Tuesday, December 12, 2006

What's Opera, Doc?

I'm totally a Josh Groban fan. I'm so out of touch with what's hot that I wonder whether it's an in-crowd sort of fandom or not. I'm guessing not, but what do I know? After all, at the age 25, he's already rung up more CDs than Beyonce and sold out Madison Square Garden in 22 minutes. The part that I care about is his extraordinary voice and charming interpretation. Groban's self-deprecating wit fares well in interviews, and besides, I'm fond of baritones.

However, as shown by a recent Salon article sneering at "popera pretty boys" (warning: you might have to click through an ad in order to read the full version), pop music without edgy pimps and hos all too often gets labeled as schmaltz. I don't think that's a fair characterization, but there is undoubtedly sentimentality in his music.

Groban has said that he tends to prefer the sad songs, because they're more beautiful, but quite frankly, a commercial album like his needs a big uplifting ballad to receive invitations to sing at the Olympics, Super Bowl Halftime shows, and Oprah's birthday parties. In his second album, that tune was "You Raise Me Up," which you would undoubtedly recognize because it was used like candy by TV producers needing soaring vocals to match heartwarming stories throughout 2004.

When I received his new album, Awake, I scanned the back cover and immediately recognized the title that's meant to fill that role this time around. I groaned out loud from the heavy-handedness: "You Are Loved (Don't Give Up)."

But you know what? I like the tune. And I loved the wistful "February Song" and purity of "Solo Por Ti." Sometimes I can drift away on the music, without losing track of where I am on the freeway, of course.

It's a great album.

I love many kinds of music and firmly believe you can be a hip hop and Bach fan at the same time, so I enjoyed the crossover of styles in "Awake." Arias, pop tunes, and even two collaborations with Ladysmith Black Mombazo. The making-of DVD showed a segment where Groban first meets the South Africans and fairly articulately expressed how thrilled he is to be working with them. Founder Joseph Shabalala also expresses his pleasure in working with Groban. He's deeply satisfied to pass on his gifts and skills to a young man, a fellow musician, even though they come from different traditions.

In contrast, the Salon story tried to set up music genres as rivals, and concluded that "The fiery drama and emotional vividness of real opera has been usurped by a gauzy, cheesy romanticism. Sure, audiences throw roses at (popera singers), just as they did Caruso. But they also throw a whole lot of panties."

Is this a bad thing? (Not that I want panties thrown at me, obviously, but I don't see the problem with the popular acceptance of a more "classical" sound.) I didn't take an opera out of my CD changer and replace it with Groban. His album sits alongside Gwen Stefani, Pink, and Evanescence. I think it's fun to embrace a variety of music, and in turn, the world of opera has clearly realized that they need to reach out to a new audience, if they want people who aren't dead on the subscription lists in fifteen years. Go Josh! Go pop! Go opera!

Enough rambling. Enjoy your music, whatever it is. And maybe try something new.

An unrelated story: This morning, I was lying groggily on the couch in Q's room, trying to blink myself awake. "Kiss for mama?" I asked the kiddo.

He looked at me gravely and popped the pacifier out of his mouth. He leaned over and pressed his cheek to my lips.

Thanks, baby!


Mamacita Tina said...

I'm so out of touch with the current music world. I may have to go buy that Josh Groban cd. Thanks for the info and your take on it.

A sweet kiss can certainly recharge a mommy's batteries!

Jenny said...

I'm not sure who Josh Groban is (sorry, I'm a loser) but sweet kisses for mommies make me swoon!

mayberry said...

I have not listened to any new music in about forever, but I thought of you when my dad sent me to this site the other day to show this video to my kids (who LOVED it): http://www.boogiegroove.ch/new/download.htm, and go to the 2nd link under Video called Dancin' the Boogie.

Schnozz said...


Just stopping by to let you know that the kindblog site has moved, and your sidebar link is no longer working. Please update your link to http://chookooloonks.typepad.com/kindblog. Thanks!

Binkytown said...

I have to say I'm not a big fan of Josh Groban but I totally hear what you are saying. Music should never be so compartmentalized. I can want to listen to 5 different kinds in one day and one is not better or more authentic of blah blah, than the other. It just totally depends on my mood.

I get the cheek thing too. What is that?

Girl con Queso said...

Great recommendation. I'm going to check it out.

Lady M said...

Thanks for the link, Mayberry. What a fun dance!

Schnozz - I've updated my kindblog link, thanks!

Binkytown - Q has learned that a kiss is when I kiss him. So, he offers his cheek. It's so cute that I haven't tried that hard to teach him any other way. :)

Waya said...

My 6 y/o tried to sing to that tune "you raise me up" every time I play it in the car. I think he's very talented. As for Beyonce? I'm not a fan, I don't think she's that talented. Not sure what all the hype is all about.

fourthbreakfast said...

I think Josh Groban is okay as long as he's on a mix. Can't handle too much at once.

Il Divo was a great concept. Hot guys, great classical voices. The music leaves me cold though. Less pop, less schmaltz please.