Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Will the Real Mezzo Please Stand Up? The Phenonmenon of Katherine Jenkins

I pride myself in listening to music of just about every stripe, knowing of and being fan to bands and artists few have ever even heard of. I was, therefore, nearly dumbstruck to read about the phenomenon that is Katherine Jenkins, as I believe I’d never, until the threads here, even heard of the girl’s name. Prompted by the summer lull and ready to avail myself of this egregious wrong, I dove head on into the world of “The Mezzo Soprano Known as Katherine Jenkins.”

I listened to about 20 plus cuts from various albums and could only conclude this girl doesn’t know a damned thing about how to opera singing, and to identify her as a “Mezzo Soprano” is, while kind of cutely inappropriate, a very (sort of) original marketing ploy and little else. While pop singers all have specific ranges to their voice, they’re really never put into the vocal categories of classical (or “church”) singers. There isn’t any need to, so why do it?

First up, Mozart’s “Laudate Dominum.” This was, perhaps, not the best choice for an introduction to the new Mezzo Soprano. It was execrable: breathy, hooty choirboy tone, appoggiatura-like passages executed with a faux vocal mechanism employed only by singers of pop music, and usually then only when attempting to sing legit (and sounds perfectly unnatural – rather like watching a dog dancing on his hind legs).

Next up was the Seguidilla from Carmen. To use proper internet vernacular: OMGLOLROTFLMFAO. This was absolutely side splittingly bad. First, there was that terribly forced, terribly clean and terribly proper “English French” - understandable yes, but flat, and lifeless. Instead of trying to inject life into the music itself, she inserts a choked, hackneyed laugh “ha ha ha !” into the middle . Too freakin’ precious. Seriously.

“O sole mio” – was just plain godawful: generic, badly accented, a throwaway vocalise.

“Song to the Moon” actually began somewhat interestingly, but there was that ever present “precious” sound, here now wed to a forced, unnatural “dark intensity” (had she been listening to Netrebko singing this?) that is not remotely part of this overbright voice.

Indeed, in almost every number I listened to there was that late 20th century Brit-Pop annoying clarity to her diction, but which (like Julie Andrews half a century ago) can make itself rather attractive in the right material. To that end, while still a little generic of emotion, and with a bit too much English choir-boy hootiness, I found her rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” actually rather lovely. I thought though, this was about as heavy a material as she should ever be attempting. Still, I hold serious doubts as to her appearing in a Rogers and Hammerstein musical anytime soon.

Reading and surfing on, I truly WAS startled to see the level of fame this young woman has achieved – (and all under my radar), but still I must ask, can she, so quickly, have become the 16th wealthiest person in Great Britain based solely on her album sales? If so, that’s rather remarkable . . . and a bit sickening, when I think of all the worthy, genuine artists struggling for careers getting little more than Frasquitas, Floras and Anninas to put bread in their mouths.

Nonetheless, much of this would have kept me laughing, at least a bit, until I saw just how MANY albums and DVDs this gal is pushing . . . something like 10. I really flipped out when I saw what they were selling for – at least stateside, her albums are racking in the range from $18.00 to $55 (on Amazon) for a SINGLE DISC. I very nearly choked . . . are people REALLY shelling out THAT much for this crap? Good Lord, it’s absolutely frightening. And, almost all of her albums (at least on Amazon, and including that $55 disc “Rejoice”) do not have a single downloadable track to “test” the waters. Very suspicious, if you ask me (though no one has).

In my “research” someone asked me if I’d ever heard this “phenomenon” live. Of course I couldn’t have only having just learned of her, so I was directed me to a number of live performances. Let me say this: for anyone who has not heard this gal live, you simply MUST. As saccharine sweet as her albums come off there is nothing of that sound when Ms. Jenkins sings live. The difference is more than night and day, it’s more like Spaghetti and Venus. The albums present an even-toned, controlled “product,” while the voice heard live is uneven in every register, forced and a not a little bit harsh, with a wildly produced, uncontrolled vibrato that, shows serious signs of morphing into a genuine tremolo. Pretty her albums may be, but pretty that voice is not. In comparing the two sounds, there was, in fact, absolutely no trace whatsoever of the singer of the albums with the singer of these live tracks. None.

Like every fake diva of the last 20 years, she takes a stab at the Lloyd Weber Pie Jesu and the result is a direct clone of every performance I’ve ever heard of this. I am close to concluding this track was recorded only once, by Sarah Brightman in the 1980’s. Every recording appearing since then has used the same vocal track. I’m almost certain of it.

Still not suffering enough, I was sent a link to material that was sure to enrage me – and did: the promo videos for her new album: “Sacred Arias.” I was at first taken somewhat aback, then had to roar with laughter at the inappropriate inclusion of one of my favorite of all popular songs, Leonard Cohen’s erotic masterpiece “Hallelujah.” That this could even be considered in a collection of “holy songs” rests entirely on the irrational rationale that the word “Hallelujah” alone denotes “sacred.” In the promotional video for this number we find Ms. Jenkins, radiant in a long, flowing yellow gown, spinning, spinning, spinning –miles of golden, gauzy chiffon weaving impossibly about her whilst thousands of petals float down upon her as if in a dream. Oh, yeah, it’s not quite entirely “angelic” as the gown’s cut so low her tits spill almost completely out of it the entire time. I know some will be offended by the last sentence (if not more) and I don’t mean to offend, but when you see the video she’s no longer showing off “breasts” or “boobies” – she’s selling “tits and hallelujah!” Unbelievable.

I wish her no ill (hard as that might seem) but having delved into her world, read scads of reports from her fans (“the greatest opera singer since Callas” – give me a BREAK!) “She can do what no other soprano in opera can do” (what opera?) I’ll politely refrain from either listening to, or writing about this “phenomenon” again. Promise.


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