That awkward moment when people tell you you’re a fake

(Published at The Telegraph’s blogs website on March 19th, 2012)

In a blogpost that I wrote last week in the aftermath of Katherine Jenkins’ hysterical response to being parodied on Twitter, I asked why she attracts this kind of attention, and what drives a sane person to spend time and energy in the creation of an online persona for the sole purpose of rubbing her up the wrong way. Come to think of it, why have I invested three thousand words in the space of seven days in explaining why she fully deserves the contempt she receives from both those who earn their wages in the world of opera, and those who spend their money watching them? No doubt Jenkins, her fans and her best friend, the Daily Mail, would prefer to believe that I am obsessed with her. An elitist snob who is envious of her success. Probably a recluse. With lank hair and eczema. And an incriminating bag of sweets.

As it happens, I would be surprised if anybody actually begrudged Jenkins the fame and wealth she has acquired from her career as a crossover artist. As a performer of middle-of-the-road ballads and pop-songs, (often translated into Italian for added gravitas) delivered with an innocuous pseudo-classical voice, she is inoffensive and even preferable to many who ply their trade in this section of the market. It is in allowing herself to be promoted as an opera singer that she has earned the scorn of those who love and care deeply about that particular art form.

Opera singers are unique among those who have made their careers in the performing arts. They study for many years in pursuit of developing voices that are beautiful, resonant and seamless across a range that can be more than twice that of any other type of singer in Western music. They learn how to use their instruments to convey, in at least four different languages, every possible emotion that a human being can feel. And the miraculous thing is that, without the aid of any electronic amplification, they do all of this over the top of a large orchestra in spaces large enough to hold thousands of people. As if that were not sufficiently remarkable, they also create fully-rounded and widely varying characters during evenings that last for several hours, often while wearing uncomfortable costumes and negotiating their way around awkward sets. Throughout all of this they have to retain the beauty of their voices and the integrity of their techniques. Katherine Jenkins delivers bland, undifferentiated performances of popular tunes from well-known operas. She does this with the aid of a microphone and huge dollops of reverb to mask the flaws in her technique and to smooth out the unevenness in her voice. She also wears low-cut dresses, so that’s alright then..

Have a listen to this performance of Jenkins singing “Una voce poco fa” from The Barber of Seville. Not all of it though. God, no. That would be unnecessarily masochistic of you. The final minute and a half will suffice. This is a ferociously difficult piece that shows off the technique of a good singer, and shows up that of a bad one. It is immediately obvious which category she falls into as the demands of the aria elicit from her the response of a Welsh deer in the headlights. The rapid runs are beyond her, with notes being either smudged together until they are indistinguishable from one another or omitted entirely; she repeatedly loses her support and vocal placement; and the two terrified screams at the end that pass for high Bs are less at home in the theatre than they would be on a labour ward.

(ANORAK ALERT. For those who like to get into technicalities, it sounds to me as though Jenkins’ problems stem from the manufactured, plummy tone she employs in an attempt to sound more “operatic”. This adds so much artificial weight to the voice that it precludes the possibility of it acquiring either agility or ease at the top of its range. It would be interesting to know what others think of this analysis, so don’t be shy of using the comments box at the bottom of the page. ALL CLEAR.)

It is utterly mystifying that she would wilfully undertake something for public consumption that she must know is well beyond her reach. Especially when there are so many pop ballads waiting to be translated into Italian, which she could manage without traumatising any members of the audience whose critical faculties have not been turned to mush by her siren beauty. Ah, her beauty, there’s the rub. Where else can you hear this sort of material sung by a pretty, slim, young blonde? Well, how about here for a start?

Elīna Garanča’s version of the same aria has everything and more that is missing in Jenkins’ car crash. I would listen to the whole performance this time if I were you, not just the final ninety seconds. What’s more (and yes, I know that these things are subjective) I would venture to suggest that Ms Garanča’s beauty is of a far less … ahem … synthetic kind than young Katherine’s. At this point in the proceedings I’m really struggling to identify the Welsh warbler’s USP.

To be fair to Jenkins (and at this juncture, that’s not an intuitive thing to do) she has made a point of saying that she refers to herself as a classical singer, given that she has never performed an entire opera. And that’s about all the slack she deserves to be cut, because the technical requirements for a classical singer are pretty much the same as for an opera singer. The main difference is that the former gets to avoid being ordered to do undignified things on stage by power-crazy directors who believe they have more insight into The Marriage of Figaro than Mozart. In fact, classical singers often specialise in a genre that can be an even tougher nut to crack than opera: the art song. (Having allowed the idea of a Jenkins Frauenliebe und Leben to permeate my consciousness, there will now be a short break while I lie down in a darkened room.)

