Having watched the last 5 episodes or so of American Idol, the prime time reality tv program where pop music star wannabes compete for the audiences’ vote into stardom, I was quite impressed by the popularity of the show, even in its well aged 9th season. My new roommate has been a fan of American Idol since its inaugural season, however, and though she is still a fervent AIer, she still occasionally laments about how many of the same songs are picked to perform every season… And how similar in singing style the idol winners of the last few years have.
So, being a die hard classical music and opera fan that I am, I can’t help but day dreaming about turning on the television next spring to see American Idol contestants dusting up some opera music, putting some good modern arrangement to them and have a good go (after all, a lot of pop music lovers can’t seem to get enough of what Sarah Brightman had done to arias like ‘Un bel di vedremo’ or ‘Rusalka’s Song to the Moon’ ). Here are a few opera arias I think could re-incarnate as good pop tunes if provided with the right English translation and musical rearrangement: (click on aria names for a Youtube sample clip of their original version. If the link doesn’t work, just search Youtube for the aria’s name and you should find many renditions to choose from)
1. ‘Pourquoi me réveiller‘ from Jules Massenet’s Werther
“Pourquoi me réveiller, ô souffle du printemps? …. Why wake me up, oh soft breath of spring?
Pourquoi me réveiller? …………………………………. Why did you wake me?
Sur mon front, je sens tes caresses………………….. On my brow I feel your caresses,
et pourtant bien proche est le temps……………….. but still I feel the looming doom
des orages et des tristesses!……………………………. of storms and of sorrows!“
This romantic tenor aria from Massenet’s operatic setting of Goethe’s ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther’ has enough emotion loaded in its melody that it really hardly needs any rearrangement to appeal to non-opera fans. Young Werther, railing from rejection by his beloved Charlotte (who loves him, but is already married to someone else), resorts to reciting to her his favorite Ossian poetry that turns out to perfectly depict their forbidden romance to the degree that arouses her from her long practiced sense of decency into a throe of passion. The high B’s will be a lot easier to hit and sustained, of course, with the use of microphone (the opera singers, on the other hand, have to sing this thing unamplified). This won’t be a good song for a voice like a Lee DeWyze or Casey James, perhaps, but contestants with stronger and darker voice can really rip the show wide open with this thing.
2. ‘Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre (Toreador Song)‘ from Georges Bizet’s Carmen
“Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre,…… Your tribute, I’ll raise my stein to you,
Senor, senors car avec les soldats……… You, sir, and you, and you, along with the boys,
Oui, les Toreros, peuvent s’entendre;…. Yes, the Toreros, too, can understand;
Pour plaisirs, pour plaisirs,……………….. Have fun livin’ up,
ils sont les combats! le cirque est plein,.. There are fightings and the arena is filled,
c’est jour de fete!………………………………. It is a day for feasting!”
I suspect nearly everyone has heard this most macho of opera tunes before even if they can’t place its original source. The toreador Escamillo doesn’t have enough stage time in Bizet’s most famous opera to waste any time before establishing his alpha malehood with this rousing aria. I suppose you can even leave the original arrangement in and still rock the hall if you can cope with its range and demand for a testosterone-filled voice.
3. ‘Dein ist mein ganzes Herz‘ from Franz Lehár’s Das Land des Lächelns
“Dein ist mein ganzes Herz!……………. Yours, does my heart belong!
Wo du nicht bist, kann ich nicht sein… Without your love, I can’t exist,
So, wie die Blume welkt,…………………. Like a flower it wilts,
wenn sie nicht küsst der Sonnenschein!.. without the kiss of your sunlight!
Dein ist mein schönstes Lied,……………… Yours, is my loveliest song,
weil es allein aus der Liebe erblüht……… that came to bloom in our deepest love.
Sag mir noch einmal, mein einzig Lieb,.. Tell me again, my one and only mate,
oh sag noch einmal mir: Ich hab dich lieb!.. oh, tell me once more that I have your love!”
Apart from rousing up the men in the audience, an American Idol champ should also be able to woo the ladies of the texting age. This tune Prince Sou-Chong sings to his beloved Lisa takes the cake in its female-friendliness. Perhaps a better German – English translator can cut down on the cheese factor in the lyrics than I (and my limited imagination) could, too.
