It's time for some inspiration.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Through the OList, I learned of this unexpected and stunning display of virtuosity from a shy and unremarkable-looking talent show contestant. If it isn't all over the place by now, it soon will be. And if you've seen it already, watch it again anyway.

My thanks to Dan Edge for bringing this to my attention!

-- CAV


madmax said...


There has been a big discussion of this at Solo where Lindsay Perigio is an opera officianado. I found the performance uplifting but apparently opera buffs were less than enthusiastic.

Dinesh Pillay said...

That's just amazing! :)

Gus Van Horn said...

WRT to the thread pointed to by madmax, ...

(1) I am, perhaps obviously, not an opera afficionado, but I never claimed to be, and this performance is in context of a talent contest.

(2) I skipped around and read parts of this thread. I may return, but I doubt it. The fast descent of the level of civility of the discussion -- including by the self-appointed cultural gatekeeper you named -- left me very cold and mainly reminded me of one reason I strongly prefer to blog rather than participate in forums like that one.

I guess if you know a great deal about opera, take my use of the term "virtuosity" with a grain of salt.

And if you want a civilized discussion of the merits of this performance, you may wish to go elsewhere than Solo. You will not get a pleasant stroll through the park there, but an unplanned and hurried romp through a cow pasture. And you will leave soiled and smelly.

There are better ways than being berated to learn about opera. Listening to good pieces recommended by a friend strikes me as the best way. This performance did more to make me want to do that than any amount of having my ignorance drummed into me ever did or ever will.

Sid said...

The singing was really uplifting. I don't know too much about opera myself, but he is *at least*, as the judge says, a diamond in the rough.

A lot of the people at that forum are -- pardon the expression -- obnoxious fuckwads. This isn't the first time they have acted so.

Gus Van Horn said...

Thank you, Sid.

I wonder why some of these people are so busy typing vitriol in at their computers when they could be listening to such great music.

Very second-handed, if you ask me.

Tom Rowland said...

I trained as a pianist from the age of five. I attended Juilliard. But that counts for nothing compared to a person's sense of life reaction to music. One of the things I have always despised is the snobbery of those whose judgment of music performance comes not from their souls but from their attempt to fill the void with the details of history and theory.

In "The Great Curuso" Mario Lanza (the gatekeepers favorite) has a wonderful line when asked why he is always looking up. He points to the highest balcony where the patrons come not to be seen as opera lovers but to be opera lovers, and says, "I sing for them."


Gus Van Horn said...

I am with you there, Tom. Thank you for stopping by. I hoped you would.

Adrian Hester said...

(1) It was fun. I've heard performances that were rather better technically, but we're talking TV here, not a top-notch music school. (And what's really fun is watching something like a Star Search semi-finals where a quarter of the contestants are voice students at a top-notch music school. Too mannered as a group for the style of music that wows the audience there but no trace of musical incompetence.)

2) Yuck, what a cesspool. I'm quite fond of the rough'n'tumble, but that thread's just one unpleasantry after another. As for Perigo's musical views, yeah, whuh-DEH-vuh. Of course, I'm not a great opera buff (I've seen quite a few, own some, and enjoy them, but prefer a good cantata, oratorio, or song cycle), I like Sibelius' 2nd quite a lot, and (to go to an earlier thread you might have to search a while for) I love all those horrible unmusical be-and-hard-bop-meisters he can't get into like Sonny Rollins, Charlie Parker, and company, so he'd sneer at me too, no doubt. (Hell, I wonder if he even likes Horace Silver or Lee Morgan or Hank Mobley.)

Gus Van Horn said...

"[T]o go to an earlier thread you might have to search a while for...."

If you're talking about a SOLOw thread, "have to" is the right turn of phrase. Fortunately, I don't, so I won't!

Anonymous said...

I am an opera singer (tenor) and a "fan" of great classical singing generally. As such, I suppose I have the requisite credentials for what is commonly referred to as an opera "snob". However, my reaction to this performance was "Good for him: he's a braver man than I am!".