Whatever semantic games she chooses to play with her job title, it is pretty clear that Jenkins wants to be thought of as someone who can hold her own with the big boys. A few years ago she was resolute in her determination to perform an opera in its entirety, but not for a couple of years because, and I paraphrase, “you can’t sing full operas until you are thirty.” Somebody really should pass on this nugget of wisdom to the many excellent singers in their twenties who, at the start of their careers, are already delivering full performances with small companies. Anyway, now that the magic age at which all things suddenly become possible is is in her rearview mirror, Jenkins is still saying, as recently as her appearance ten days ago on Something For The Weekend, that the voice won’t be ready for another one or two years. It is hard to tell whether she is dishonest or delusional. It is, however, painfully clear that no opera house with an international reputation is going to think for a millisecond about casting her in anything. Ever. In the unlikely event that she were prepared, in the interests of becoming the genuine article, to lower her sights and start at the bottom of the ladder, not even the smallest provincial company would be likely to take a punt on her. It would be akin to entering Muffin the Mule into the Grand National, or signing Ann Widdecombe to dance Giselle. The only possible scenario is that she will turn up at some point in an arena-based spectacular, complete with head-mikes and an unknown supporting cast that changes every other night. If that is the extent of her ambition, then fair enough, but let’s recognise it for what it is. Operatic credibility is never to be hers it seems. At least Jenkins’ brutal self-awareness affords her some insight into why she is thwarted:

I’ve always faced prejudice. I’m a working-class girl from Wales. I have blonde hair and wear pretty dresses. There are a lot of people in the classical music world who absolutely loathe me. The critics slate me because I’m not what they consider the real thing. People expect a classical singer to be big and fat with Wagnerian horns on her head. Sorry, that’s not me. It never was and I always knew my looks would be my advantage. I’m totally aware of how to market myself, totally aware of the effect of the way I look. And personally I’d rather see an attractive man playing Romeo than a big fat old man. Why can’t opera singers look good? I don’t get it.

So, nothing at all to do with lacking the required skills then. In Kathworld, the reason she is not being hired is that she is too beautiful for the ugly business of professional opera. In spouting this nonsense, she deliberately and self-servingly perpetuates the stale stereotype of the risibly grotesque diva or divo who is devoid of any ability to act convincingly. Clearly she has never heard of Anna Netrebko, Danielle de Niese, Elina Garanca, Juan Diego Florez, Jonas Kaufmann, Dimitri Hvorostovsky, or any of a multitude of glamorous singers currently before the public, who possess vocal and dramatic gifts beyond her wildest imaginings. Or maybe she has. Could it be that she is mendaciously misrepresenting a business whose doors are closed to her in order to justify her own failure? Perish the thought.

"Why can't opera singers be good looking?"

The final straw for most people, I suspect, was her appearance in two series of Popstar To Operastar, the reality TV show that does exactly what it says on the tin. I have seen Dali paintings that are less surreal than Jenkins’ assumption of the role of operatic guru to a grisly selection of washed up pop singers trying their hand at a spot of Verdi. She might have gotten away with it as most opera aficionados wouldn’t have bothered switching on had it not been for presence of a second mentor on the programme: Rolando Villazon, a genuine operatic superstar who has sung challenging roles in every major opera house. This did not faze our Kath one jot. Adopting the stance of Villazon’s peer, she bulldozed her way though episode after episode, dispensing expert advice on a range of technical challenges that she is herself incapable of executing. The absolute nadir took place when the show’s host, in discussion with the pair of them, directed a question at Jenkins that began with the words “As an expert on opera …” Had she an ounce of shame, she would have said:
“Not me, you fool. Ask the hyperactive Mexican with the big hair and eyebrows,” but the irony was clearly lost on her. God only knows what Villazon was thinking at that point. Examples of her chutzpah abound in the clip below, but trust me, you really don’t want to click on it.

So, no, the scorn directed at Katherine Jenkins by opera professionals and opera lovers has nothing to do with obsession, envy or elitism. They just feel very, very insulted by a woman whose talent is as small as the chip on her shoulder is large, and who enriches herself by vandalising this most complex and demanding of the performing arts; one that, contrary to what she would like to believe, has its adherents in almost all sections of society. They are offended by the way she misrepresents opera and the people who work within it in order to shore up her own ego. They hate the way her amateurish attempts at the repertoire create, for those who know no better, a fourth-rate understanding of what opera actually is. They are outraged at the kick in the teeth that every ineptly-performed aria represents to singers who are infinitely more talented than she yet who will struggle financially for most of their working lives. They are saddened that society’s obsession with superficial celebrity permits such a triumph of style over substance.

Is it not ironic that the woman bleating in the tabloid press about being bullied via a fake Twitter account is, when all is said and done, the biggest fake of all?

(Chris Gillett in his blog, Saddo Abroad, writes eloquently on this from the perspective of a professional opera singer.)

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51 responses to “That awkward moment when people tell you you’re a fake

  1. AngeliCaffarelli

    Hear, hear!

  2. OOps, something went wring with my link. Can’t delete my old post. Sorry.

  3. I think you are completely right about jenkins.
    I study classical singing at a conservatoire and she makes mistakes a second year singer would make. Her technique is awful, and she gives in to the whole ‘pop image’ that everyone expects. Does she not see that it isn’t about how you look? It is about how good a singer you are and whether you can communicate text, so no matter what language you are singing the audience can still understand the emotional aspect of the song/aria.

