The flip side of the baby opera singer coin

The flip side of the baby opera singer coin

Rich Coburn

Well, here’s yet another post on Laura Bretan, the 13-year old who recently performed “Nessun dorma” on America’s Got Talent. I’m sure you’ve read a bunch of opinions on her performance (like this one or this one, as we all do every time a baby “opera singer” makes a splash on a similar show.

But I want to ask a question that changes the focus of the discussion: how is it not a great thing, an amazingly good thing, when a large number or people discover new music that they love? Or hear music they already knew, and still love it? Regardless of who composed it or what genre label is applied to it?

First of all, sure, her technique sounds unnatural, and is probably unhealthy. I’d love to see Laura get some solid technical guidance if she’s going to be using her voice in a demanding way on an ongoing basis, just like everyone else. But people worrying about the longevity of her career? It’s hard to make the argument that she has a worse chance of a long career now than she did before she sang for the judges; she just has totally different challenges.

Secondly, and most importantly, if my grandmother likes listening to Italian tenor arias sung by sopranos as she cooks pasta and drinks wine on a Saturday afternoon, who am I to suggest she should do otherwise? It’s not like she’d listen to me if I did. Or if Laura’s singing impresses a studio audience with different aesthetic tastes than mine, how is that problematic?

It’s still not healthy singing, and it’s still only opera by the broadest definition. But is it hurting someone in some way (assuming Laura doesn’t hurt herself singing)?

Remember that Puccini is, and will be until the end of time, stuck in the past. He defines his own sort of artistic perfection. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t move past his time as well (I’m deliberately not saying “improve upon him”).

So, what if instead of considering this some sort of bastardization of great art, you were to look at it as some sort of pop inspired by opera? What if you recognize that popular songs tend to get covered in any genre — as well as across genres — and that this is actually a part of our classical heritage also, even if we rarely celebrate it?

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so maybe we should just take the compliment.

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