Preaching to the choir

I don't know Katherine Jenkins. I've never met Katherine Jenkins. I have no personal beef with her and I have no idea what she's like.
These facts, these demonstrations of my personal disinterest (note the proper use of that word), and my own thirty years-plus of experience as a professional singer qualify me well I would think to give you my informed opinion that she is a pretty poor singer. Or to refine that a little: she's a pretty, poor singer.
That's alright. There are plenty about. I'm not about to claim that I on the other hand am a great singer, because my abilities are actually irrelevant. It's my experience that is crucial here. I'm not writing about my singing, I'm writing about hers.
My field of experience is classical music and opera and I can tell you straight away that Katherine Jenkins is not very good at singing opera. This could be because I'm told she's never actually sung an opera, and contrary to what you may think, we opera singers are all waiting for her to sing one to see how well she does in the exercise. On the evidence so far, "badly" would be the likely outcome. In a general audition for an opera house, she would be swiftly on her way out of the stage door and her agent would be in receipt of a tetchy email from the casting director.

And yet Katherine Jenkins is terribly rich and famous. Do I envy her wealth? Not much. Do I envy her career? Not a bit of it. I wouldn't do what she does for all the tea in China.
So, there we are, I think we've established that I'm not writing this with any sort of personal axe to grind. If I have a sense of outrage, and I do, it must be fuelled by something else. And in trying to pin down what that outrage is I've decided it must boil down to the way that Katherine Jenkins, Russell Watson, and all the others of the pop-opera ilk have taken a beautiful art form and turned it into a chintzy piece of crap, solely with the aim of making someone a lot of money.
Ah, there's the rub. I said "making someone a lot of money".
There's an old story about a tenor going up to Doncaster, I think it was, to sing a concert. The morning after the gig, he was waiting for a train back to London and a man approached him on the station platform.
"Are thee t' singer from last night?"
"Why, yes I am" said the tenor, flattered to be recognised.
"Aye, well, I don't blame thee. I blame them that sent thee."
I don't blame Katherine Jenkins. I blame the people around her who clearly know a lot about public relations but sod-all about serious music; the people who are quite happy to fire this operatic poo out of their glittery cannon.
Their strategy is getting very tired. Basically it is this: play up the humble, unstuffy, girl-next-door origins of the protege while simultaneously describing any critic of the protege as a pitiable, elitist, over-educated snob. The genuine ingenue versus the snooty establishment. It's basically how George W Bush got elected.
Now the PR monsters have over-reached themselves. They've pilloried critics of Katherine Jenkins as bullies. A spoof Twitter account which brilliantly parodied Jenkins' cutesy self-promotion, and a blog, We Love Katherine Jenkins, which did the same for the the fanzine culture that surrounds the singer, have both closed down under pressure, I can only suppose, from Jenkins' "team". There's an excellent blogpost by Steve Silverman here about this.
Let me now retract my so-called qualifications for making a judgment about Katherine Jenkins' singing. Let's say I'm not a singer at all. I'm an accountant. Why shouldn't I voice my opinions about someone who is trying to sell me her goods? If I think a washing machine is a pile of rubbish, do I have to be a qualified engineer to say so? No. Might I not be entitled to say "it looks very flash, with lots of knobs and lights, but it does a very poor job of cleaning my socks"? And if I thought the manufacturers of the said washing machine were spending far too much money making outrageous claims about their product, conning innocent people out of their hard-earned cash, wouldn't we all consider it outrageous if my attempts to wake people up through the ancient and revered art of lampoonery were silenced by the manufacturers? Of course we would.
What particularly gets my goat, and my goat has been got, is when the corporation involved (and I use the word advisedly as Jenkins is the product of a commercial venture) starts throwing its weight around using the press. I'm no fan of The Daily Mail - you only have to glance online and see its Femail section, which seems to be devoted to discussing the state of celebrity breast enhancements, to get a measure of its standards - largely because it is unusually happy to print vapid publicity puff as news, especially if there's a pretty girl like Jenkins involved for a photo op. And so it was that last week The Daily Mail was more than happy to reveal the name of Jenkins' "cyber-bully". The piece started with the usual glamour shot of Jenkins and then peppered the rest with as many unflattering pictures of the so-called stalker as it could find. The message was clear. They were trying to make the "cyber-bully" out to be some sort of lonely, sick weirdo. It really didn't matter if people read the body of the text. The pictures would do all that was necessary. It was a beauty contest and Jenkins was, on the surface, the clear winner. And then the on-line commentators, swollen with righteous indignation, weighed in and ravaged the loser of the contest in quite revolting fashion: "One word: jealous". "JEALOUS". "Jealous". "Jealousy". "JEALOUS".
Quite apart from the fact that the word they were looking for is ENVIOUS - I don't believe the victim of this abuse has any designs on Jenkins' fiancee - I am appalled by the notion that the only motivation someone could possibly have for pillorying Jenkins' singing is a hatred born of wanting to look more like her. And if you're going to attack someone on the basis of how they look (and I'm talking here about the commentators) isn't that THE worst form of bullying? In fact, given that the entire gist of The Daily Mail's article is rooted in mock outrage against bullying isn't the whole thing a disgusting and massive exercise in irony? I've yet to witness a more blatant piece of intimidation by an organ of the press.
And if your weren't outraged enough (and I know I am), the person they've picked on so viciously ISN'T the author of the Twitter account that Jenkins found so offensive. She may be a small thorn in the side of the Jenkins empire, vocal in her dislike of her singing and plastic image, but, as I think I've made the case, she has every right to be!
(Actually I can think of another instance of such extraordinary intimidation. When Joanna Yeates was murdered last Christmas, several tabloids, including The Daily Mail, decided that her landlord looked rather odd and that was all they needed to rip him to shreds and pretty-well string him up for the murder. The landlord later won substantial damages.)
Now a paranoia has descended on the social media. One word against Katherine Jenkins and people fear they will feel the hand of PC Plod on their shoulder. Good grief.
But I don't blame Katherine Jenkins. I blame them that sent her.