    When I hit this industry it’s singers like her that are going to make me and my peers sound amazing :P keep up the bad work Jenkins

  4. If Jenkins merely marketed herself within her limited skill range all would be fine. For what it is worth I have seen Garanca live in the role where you have the photo with Netrebko (who was also singing) and she is an utterly wonderful singer. I have also seen Joyce DiDonato sing Rosina live at the Royal Opera House and, boy, can she strut her stuff when singing this aria!! But they are wonderfully skilled OPERA performers.

  5. (Massive repost from Facebook, as I felt like sharing the bile)

    I remember reading a hatchet piece by Paul Foot (who we all know was devoted to the truth and only the truth, which is why he wrote for Private Eye) on the Royal Opera. He bought the most expensive ticket in the house, then stood in the middle of the crush bar and said that as there was no-one there wearing jeans or tattoos therefore opera was ELITIST and should be BANNED unlike, er, the people’s entertainment, whatever that is. I found it enlightening that he made no effort to go upstairs and see how the people who (unlike him) did not have expense accounts to call on, lived. Moreover, about 10 years ago, I booked some tickets at Covent Garden from work. I got stalls seats, which are among the most expensive. After the call, I was subjected to considerable abuse because of my elitist lifestyle and tastes, when everyone knew I should like only Andrew Lloyd Weber. One jeeringly asked me how much my post seats had cost. I said £50 each. She went white and her mouth fell open. Then she admitted that she had paid more than that for gods seats for ‘Phantom’. But that’s the _people’s_ entertainment, whereas only the elite can afford to go to see opera (£5 tickets at Covent Garden).

    Now, I am technically speaking a man, but when I look on Katherine Jenkins, I do not see someone who looks great. I do not see a woman who I find beautiful, desirable, shaggable, etc. My first thought is ‘silicone’, and my second is ‘does she really expect me to believe she’s singing while wearing corsetry so tight I can virtually hear the creaks from here?’ When I listen to her, I hear not a musician who has found a way to perform quality operatic highlights in an accessible form. I hear someone who is incapable of hitting any note accurately, who is incapable of sustaining any note accurately for any length of time, and who appears to believe it appropriate to interpolate swoops and slides in between notes, so one ends up with a performance that could be effected more pleasurably and economically by a bloke with a swannee whistle.

    Informing ‘the people’ that real opera is terribly, terribly complicated, too complicated for the likes of you, so here is a carefully massacred aria from Carmen that has been suitably adjusted to match what we believe to be your depraved tastes (I summarise) is not only untrue, not only reprehensible, but bloody patronising. Strangely, the ability to appreciate good music of any form does not correlate particularly with social class, but is more generally associated with an open mind and an openness to new and strange experiences. Neither of which, may I say, are encouraged by the mind-set promulgated by Miss Jenkins and her ilk.

    And, as an afterthought, it is a grave mistake to think that opera is there to be filleted. We rightly laugh at the days when actors would put on shows in which they recited their selection of favourite speeches from Shakespeare. Someone who thought that it would be neat to assemble bits of random novels in a book and then claim that it was all you needed to know about literature would be rightly derided as an ignoramus. And, strangely, any good opera is about more than one or two hit tunes. The ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ is actually the least important part of ‘Die Walkure’, the most important section of all being, arguable, the long and tense monologue that Wotan delivers in act 2 during which absolutely nothing happens on stage and there are no big tunes. And yet it is riveting. So if you don’t like opera that’s fine, don’t like it. I loathe football but it is only on my particularly bad-tempered days that I would wish to ban it. And likewise, if one doesn’t like opera, one should be content to leave it to those who do, and not attempt to legislate about that which one does not understand.

  6. I have heard an early recording of hers, before she developed that fake darkening of the voice, and she sounds so much better – more natural, more free, and still no better than all of the hundreds of highly trained, jobbing singers out there.