Is this young man the equivalent of a Pavarotti (let alone a giant like Franco Corelli or Jussi Bjoerling)? No. Does this young man require a great deal of technical and interpretive training? Absolutely, yes. Is the aria, "Nessun dorma", an appropriate piece for this young man's voice at this stage of his development? Absolutely not. In fact, given the present sweetness of his high, light tenor, even were he to study diligently in order to develop fully his technical abilities, it's doubtful, though not necessarily impossible, that his voice would ever be sufficient for this aria which requires a tenor of heroic scale and size.

But . . .

The courage it took for this shy young man to stand up before an audience and a panel of judges on national television and to sing not only music he quite clearly (to me, at least) loves to sing but what is one of the most formidable arias in the tenor repertoire and to do so with no small amount of respect for the piece within the limits of his present ability (after all, he didn't "tart" it up in pop fashion) was no small thing. And he DID it (which is more than I can say for some young tenors I've heard come to ruin in the piece), and he did it quite well under the circumstances. Kudos! Who can say what he could become with good teacher and coaches. He is, as one of the judges commented, a lump of coal that could quite possibly become a diamond.

As to the nastiness from Mr. Perigio at SOLO, his comments are wholly unwarranted in this case. I doubt any of us has sufficient information about this young man or his training, if any, to make as Mr. Perigio does a definitive assessment of his present abilities let alone his possible potential.

However, I believe I understand where Mr. Perigio is coming from. To illustrate: whenenever I hear someone refer to Andrea Bocelli, for example, as an "opera singer", I whince. This is not to say that Mr. Bocelli does not have a beautiful voice: he does. I, for one, always enjoy hearing him sing, especially when he launches a lovely, soaring pop ballad. After all, it's such a pleasure to hear real singing in pop music for a change as opposed to the customary caterwauling and breathy exhalations that have come to stand for it over the last couple of decades. But, as beautiful as his voice is, Mr. Bocelli is NOT an opera singer, and to call him such does a great disservice not only to those of us who study tirelessly to perfect our skills and understanding in order to represent the great tradition of classical singing at its very best, but to those singers of both past and present who have exemplified it. It is THIS we want the public to see and to know and to recognize, not a lovely but ulitmately ersatz version of it.

Be that as it may, Mr. Perigio appears to have dropped context here and it is that context that must be kept in mind when considering this particular young man's very brave performance.

Gus Van Horn said...

Thank you very much for stopping by and taking the time to share your thoughts on the musical aspects of the performance.

While I have a poor musical background, your technical critique strikes me as a fair one and I appreciate your taking the larger context of the performance, especially this man's courage, into account.

For the sake of justice to you, I now feel it necessary to clarify my own use of the phrase "opera snob". I certainly do not regard you as a "snob" nor do I regard any level of expertise as a necessary requirement to be a snob.

By "snobbery" here, I refer only to a type of second-handedness, which substitutes flaunting of knowledge (real or imagined) of something for actual enjoyment, often manifested as a need to make fools out those thought to be less ignorant or to kiss up to those perceived as experts. (Having said that, deeper knowledge of something one likes is the best way to deepen enjoyment....) This "snobbery" is what I got over at SOLO. I definitely do not get it from you.

In short, I do not equate "expert" with "snob".

(The terms are also not mutually exclusive. I am not familiar with Lindsay Perigo. He strikes me as knowing what he is talking aboutand being a snob. I could be wrong, but it isn't worth it to me to wallow around SOLO long enought to figure that out.)

Once again, thank you.

Nicholas Provenzo said...

I am a big lover of opera. I'm at the point were I don't just have favorite operas and arias, I have favorite interpretations of operas and arias. Would I buy an album of this gentleman's singing? No. Do I think what it took for him to stand up, face the camera and sing before that audience in the manner he did is tremendous and praiseworthy? Absolutely. Admiring superior musicianship need not come at the price of admiring great courage and passion.

Furthermore, if you loved what this man did and were glad to see him get the response he did, that's justification enough for your response. You need not compare him to other talents in order to savor the moment he created.

Gus Van Horn said...

"Admiring superior musicianship need not come at the price of admiring great courage and passion."