4. ‘Quando m’en vo (Musetta’s Waltz)‘ from Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème
“Quando m’en vo, soletta per la via,….. When go and walk alone down the street
la gente sosta e mira………………………. gentlemen stop and stare,
E la bellezza mia, tutta ricerca in me…. and drink in the beauty they can see
da capo a pie’!………………………………… from my head to my feet!”
Puccini’s La Bohème is a gold mine of modern-audience friendly opera tunes, and none is more cross-generationally ear-fetching than Musetta’s firty entrance aria she sings to both wow the impromptu crowd at Cafe Momus while simultaneously needling her estranged (again) lover, Marcello, into a jealous fit. You don’t even have to look like Anna Netrebko to entice the whole theater with this tune… as long as you work on that breath support and keep singing in tune, that is.
5. ‘Dopo notte‘ from George Händel’s Ariodante
“Dopo notte, atra e funesta………. After a night dark and terrible,
splende in ciel più vago il sole… splendid shines the sun in the heavens,
e di gioa empie la terra!…………. filling all the earth with joy!”
And if you really want to jolt the show while also singing something really old, try this Baroque style rock aria from Handel’s fantasy opera, Ariodante. The title role was created by a soprano castrato (a guy who underwent a rather icky surgery that allowed him to preserve his soprano voice range)… so nowadays he is mostly sung by a cross-dressed mezzo-soprano. I suppose this piece is a fair game for both the male and the female contestants providing they can cope with its furious beats (after all, they made the ladies sing Sinatra songs and the gents Shania Twain numbers in the 2010 season) while conveying Ariodante’s tonal jump for joy after having survive a rather painful opera to marry his beloved Ginevra in peace.
6. ‘Fairest Isle‘ from Henry Purcell’s King Arthur
“Fairest Isle, all isles excelling.
Seat of pleasure and of love,
Venus here will choose her dwelling,
And forsake her Cyprian grove.
Cupid from his fav’rite nation,
Care and envy will remove;
Jealousy that poisnous passion,
And despair that dies for love. “
There is hardly anything I can do with John Dryden’s poetry, so I won’t even try (though that doesn’t mean that you are banned from it). Sometimes the most touching moment in a big contest comes with the most basically arranged song that is sung really well (remember Fantasia Barrino and her version of Gershwin’s Summertime?).
7. Duet ‘Schenkt man sich Rosen im Tirol‘ from Carl Zeller’s Der Vogelhändler
“Schenkt man sich Rosen im Tirol…… When one gives roses in Tyrol
Weisst du, was das bedeutet wohl?… do you know what that does tell?
Man schenkt die Rosen nicht allein… One does not render just the roses,
Man gibt sich selber mit auch drein!.. but with the blooms one gives the love!
Meinst du es so? Verstehst du mich?.. Do you mean to? Do you tell me?
Meinst du es so? dann Liebste, sprich!.. Do you mean it? Tell me, sweetie!
Meinst du es so, dann tröste mich,……. You do mean it? It is for me?
Gib mit der Rose mir auch dich!………… Give me the rose already then!”
Being relatively new to AI, I don’t know if duet singing is a regular feature of the show, though I enjoyed the inclusion of two during the round of 4 very much. But if operatic duets are to be included on the show, though, I would rather hear something a bit rarer than the usual Brindisi from Verdi’s La Traviata or ‘La ci darem la mano’ from Mozart’s Don Giovanni. This cute flower duet from Zeller’s seldomly performed ‘The Bird Seller’ should be a good pick with its rather uncomplicated tune and melodic appeal.
8. Duet ‘Au fond du temple saint‘ from Georges Bizet’s Les Pecheurs de Perle (The Pearl Fishers)
“Oui, c’est elle!…………………………………………… Yes, it is she!
C’est la déesse plus charmante et plus belle!… It’s the goddess, full of charm and beauty, I can see!
Oui, c’est elle!…………………………………………… Yes, it is she,
C’est la déesse qui descend parmi nous!………. It’s the goddess who came between us,
Son voile se soulève et la foule est à genoux!… with her veil raised, bringing the crowd to its knees!”
But when it comes to male-male duet, you really can’t get enough of the Nadir-Zurka duet from Bizet’s resurgent The Pearl Fishers!
I know I will get a lot of hate mail from traditional opera fans who can’t stand the thought of cross-over or popularization of art music. All the same, it would be wonderful to hear wonderful music from the operas in popular venues like American Idol. After all, good music shouldn’t be horded up by the few (no matter how superior their ears are to the rest of us), but allow access by all who could enjoy it!