  7. For pity’s sake! I can understand why classically trained singers might have a reason to be a bit irritated by KJ’s success but honestly let’s get over it! Every single day another band or solo artist arrive with less talent or vocal prowess than alot of people sitting at home without a record contract or even a career!
    This is life I’m afraid. Every week I get jealous that some lucky “undeserving” person wins the lottery instead of me but I don’t feel the need to write a damning article about it. Why does KJ get so much more stick than anyone else? Sure, she’s not the best singer in the world: she’s never pretended to be. Sure, she wears dresses that show some cleavage: so what? She looks good and can pull it off. Sure, the phrase “opera singer” gets spoken by her once in a while but she is in the public eye daily and every word she says is made public so let’s not pounce on her for a comment that may have been taken out of context!
    Now…. Popstar to Operastar, or whatever it’s called. “how can she give advice to people about being an opera star when she’s not one?” simple. She is being paid to!! No one on this show is going to become an opera singer. It’s television!! Why does KJ giving advice cause more uproar than Louis Walsh or Tulisa being responsible for someone’s future on the x-factor. Why do we care that a big factor in her success is her looks. It’s not her fault she’s attractive. Surely that’s better than Susan Boyle having a career because she’s unattractive! The bottom line is, she is a good, not great, singer who is attractive, is marketed well and should be thanked for helping to bring classical music to the masses.
    Proper opera stars won’t be resentful of her because they already have successful careers of their own. Young, up-and-coming artists should not be resentful because she is not a threat. She is too busy selling out the o2 arena to be stealing anyone’s part in Don Giovanni so please just leave her alone! If you’re offended by her you need to grow up and worry about something more important! Does she deserve her success? Who knows but the millions of album sales and sell-out tours suggest that she does. She may not be to everyone’s taste but neither is marmite. If you don’t like her or her voice, don’t listen to her!
    I don’t listen to her because I choose not to but I have alot of admiration for her. She constantly has to deal with people telling her she’s no good and she copes with a lot of dignity! There are always going to be people with success who are, on the face of it, less talented than those without it but they tend to have some kind of strength beneath the surface that sets them apart and allows them to maintain that success. I suspect that KJ has something about her that we don’t know or understand.
    So leave her alone. If she messes up an Aria once in a while, who cares? It really doesn’t matter. She can go back to singing You’ll never walk alone or another Evanescence cover and look ok whilst doing it! If this bothers you.. Shame on you!

  8. The fundamental issue is that to 99% of the population her performances sound great. With the addition of the fact that she is attractive, it is hardly surprising she is much more in the public domain than almost any other ‘opera’ or classical’ style vocalist. It comes as no surprise then, that many musicians who have worked far harder and far longer (and those who appreciate it) are fairly pissed off that she is earning more in a month than they earn in a year and that everyone thinks she is an amazing opera singer.
    I am surprised that musicians have not risen above the issue and made it a short conversation. The amount of your life you have spent thinking about why you dislike Katherine Jenkins troubles me.

  9. The female version of Harry Secombe? Both Welsh, both making money on the back of popular Opera Arias, etc. At least Secombe had some comic talent.

  10. I think you’re right about the artificially heavy throat causing the lack of agility, plus not putting the time in. It’s just another sign of the “I want it and I want it now” culture where you can go on a telly show and in 10 weeks or less go from being a factory worker to a full time singer.

    I’m not saying she, or any of the pop idol/ xfactor folk don’t have talent – many of them do. But they don’t have experience or the skills required to do a proper job. They have the talent that professional singers had when they started at college, or making tea at a recording studio, or hunting down the right person to give them tuition.

    The straight comparison in the first two clips shows the difference very clearly! I’ve seen several young opera singers doing full productions – some were great, some got through it. But it’s a combination of talent, hard graft and experience that makes a success- not age!

    Maria Callas would be most disappointed to learn she was supposed to wear horns and be fat.

  11. Thanks for cheering up my morning. An absolute textbook example of how use of a certain image and a good PR team instead of talent can result in fame and fortune.

  12. Similar examples abound in every facet of music; ask any serious violinist their opinion of Andre Rieu!

  13. I note that the pro-Jenkins commenters miss the point that we get angry about her because she blamed us for her own failings. She presents a wholly false image of the opera ‘establishment’ and, in her tilting against windmills, attempts to cast us as the people’s enemy. This is neither honest nor honourable.

  14. Wow, what an education, my friend is Beth Michael, she showed me a little about what it is to be an opera singer. Katherine (Jerkins spell checker just did that) Jenkins is a singer, thanks for showing me the difference. In a comparable way, really interesting.

  15. Perhaps she should hand back all the prizes she won at the Royal Academy and the 2 Choirgirl of the Year among others on your say so. She NEVER said she was THE BEST OPERA singer – she calls herself classical crossover and you’re just pathetic that it bothers you so much. What is your problem – people like her – what is it to you? There are worse and there are better – her looks and money get up your nose or are you just sexist? Have a go at the bloke on the insurance ads why don’t you – if anyone ever trivialised opera more!

  16. Critics of this post are rather missing the point. Opera singers (of which I am one) are not objecting to her as a person, we’re objecting to what she portrays us as and objecting to what she markets herself as. As another commenter mentioned, if she marketed herself within her range and didn’t portray us as something we’re not then we wouldn’t object. It feels like, after 8 years of higher education, a lot of expensive singing lessons and having to work tooth and nail (like most of my colleagues) to get work that she is trivialising what we do. She has also played the elitism and class card on countless occasions. If you look round a music college there are plenty people there who don’t come from privileged backgrounds, whose parents have worked hard, often at low paid hard labour jobs like trades or emergency services, to help them out and they are relying on the kindness of the college and various trust funds to sustain them through their training.
    And the fact that she has cried out about bullying when it is now in fact her management that appear to be doing the bullying, as blogs and parodies of her seem to be mysteriously disappearing from the internet despite the fact that we live in a democracy.
    But good luck to her. I wouldn’t trade with her as I’m much happier singing the glorious music that she or her fans will never experience as they’re too closed minded to give it a go. We’re not the closed minded ones, she and her following are.