Yes. This best essentializes what bothered me when I saw that thread at SOLO and what I've been driving at here. Thank you, Nick.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this. It was amazing watching the progression from total doubt (this guy is going to sing opera?) to shock (about 3 chords in) to the total amazement on the faces of the judges especially on the face of Amanda Holden (the female Judge). At the end of Pott's singing, she looked like she was having hot flashes and was experiencing sexual excstasy. It was worth it just for that.

Whether or not Potts is comparable to the masters of opera is totally irrelevant to the enjoyment of this beautiful television moment. To use an expression, if you were not uplifted by this scene you have no soul.

John Kim

Dismuke said...

I would think that any genuine lover of opera would at least be extremely enthusiastic about one thing: A huge hall filled with mostly rock music minded moderns stood up and gave a wildly enthusiastic standing ovation to a performance of opera.

Perigo (who I figured out long ago gets his jollies by being a contrarian and ticking people off) says: "Thing is, it's so far from perfect it's a travesty, a caricature. And the most horrifying part is that the judges, the audience and folk here can't tell!!!!"

Well.....considering the state of today's education system and the sort of stuff that passes for popular culture these days, how on earth can he expect most of the people in that audience to tell the difference? Exactly where is the typical kid these days going to learn what does and does not constitute technically great singing? And exactly what was it that the audience was responding to - certain flaws in the performance or perhaps the surprise discovery of virtues in an art form that most of them probably had little previous positive exposure to?

A genuine lover of opera ought to be thrilled that that audience had the sort of reaction that it did - to opera of all things. I guarantee you years from now there will be highly knowledgeable season ticket holders and wealthy donors to opera companies all over the country whose discovery and passion for the art began with that televised and YouTubed performance back when they were young.

Of course, there are some mentalities among opera enthusiasts who would hate it if opera suddenly caught on and became semi-popular with the masses. Then they would have to find something else that will make them feel superior over the all the unwashed "morons."

While I agree with the comment someone made about the young man's courage, it was the reaction of the audience that I found inspiring. That they would respond to him and his music in such a manner - well it is proof that moderns are still capable of responding to positive values to the degree that they are exposed to them. And I think that audience of mostly rock music types with little, if any, formal musical education very clearly has a better sense of life than a certain cantankerous contrarian.

(As an aside - one of the problems that opera has had is that most young people's initial exposure to it is not positive. When I was a kid, despite the fact that I grew up very much exposed to classical music, I hated opera because, when I was in third grade, my class attended a performance of Tosca. For about three weeks before the performance, we studied the opera. I was already sick of hearing about it before I even went to the show. And when we got to the theatre, we had to sit still and be quiet for what was a very long period of time in the perspective of a third grader listening to people sing in Italian. And this was back before they started showing English subtitles at performances - not that they would have meant a whole lot to a third grader. For a child that young the whole thing was extremely overwhelming. It was such a negative experience that I had a knee jerk hatred for opera throughout the rest of my childhood despite the fact that I eventually acquired a couple of very nice French operetta 78 rpms in a garage sale that I became very fond of. Finally, when I was 17, I took a road trip with a friend of the family who played a tape of a full length performance of Verdi's La Traviata the whole time - and I was stunned that it was so incredibly beautiful and that I was actually enjoying opera. To this day it is my favorite opera. I was fortunate in that, through my life outside of school, I had a lot more exposure to culture and good music than most of the kids I grew up with - so I was eventually able to overcome that bad experience. Otherwise, that negative childhood impression might still be with me. So often various attempts at "music education" and preaching by snobs such as Perigo does far more harm than good. Music is, above all, entertainment. To shove it down someone's throat as though it was medicine is very counterproductive.)

Gus Van Horn said...

You (John and Dismuke) both bring up other aspects of this clip that are worth remembering, and which are both related to a very important point raised by Dismuke that I'd thought of when I said that this clip did more to make me interested in learning more about opera than Lindsay Perigo's "help" did.

But Dismuke puts it in a more societal context: "[O]ne of the problems that opera has had is that most young people's initial exposure to it is not positive."