A short post-script. On Sunday Katherine Jenkins announced on Twitter that she had been presented the Mozart Award at "Unesco in Dusseldorff" (sic). Aside from the howls of derision from the operatic community, no-one can actually find any confirmation of this claim or what the award is. There's a UNESCO Mozart Medal, whose past recipients include Elizabeth Schwarzkopf and Rostropovich. Is it the same? If so, the PR machine has been remarkably subdued. You would have thought they'd be all over this news like a cheap suit. Perhaps at an overheated celeb gala something was mis-heard. But if it is indeed true and she has been awarded the Mozart Medal by a United Nations organisation, then this is one of the few instances when you can actually say that the world literally has gone mad. And I'm not afraid to say so.

Saddo abroad: Preaching to the choir

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Preaching to the choir

I don't know Katherine Jenkins. I've never met Katherine Jenkins. I have no personal beef with her and I have no idea what she's like.
These facts, these demonstrations of my personal disinterest (note the proper use of that word), and my own thirty years-plus of experience as a professional singer qualify me well I would think to give you my informed opinion that she is a pretty poor singer. Or to refine that a little: she's a pretty, poor singer.
That's alright. There are plenty about. I'm not about to claim that I on the other hand am a great singer, because my abilities are actually irrelevant. It's my experience that is crucial here. I'm not writing about my singing, I'm writing about hers.
My field of experience is classical music and opera and I can tell you straight away that Katherine Jenkins is not very good at singing opera. This could be because I'm told she's never actually sung an opera, and contrary to what you may think, we opera singers are all waiting for her to sing one to see how well she does in the exercise. On the evidence so far, "badly" would be the likely outcome. In a general audition for an opera house, she would be swiftly on her way out of the stage door and her agent would be in receipt of a tetchy email from the casting director.