  17. Don’t forget that she also has fake boobs! A sure fire way to sell at least another million or so records….

  18. So she’s wrong to think it’s about her looks, but she’s too “silicon”, too “synthetic”, she’s not “beautiful, desirable, shaggable”. Right, thanks for that.

    Why do women ALWAYS have to be criticised for their looks? If you’ve got grounds for criticising someone, why can’t you just stick to that? Complaining about someone for being to obsessed with how they look and then pointing out that you don’t think they’re that fit anyway – well, brilliant, you’ve really told her there, haven’t you?

  19. It is she who introduced her looks into the discourse. She has claimed that they are the cause of the low opinion operaphiles have of her, and she has laid claim to looks beyond the ordinary. To quote from above:

    “It never was and I always knew my looks would be my advantage. I’m totally aware of how to market myself, totally aware of the effect of the way I look. And personally I’d rather see an attractive man playing Romeo than a big fat old man. Why can’t opera singers look good? I don’t get it.”

    If she had not made these claims you would have had a point. She has, and so her looks are fair game. And as she is arrogant enough to claim that her looks are her advantage, and that she looks good, it is reasonable enough for those of us who differ from her self-assessment to say so.

  20. To Patience Gent. The tenor in the insurance advert knows he is taking the mickey and says so. Katherine Jenkins must know she is taking the mickey but comes up with false arguments to hide her guilt. As regards not saying she is the best singer. Fine. Doubtless she knows she would be up against fat ugly women in horns like this one:

  21. I couldn’t agree more with the post. Every time a colleague or friend asks me if I have seen Jenkins live, a part of me dies. I couldn’t care less what she looks like or how she labels herself, but the fact she really can’t sing for toffee is the most offensive. She becomes the mirror for a wider audience to see opera and it’s one full of distortions and fake shine. There is a wealth of high grade operatic talent in this country that needs exposure to a wider audience, but crossover is about monetising their useless star and making a bob for the record company, on the bandwagon of public apathy or ignorance. The only way against this is to take friends and family to a real opera performance so they can judge for themselves. The exposure to the real thing is the only fightback.

  22. Critics are always really hard on real opera singers one note out of place or slight problem with technique and they pounce on you from a great height so if Kathryn Jenkins doesn’t want people criticising her voice and technique she should steer clear of all opera repertoire and any reference to being an opera singer however if she does want to sing opera then she will just have to run the gauntlet of the hardest critics in the world just like the rest of us classical singers do. Why should KJ get any special treatment, being a classical singer is like entering the Roman Colosseum in ancient times to do a Gladiator battle, everytime you get on stage the critics thumbs are poised to either end an opera run or let you live!! It is an extremely tough competitive world however KJ seems to want it both ways and it is simply not possible, if she wants to stop blogs like the one above being written about her then she will either have to admit that she is a pop singer who likes to sing classical tunes and then in no way steps into the serious classical arena or she will have to get her technique sorted and start singing the songs properly…

  23. Quite simply the problem is as indicated. As a public icon and singer of ballads she is fine but it is the pretence of being an opera singer that irritates. I remember opera magasine being criticised for not reviewing a Russell Watson operatic album. The editor replied that he would review it if Mr. Watson ever performed in an opera. If all David Beckham could do was juggle balls you wouldn’t call him a footballer. If you can’t appear on the pitch (stage) with your fellow players you are not an opera singer.

  24. I fully agree with the criticism directed at Katherine Jenkins here in relation to her reaction to being ‘bullied’. Millionaire Jenkins’ claim was that her life was made ‘hell’ by being asked in a quiz show what the difference between a bel canto and a mezzo soprano is. When you think of the kids that are committing suicide because of the abuse they face at school, pampered Jenkins’ hijacking of the word ‘bully’ to describe a somewhat sarcastic critic is truly vile, particularly when you consider that “lovely” Jenkins banded together with her mates from the press and her fans to hound the critic (Geraldine Curtis) off the web. It is Jenkins’ perversion of language and of the truth in an attempt to paint herself as a victim that I find most distasteful.

  25. This sums up exactly why Katherine “Foster” Jenkins so irritates those who sing, or appreciate good music. I’m suprised no-one has yet mentioned her pseudo-vibrato, which must be one of the most unpleasant I’ve ever heard. From the ridiculous to the sublime – one of the best Rosinas on record, in my opinion – the lovely Kathleen Battle:

  26. I think what everyone is appalled at witnessing (and anticipating continuing) is the process known as the ‘Hegelian Dialectic’.

    It is the fundamental process behind ‘dumbing down’, and much more besides….

    The process is based on the following formula:
    Thesis + Anthesis = Synthesis

    You can think of Thesis and Anthesis as being like two goal posts with Synthesis representing the middle ground between them.

