Nina Stemme singing Tristan und Isolde, and even Ailyn Pérez and Stephen Costello singing Bernstein’s “Tonight”.
Our only beef is that Gok’s Divas is short on arias for tenors and baritones - but we figure he’s taking the “diva” portion of the title quite literally.
For folks like us - who often get accused of opera snobbery - hearing Wan talk about how great the “songs” are, and singling out picks like “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess might seem like a poor representation of what opera is. But in reality, Wan is choosing smart talking points for interviews on mainstream TV.
Using the word “aria”, or referring to “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta” probably doesn’t draw in as many people who may be interested in buying the album. Leading with recognizable titles like “Summertime” and “Tonight” - even though you may argue they’re not exemplary of “real opera” - can make audience’s ears perk up; they know these titles, but maybe they didn’t know they counted as opera. If that’s not a way in, we don’t know what is.
It’s not important to figure out whether or not Wan is calling arias “songs” because he doesn’t know better, or because he’s consciously choosing to do so. The end result is the same, one hopes. The album itself is a fab collection, one that we’d listen to ourselves. It’s hard to imagine even the greenest of opera newbies not finding something beautiful in arias from La Wally or Madama Butterfly.
Readers, what do you think? Is Gok’s Divas a great point of entry for interested newcomers? Is it a cheap collection of hits that dumbs down the whole genre?