And yet Katherine Jenkins is terribly rich and famous. Do I envy her wealth? Not much. Do I envy her career? Not a bit of it. I wouldn't do what she does for all the tea in China.
So, there we are, I think we've established that I'm not writing this with any sort of personal axe to grind. If I have a sense of outrage, and I do, it must be fuelled by something else. And in trying to pin down what that outrage is I've decided it must boil down to the way that Katherine Jenkins, Russell Watson, and all the others of the pop-opera ilk have taken a beautiful art form and turned it into a chintzy piece of crap, solely with the aim of making someone a lot of money.
Ah, there's the rub. I said "making someone a lot of money".
There's an old story about a tenor going up to Doncaster, I think it was, to sing a concert. The morning after the gig, he was waiting for a train back to London and a man approached him on the station platform.
"Are thee t' singer from last night?"
"Why, yes I am" said the tenor, flattered to be recognised.
"Aye, well, I don't blame thee. I blame them that sent thee."
I don't blame Katherine Jenkins. I blame the people around her who clearly know a lot about public relations but sod-all about serious music; the people who are quite happy to fire this operatic poo out of their glittery cannon.
Their strategy is getting very tired. Basically it is this: play up the humble, unstuffy, girl-next-door origins of the protege while simultaneously describing any critic of the protege as a pitiable, elitist, over-educated snob. The genuine ingenue versus the snooty establishment. It's basically how George W Bush got elected.
Now the PR monsters have over-reached themselves. They've pilloried critics of Katherine Jenkins as bullies. A spoof Twitter account which brilliantly parodied Jenkins' cutesy self-promotion, and a blog, We Love Katherine Jenkins, which did the same for the the fanzine culture that surrounds the singer, have both closed down under pressure, I can only suppose, from Jenkins' "team". There's an excellent blogpost by Steve Silverman here about this.
Let me now retract my so-called qualifications for making a judgment about Katherine Jenkins' singing. Let's say I'm not a singer at all. I'm an accountant. Why shouldn't I voice my opinions about someone who is trying to sell me her goods? If I think a washing machine is a pile of rubbish, do I have to be a qualified engineer to say so? No. Might I not be entitled to say "it looks very flash, with lots of knobs and lights, but it does a very poor job of cleaning my socks"? And if I thought the manufacturers of the said washing machine were spending far too much money making outrageous claims about their product, conning innocent people out of their hard-earned cash, wouldn't we all consider it outrageous if my attempts to wake people up through the ancient and revered art of lampoonery were silenced by the manufacturers? Of course we would.
What particularly gets my goat, and my goat has been got, is when the corporation involved (and I use the word advisedly as Jenkins is the product of a commercial venture) starts throwing its weight around using the press. I'm no fan of The Daily Mail - you only have to glance online and see its Femail section, which seems to be devoted to discussing the state of celebrity breast enhancements, to get a measure of its standards - largely because it is unusually happy to print vapid publicity puff as news, especially if there's a pretty girl like Jenkins involved for a photo op. And so it was that last week The Daily Mail was more than happy to reveal the name of Jenkins' "cyber-bully". The piece started with the usual glamour shot of Jenkins and then peppered the rest with as many unflattering pictures of the so-called stalker as it could find. The message was clear. They were trying to make the "cyber-bully" out to be some sort of lonely, sick weirdo. It really didn't matter if people read the body of the text. The pictures would do all that was necessary. It was a beauty contest and Jenkins was, on the surface, the clear winner. And then the on-line commentators, swollen with righteous indignation, weighed in and ravaged the loser of the contest in quite revolting fashion: "One word: jealous". "JEALOUS". "Jealous". "Jealousy". "JEALOUS".
Quite apart from the fact that the word they were looking for is ENVIOUS - I don't believe the victim of this abuse has any designs on Jenkins' fiancee - I am appalled by the notion that the only motivation someone could possibly have for pillorying Jenkins' singing is a hatred born of wanting to look more like her. And if you're going to attack someone on the basis of how they look (and I'm talking here about the commentators) isn't that THE worst form of bullying? In fact, given that the entire gist of The Daily Mail's article is rooted in mock outrage against bullying isn't the whole thing a disgusting and massive exercise in irony? I've yet to witness a more blatant piece of intimidation by an organ of the press.
And if your weren't outraged enough (and I know I am), the person they've picked on so viciously ISN'T the author of the Twitter account that Jenkins found so offensive. She may be a small thorn in the side of the Jenkins empire, vocal in her dislike of her singing and plastic image, but, as I think I've made the case, she has every right to be!
(Actually I can think of another instance of such extraordinary intimidation. When Joanna Yeates was murdered last Christmas, several tabloids, including The Daily Mail, decided that her landlord looked rather odd and that was all they needed to rip him to shreds and pretty-well string him up for the murder. The landlord later won substantial damages.)
Now a paranoia has descended on the social media. One word against Katherine Jenkins and people fear they will feel the hand of PC Plod on their shoulder. Good grief.
But I don't blame Katherine Jenkins. I blame them that sent her.


A short post-script. On Sunday Katherine Jenkins announced on Twitter that she had been presented the Mozart Award at "Unesco in Dusseldorff" (sic). Aside from the howls of derision from the operatic community, no-one can actually find any confirmation of this claim or what the award is. There's a UNESCO Mozart Medal, whose past recipients include Elizabeth Schwarzkopf and Rostropovich. Is it the same? If so, the PR machine has been remarkably subdued. You would have thought they'd be all over this news like a cheap suit. Perhaps at an overheated celeb gala something was mis-heard. But if it is indeed true and she has been awarded the Mozart Medal by a United Nations organisation, then this is one of the few instances when you can actually say that the world literally has gone mad. And I'm not afraid to say so.