    However, once the Synthesis has been established (as the safe middle ground between the two opposing extremes of Thesis and Antithesis) it’s possible to then portray this Synthesis position as if it were the new Thesis position, at which point the entire goal shifts in the direction of the Antithesis.

    Now the new Synthesis position occurs where the old Antithesis position once stood. But the new Synthesis position is still between the new Thesis and Antithesis positions and so it still feels like the middle ground, despite being on the same spot where the original Antithesis used to be previously.

    By continuing this process over many ‘cycles’ it is possible to steer a person, or society or a school of thought, a belief or moral value system (or whatever) in one extreme direction, while appearing to be always heading for the safe middle ground, the compromise, the conservative middle-of-the-road position.

    This is how dumbing down works. For example, there is always something a bit more dumbed down (antithesis) and a bit less dumbed down (thesis) than the majority of TV programming (synthesis). So we feel that the majority of TV programming is at a fairly balanced middle ground point between the extremes. And at any given moment isolated in time this is true – it is.

    But what most of us fail to notice is that, over time, this middle ground (synthesis) only ever seems to become the new thesis position and never the new antitheses position (or simply remain in the synthesis position). And so we are perpetually on the safe, compromised middle ground – no need to be alarmed then! – yet in actual fact we are constantly moving (or perhaps more accurately: being moved) in one extreme direction.

    As others have already said in a less convoluted way – what’s so depressing about KJ is NOT that she represents the middle ground (Synthesis) between the opera (Thesis) opera and ‘pop-era’ (Antithesis). (There’s nothing wrong with ‘mediocre’ or ‘crossover’, per se). What’s disturbing is that for millions of people she is being defined (thanks to mass marketing, poor journalism/ criticism) as the new Thesis position in term of opera or ‘classical singing’.

    And so we can expect in the ‘next round’ to have a more extreme blond bimbo (perhaps from a reality TV singing contest?) to fill the new synthesis position relative to KJ’s new thesis position…. and on we go…..

    See also: the rest of western arts and entertainment culture.

    But this process is not just to be found in the arts. Traditional sexual seduction techniques (AKA trying to get off with someone you fancy) uses Hegelian Dialectic principles. These principles may be driven by one party only or both. And the principles may be employed in devious and stealthy manner … or they may be used less aggressively in a potential relationship to avoid either party getting burned or causing offence or discomfort to the other person.

    The creeping Big Brother police state surveillance society is another example of the Hegelian principles at work. A decade ago we would be shocked and outraged to hear that there are plans to put CCTV and sound recorders in taxi’s to monitor our conversations (it was in the news the other day). But after many, many cycles of wonderful Hegelian Dialectic-ness most people today barely raise an eyebrow when reading such Orwellian news headlines.

    But when you think about it, the level of intrusiveness of the state recording private conversations in the back of a taxi is no less today than ten years ago. (ie it’s just as extreme and offensive!). But it somehow *feels* less extreme today. Why? Because the two arbitrary (moveable) points of thesis and antithesis (in terms of big brother intrusion in this case) have been gradually and consistently shifted over time in one extreme direction. In a sense (a very disturbing sense!) the Big Brother society is another form of seduction, step by step, not so fast as to be too alarming …. yet consistently pushing society in one extreme direction….

    The antidote/ safeguard to such creeping Hegelian dumbing down (or Orwellian-isation or any other form of depressing extremism) in society is greater perception, awareness, good quality journalism and criticism. The fact that the mass media is bought and paid for in this regard is the reason why the Hegelian principles have free reign and consequently why art is dying and society is getting dumber and more oppressed/ oppressive and demoralised/ demoralising.

    Only the (independent) internet (that’s YOU!) can save the arts… save society…… save humanity! LOL :)

    I’m right though, yes?

    • Brilliant post Abandon…I can see how the Thesis has become devalued over the generations of sythesis and chip chip chipping away. It was OK for Mario Lanza to mime in the 50′s, then The Three Tenors, then Charlotte Church, then Kaff, then, well how about Jackie Evancho. The new thesis. And Simon Cowell’s property too boot. :(

  27. Pingback: Crossover artists, again | Miranda Wilson, cellist and writer

  28. OK so personally I completely agree and on my off days the woman wants to make me hit things with hammers. But we are not so hot as a nation when it comes to appreciating the arts – ask any artist of any media these days. Unless something is ready made, highly accessable, not too weird and unobtrusive, people lap it up. Theres no effort involved in liking Kathrine Jenkins. She is literally all out there. No Opera house needed. No thought needed. And she looks like something off a porno chat channel. Great, thats most peoples boxes ticked. Its all very well us singers and Opera appreciaters getting pissed off with her representing the Industry we adore. Unfortunately we’re preaching to the converted. The people who buy her albums, go to her concerts etc really dont care about what we think. The vast majority are the working class Welsh grannies who REALLY dont care what people like us have to say about her. Shes a local girl done good, and thats all that matters. Here’s another £60 ticket bought to go and see her. Oh and for a charity concert she’ll probably charge the Bryn rate of £45k (I cant back that up) K-CHING. The girl knows how to work it. I take my hat off to her….possibly to cover my ears with.