There are many reasons, I think, for this problem, including: (1) the mind-body dichotomy, as manifest in the notion that something is not fun unless it is mindless or spiritually good unless unpleasant, like a bitter "moral tonic" (In fact, this man showed that something can be fun and uplifting, while engaging the mind.), (2) poor education in general and musical education in particular, and (3) the general, underlying enviousness (i.e., hatred of the good for being the good) of our age.

Very briefly, the first two leave people unprepared to come to appreciate opera "naturally" (i.e., as something they will intellectually, aesthetically, and morally see to be worth listening to); and the third predisposes many to regard opera as phony or stupid or ridiculous, and many others (especially the young) to avoid wanting to leave the psychological safety of the mediocre pack by pursuing such an "absurd" interest that nobody else has a prayer of understanding anyway.

Your description of your class basically having to "cram" in preparation for the opera shows how un-integrated with the rest of your lives, how much like Sunday school, your education had managed to make it. This alien-ness fed right in to the perception that opera is "boring" (as you point out), or "weird" or "ridiculous".

Not only do most people end up ill-prepared in many ways to like opera (or much other good art), their pursuit will too often be a lonely affair.

(To speculate from a psychological angle, this last might explain on some level some opera "snobbery" (a defensive reaction to years of isolation?), but that phenomenon is not helping make opera more popular.... It does not explain it all, however. Second-handedness still accounts for most of it, I think.)

This all makes the aspects of this man's performance you point out all the more remarkable. Think about this: One man's courage got a whole room of people to consider an art form many probably regard as somewhat stodgy in a whole new context -- their daily lives.

In a nutshell, this clip gave us a good example of what civilizational confidence can accomplish.

Tom Rowland said...

Anonymous said what Perigo should have said. He presented evidence from the perspective of one who knows. And his evidence is right on. The aria that Potts sang is one of the most difficult in the repertoire and, with some wiggle room for a sliding scale to accunt for subtleties of taste, it requires a voice like Pavoratti's, not Carreras'.

The "wiggle room" is usually the deciding factor when deciding on personal favorites. Discussions among afficionados often break down at the "sense of life" level, by which I mean at a level that amounts to "for reasons that I can name but which have very little to do with anything but my peculiar taste, I prefer X to Y." An example to illustrate:

I am a great fan of Maria Callas, and, in particular, her late recordings of Tosca and Carman. That means that I am more than willing to put up with the difficulties she had throughout her career with her high register, in favor of the dramatic, almost(?) spoken, punch she gives to the word "morte" in Tosca, for example, which sends chills down my spine as I write just from the memory of it. If anonymous puts great store in beautiful tone production he may evidence a certain disdain for the rough growl that Callas produces at this point and point to another performance as worthy of my attention.

The point is, some of us will put up with a certain amount of technical imperfection (on a sliding scale, of course)from our singers in favor of dramatic punch. The parody of this, years ago, were the recordings made by the pseudonymous Johnathan and Darlene Edwards which were at the low end of the scale.

In any case, there is accounting for taste, but it's still taste. As long as the standards involved are high, it's a horse race among thouroughbreds and we put our money where our taste is.

Mr. Potts may be a thourougbred in the making and he provided, for me, a magical moment. We need them as often as possible.

Gus Van Horn said...

Yes. And we're having the kind of discussion here I wish I had encountered at SOLO. Civilized, as befits the subject matter, and very interesting.

I did learn from the thread that Potts may be more experienced than the show let on, but held back on bringing it up because I wanted to see whether the discussion here could help me understand better why I like this clip -- which it has.

"Paul has appeared on national and local television and radio. His claim to fame is his 1999 appearance on Michael Barrymore's My Kind of Music. He has spent two summers touring Northern Italy training with one of the major opera schools, training under top teachers Mario Melani and Svetlana Sidrova, and has taken part in master classes with Vilma Vernocchi, Katia Ricciarelli and Luciano Pavarotti. Future plans include a summer tour with the RPO."

Even if this indicates that he should have been able to turn in a far better performance than he did, the moment captured on film was still very uplifting.

Daniel Rigby said...

You run into the same criticisms in the world of classical guitar. You may also be glad to hear that he won the show, I know I am.

Gus Van Horn said...

Good for him!

Thank you for the news.