20 Comments:

At November 22, 2011 at 6:16 PM , OpenID ivisbohlen said...

Well said! And you've sent me to my dictionary to sort out the difference between jealousy and envy. Which makes me embarrassed. Perhaps the Daily Mail is trying to distract us all from the hacking testimony this week?

 
At November 23, 2011 at 2:48 PM , Blogger AngeliCaffarelli said...

Great post!

http://singersonline.wordpress.com/

 
At November 23, 2011 at 6:11 PM , Blogger RuPe said...

Good thinking, good writing, good post,good man!

 
At November 24, 2011 at 1:27 PM , Blogger Uncle R said...

Interesting. I was singing at my one time busking slot on the opera pitch at Covent Garden and someone came up and said 'You should go to Britain's Got Talent you know. You could be another Paul Potts.' 'I don't want to be another Paul Potts,' I replied. Said commenteer was clearly mortally offended and utterly non-plussed. What she had presumed to be a compliment was met with indifference. What is a pity is that the opera profession has not been more vocal about such travesties. In particular, Vilazon's involvement in that show was for millions a clear endorsement by the profession. It is extraordinary that a lot of people will not be able to differentiate between Pav singing Nessun Dorma and Potts or me for that matter, or care a fig how far from the original key it has wandered as all they recognise is that tune. Pearls before swine as they say. I agree that it is the managers pr people of these things that are to blame. As one pr bod for Alagna once said on a tv program about his rise to fame in the early days 'He may not be a great tenor but he's sure good looking...' Hopefully this nonsense will pass and opera will go back to being the elite art form it ought to remain along with it's audiences.

 
At November 24, 2011 at 2:41 PM , Blogger Stephen Chaundy said...

I think that you've hit the nail on the head with blaming those around her and the media ..... Blame indeed those that sent her.

 
At November 24, 2011 at 8:48 PM , Blogger Elaine said...

You can't fault KJ for self promotion and hard work in doing same, but gosh her talent is so little, her self delusion so great and her roots sooooo bad....

 
At November 25, 2011 at 11:32 AM , Blogger Ran said...

I don't only blame those that sent her, I blame the quite frankly idiotic 'Great' British public for continually buying her records. And for all the legitimate singers who tune in to Popstar to Freudstar to watch the 'traincrash'. It all contributes to ratings. Villazon and Domingo (who does concert tours with her) have no issue about accepting gigs with her. So what can we do? I can't bear her, but more so I can't bear the morons who support and buy her albums. It's pretty much the same as the fact that Katie Jordan Price still has her own TV show. Someone is watching it to justify it's existence, just like someone is buying KJs albums. I've stopped blaming her....

 
At November 26, 2011 at 10:18 AM , Blogger Mouslets5 said...

To Ran. Except..there is a cunning mendacity with regard to her own definition of herself. Opera Mag's refusal to review her's or Watso's opera albums because they are not opera singers is the right decision. I also love the Beckham analogy of football juggling vs the actual game on the pitch.

 
At November 28, 2011 at 9:10 PM , Blogger Lucie said...

When I first saw you query the use of the word jealous, I was mighty confused and thought I had been using then word incorrectly all my life. But then I checked the Oxford Dictionary and the first definition which appears for the word jealous is "feeling or showing an envious resentment of someone or their achievements, possessions, or perceived advantages". So I am interested in finding out why you suggest the word "envious" is more appropriate in these circumstances. Thank you. Confused.com

 
At November 28, 2011 at 11:29 PM , Blogger Chris Gillett said...

It sounds like the Oxford Dictionary has accepted the common use of the word (in the same way it probably accepts "disinterested" as another way of saying "uninterested" because it too has become a very common misuse). The difference between jealousy and envy is better explained here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jealousy
It may not seem that important but there really is a difference between jealousy and envy!

 
At November 28, 2011 at 11:38 PM , Blogger Chris Gillett said...

Here we are:
"Envy" and "jealousy" are often used interchangeably, but in correct usage they stand for two different distinct emotions.[1] In proper usage, jealousy is the fear of losing something that one possesses to another person (a loved one in the prototypical form), while envy is the pain or frustration caused by another person having something that one does not have oneself.

 
At December 4, 2011 at 9:05 AM , Blogger James Murray said...