  29. I think that we are all forgetting what the entertainment business thrives on. It is not the most talented, that excel! It is those that have the right PR managers, and the ones that have the right stylist, and the money behind them to appeal to the masses! As someone before me mentioned that 99% of the population would not recognize the difference. This is the fact and the basis that these PR managers are thriving on, as it is about the money, not the talent. How many RAP performers have we all seen with no talent, looks or brains make more money then the 3 tenors? Unfortunately it is the “ENTERTAINMENT BUSINESS” that the world follows as being the all mighty subject matter experts of the world, and the influence to make the world believe!!!!!!
    My 2 cents worth……..

  30. Bravo! Bravo! (and a brilliant bit of writing too!)

  31. Man, have you ever got a chip on your shoulder! Just cool it and let folk be the kind of musicians they want to be! There’s room in this world for them all.
    What a downer you are!! Yuck! It makes me feel sick reading your nasty output….

    • Problem, being the kind of musicians we want to be has become so tainted with accusations of ‘elitism’ it’s dying a death. The public don’t want it any more. Tell you what’s elitist. Kaff singing to the Queen, and partying with Wills and Harry. No real opera singer would do that. Now who’s elitist?

  32. Ummm well. I’m not into opera that much but even I can tell the difference between the two performers. Erm KJ is pants compared to a professional opera singer unfortunately the masses do not listen to opera enough to tell the difference. KJ is like a ford escort from the 80′s with the go faster stripes and trims when you really want a porsche.

  33. Happy to have any and all observations here as long as they are clean and not unduly abusive. However, it really does fascinate me how the pro-KJ commenters either ignore, fail to understand, or misrepresent the point. To anyone complaining of being made to feel sick, I would advise stopping reading immediately at the onset of nausea.

  34. Bravo Steve. I know one of your pupils.
    Anyone who criticizes this excellent article has probably never stepped inside an opera house, so regard all comments as farts in the wind.

  35. Her technical problems include, but are not limited to:

    i) An almost total lack of support – You can actually hear the huge volume of air escaping with every note, and when the tempo increases she is visibly gasping (those last terrible 90 seconds of ‘Una Voce’). It’s no wonder she can only manage tiny phrases, and has no hope of navigating any rapid runs, or reaching high without sounding desperate and shrill.

    ii) Over-darkening – Others have mentioned this, but it can’t be highlighted enough. Her speaking voice is a very high one, and strongly suggests that she is not a mezzo-soprano by any stretch – indeed, she probably markets herself as much because she hasn’t the technical ability to tackle the soprano repertoire. Clearly she has fallen into the trap that MANY singers fall into of trying to make an ‘operatic sound’. The very best singers have a FREE technique, without any forcing of muscles into unnatural positions, such as depressing the larynx with the root of the tongue. This allows them to sing with their natural voices. Indeed, I was at the 2011 Proms in The Park where Jenkins treated the 40,000 spectators to a variety of operatic, classical and show tunes. When she lightened the voice for the show tunes, the sound she made was significantly better, she sang more freely, and had far better support.

    iii) An almost total lack of musicality – In that same performance at the Proms in The Park, Jenkins accompanied the BBC Symphony Chorus in their hushed rendition of Britten’s arrangement of God Save the Queen … at a blinding fortissimo. She consigned herself to my bad books for ever after ruining that normally very special moment of the evening.

  36. To abandonculture, thank you for explaining so well. I recognized the concept but not the attribution to Hegel.

  37. To Kevin Morgan, Harry Secombe really could sing too. He had a fantastic technique and I really enjoyed watching him gearing up for the high note at the end! Bless him.

  38. I share your frustration, but I share it as a fan of well-crafted popular music; reality shows like Pop Idol, X Factor etc have shown an equivalent disrespect to that form on a weekly basis, to say nothing of the corrosive effects of Glee’s let’s-pitch-correct-everything approach.

    (A little off-topic, but stick with me.) Note to reality-show producers: if you cut out, say, the second verse of “Son Of A Preacher Man”, the singer cannot be said to be performing “Son Of A Preacher Man”. They are performing EXCERPTS from “Son Of A Preacher Man”. (Think of that song: the original song is weighted so that the bridge departs from an established form, i.e., there are two verse-choruses providing the momentum for departure. Take one out and the singer literally CANNOT perform the song, because the original song is the sum of its sections combined in an appealing style; in its depreciated form, the bridge is no longer a departure but a continuation that runs on too long.) Audiences celebrate performances in this context, of course, and I wouldn’t gainsay the basis of their appreciation outright – but I would suggest that many are largely celebrating (a) the performer’s melodramatic “journey” and (b) their own memories of the original song. In this sense the shows are inherently reactionary. They are small regurgitations of a once-great meal, offered for our consumption in the same way that Jenkins’ half-digested opera is considered quality fare.

