How the classic crossover fueled creativity

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Classic crossing. A term that sets purists back, that defines a genre without genre that has classical musical culture in arms even though it has non-specialized charts under its yoke. Yet the core ethos of the crossover isn’t as distinct from classic ideology as purists would like to think, nor is it as sincere in its crossing of genres as its fans might assume.

Crossover is about turning the ambition of opera into operatic glamour, fusing the emotional scale of classical music with the marketing and sonic world of pop. The result should be records, performances and careers that appeal to the greatest possible audience with the greatest possible impact.

And it works: it’s not just that Ludovic Einaudi, André Rieu, Katherine Jenkins, Michael Ball and Alfie Boe generally sell more records than musicians who stick to non-crossover classical; these are just the latest manifestations of a phenomenon that dates back to the beginnings of the recording industry. Enrico Caruso and Nellie Melba were doing something similar in their recording careers, singing opera outtakes, folksongs and popular tunes in new arrangements to sell 78 millions; and between these recording pioneers and today’s crossover artists there is a chain of connection from Mario Lanza to the Three Tenors, from Kenneth McKellar to Andrea Bocelli.

And there’s another sense in which the snobbery directed at crossover is both misplaced and ahistorical. Without crossing popular musical theater with Masonic ritual and lyrical virtuosity, by Mozart The magic flute (a die best operas for beginners) could not have been composed; without crossing Renaissance polyphony with baroque counterpoint and romantic sublimity, Beethoven solemn mass would not have been written; and without fusion oratorio with cycle of songs, symphony and opera of the imagination, MahlerThe Eighth Symphony could not exist.

The weirdness of music in today’s classic crossover charts is that it’s less likely to cross genres than contemporary “classic” music: crossover is now a distinct genre of production, product and performance that is defined and pampered in its own realm of operatic brilliance, which intersects – ironically – with nothing but itself.

Before, it was so different. And if you want to experience the true power of what’s possible when opera meets pop, a place where the intersecting equation – more + more = more – truly shakes the foundations of heaven, you need to hear Freddie’s album Mercury with Montserrat Caballé: Barcelona. The meeting of these voices crosses the currents of musical genres to produce something irresistibly excessive that flies into a new musical dimension: get ready to travel with Freddie and Montserrat to cross and beyond… to Barcelona!

Top illustration by Maria Corte Maidagan

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