    And where the frustration and anger comes from in both instances is that such a large percentage of the population LITERALLY CANNOT TELL THE DIFFERENCE. I don’t mean that they can’t tell K Jenkins from K Battle, although most can’t; I mean that there is an indecent commercial pressure to do away with the critical faculty altogether. Viewers are encouraged to determine that a performance is good through narrative acclaim rather than through the performance itself. (When an X-Factor judge falls to the ground in paroxysms of joy over the newest competitor, it’s really the judge’s story we’re watching, the judge’s emotion we’re programmed to respond to.) This is obviously a bumper outcome for commercial interests – cheaper, too, because waiting for a legitimately exceptional performer is a pain – but artforms that depend on independent appreciation are in for an increasingly rough ride, because I’ve never seen the pressure to comply as strong as it is at the moment, and we’re kidding ourselves if we think it doesn’t pollute the broader cultural landscape.

    Sure, in time, that narrative acclaim will swing around as it always does, capturing any number of niche markets in turn – but it’s showing no sign of heading toward a proclamation of the virtues of patience (there’s no quick money in it), and patience is how singers, songwriters and critics get, y’know, good.

  39. My thanks to all those who have commented, and especially to Abandonculture, Luke William Thomas and Casey Bennetto for taking the time to leave their informed and thoughtful responses.

  40. This is a very good article, Steve, and you raise many interesting points. I haven’t got much to add to some of the very educated responses posted here, but I just re-watched the Jenkins video, and she really is making a hash of it. Over-weighted, no interpretation to speak of. (does she even understand Italian? It doesn’t look like it)

    Her accuracy on the scales is very approximate, and she isn’t using the forward placement which fast coloratura demands, ie steering the voice from a point of concentration high and forward in the skull. This takes the pressure off the chords, and provides the forward motion and focus required. Her over-plummy sound plus the fact that she has totally run out of steam by the disastrous last high note give us a clear rating for her technique.

    Bel canto repertoire shows up non bel canto singers wonderfully well. It is the great lie test of opera!

  41. amyperryguitar

    What a great read, my thoughts exactly about KJ and the classical crossover industry in general. I’m a musician and a few years ago, I took part in a competition that was looking for the next KJ type of musician. Some of the singers were told that their voices were too developed, too powerful and too much vibrato. In essence, they were told they were too good! Another competitor was told to play with a paper bag over their head, they completely disregarded the quality of the playing but focused on the image and aesthetics.

  42. This is an aria I sing, so I know how technically demanding it is. It requires first-rate breath-control and good coloratura technique.

    Depending on the key it is sung in (Mezzo Sopranos tend to sing it in E major, whilst Sopranos take it up a semitone and sing it in F) the lowest note is a g# and the sky is the limit, yet neither the lowest note or the highest note in KJ’s performance is convincing as her placement is poor due to lack of support, and her coloratura technique is also found wanting.

    All the other singers named in the blog, and its response deliver with full aplomb.

    The reason I learnt it and perform it in recitals (including 90 minute recitals) is that it is well suited to Sopranos and Mezzos with strong Coloratura and bottom notes as well as the stratispheric stuff. It is also funny and witty, and a pleasant foil to all the other typical mad-scene and other tragic repertoire. It is a test of technique, characterisation, and musicality.

    Even if the general public cannot differentiate between KJ and the late Maria Callas and the other singers, there are enough people who can. The story of the underdog made good always will sell records. She earns far more than I do, that is life, that is no reason for bitterness or to carp at the sidelines. I criticise based on my subject knowledge and on what I hear; there are no sour grapes.

  43. Just a little personal anecdote: I study to be a classical singer and a few years ago when I worked as a steward at the RAH, I heard Miss Jenkins rehearse for this performance (in the video above), whilst distributing programmes on the seats…. I became so irritated by her slaughtering of this aria, that I actually had to leave the auditorium and wait in the corridor until she finished singing! (which was only another 5mins, mind you.) I’m glad I didn’t have to sit inside for the actual performance as well! ;)

  44. What I find offensive is, her short change, a pair of her shoes, her hotel suite for one night or a fraction of her tax relief could quite happily pay for me to continue studying with a top flight teacher, record an album, and live a reasonable quality of life. The money she makes from being touted as an opera singer is a kick in the teeth for those of us who will never be able to make our hard work and dreams reality. It’s the fault of her and those who promote her that I have had to give up on a career in singing.

  45. Can you guess what language this is?

  46. I came across your blog by accident, and I absolutely love this post. You had me laughing all the way through. As a classical singing student at a Dutch conservatorium, I can completely relate to the things you said. It’s sad that people study for years and years, and someone like that just claims to have the same level. This post would have been disheartening and saddening if it wasn’t so humurously brought by you. :)

  47. I guess Ms. Jenkins has no problem with an unbelievably gorgeous blonde bombshell whose gaze burns down deep into the soul playing the role of Romeo.

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