My mother was a jazz buff. Anybody remember jazz? It was very popular when my mother was young. It's not now because, I am convinced, jazz became what it is today:

Music for musicians.

I suspect, opera is the same. I thought I liked KJ. She was something of an introduction to opera for me. I enjoyed hearing her sing.

Now, because of all this discriminating scorn, I don't listen to her so much. So now I'm listening to:

None of you.

 
At December 4, 2011 at 12:05 PM , Blogger The Baritone said...

Good post! In some strange way I feel a little sorry for KJ. People like her and Watson get swept along by the huge machine they have sold their souls to, not realising how exacting and demanding an art real opera really is. They really shouldn't be so surprised that the opera professionals shows disdain when their amateurish attempts at real opera singing are paraded as 'the real thing'.
Stick to stock crossover hits and they'd be left alone in that anodyne category, still be successful, and save themselves the blushes.

 
At March 20, 2012 at 8:42 PM , Blogger Faith said...

Oh dear! When I was studying singing and for a long time after there was no such thing as "crossover". It must have been invented for the"nicht Fisch, nicht Fleisch" (= not fish, not meat) kind of singer who fails to actually achieve vocal prowess, but has the looks, marketing, agents etc. to get him or her a career in singing (or what passes for it) something or other despite quite obvious vocal blemishes. After 6 years studying and achieving the highest awards available at the Royal Academy of Music in London, I came to Germany to learn German properly and find a theatre job and sang over 100 roles, including a whole lot of title parts. I was 23 when I started. All that stuff Miss Jenkins "gives off" merely serves to demonstrate her ignorance of what it's really like to be a singer in general and an opera singer in particular.
But in a world where success is judged by appearances and bank balances, she got it right and I certainly got it wrong.
There are of course other examples of singers who got there without actually learning the job e.g. Boyle and Potts. Winning a casting show is nowadays a good stepping stone. I expect there are thousands more would-be's around. Luck be a lady tonight!
But in the old days some also employed tricks to cover vocal inadequacies. A very famous Australian Soprano sang Queen of the Night at Covent Garden with both big arias in lower keys. No prize for guessing who. We students were shocked to the core at the time.
These days microphones are often used on the opera stage to "enhance" the sound. The secret of singing without "enhancement" is PROJECTION. Microphone users leave it to the electronics to do that job. I could go on....

 
At April 4, 2012 at 3:06 AM , Blogger mezzobuff said...

Self delusion fueled by an army of "yes men" can take you far, it appears.

 
At May 7, 2012 at 3:33 PM , Blogger Seamonkey said...

Being rich and famous for something you can't do is ridiculous. Saying Katherine Jenkins can sing opera is like saying Steven Hawking can run the four minute mile.

 
At January 15, 2013 at 12:49 AM , Blogger Joanna Lee said...

Jenkins is no opera singer. I do blame her for the ridicule that she engenders. She first said that her voice wouldn't be ready for opera until age 30. Then after she turned 30, she claimed that all opera singers are fat and ugly, so she's too beautiful for opera. She refuses to face the fact that she has not the voice nor the technique to sing opera. If she would stop with the pretensions to being an opera singer and never correcting anyone who calls her an opera singer or opera star, she wouldn't be so bad...but she keeps on with this ridiculous posturing. She deserves every bit of ridicule and derision that comes her way.

 
At February 9, 2013 at 12:12 PM , Blogger Stephen Whitaker said...

Faith, have you never heard of Deanna Durbin or Joseph Locke? Gracie Fields attempting the "Nun's Chorus"? Tauber and Pinza singing popular repertoire? The idea that this type of performer is a recent invention is a myth.
Similarly it is a myth that the likes of KJ, RW, Susan Boyle and Paul Potts are untutored beginners warbling without any knowledge of what they're attempting.

 
At March 17, 2013 at 3:32 PM , Blogger Crazy about Priest said...

This is an interesting debate. I agree with everyone who says what Jenkins is doing is not opera. However, I'd also like to state that what The Three Tenors did was not opera either. Furthermore, I wonder why that was also not denounced in these very terms for what it was, irrespective of the pedigree of the singers. If it is ok for Pavarotti to take 'opera' to the masses by singing with amps in stadiums, is it not ok for Jenkins to do so, albeit less impressively? I do believe the whole Three Tenors business legitimized popera to a great degree. I think it is important for the world of opera to resolve this dilemma - inclusion or exclusion, make your choice. Can't have the cake and eat it too.

 
At December 2, 2013 at 12:13 AM , Blogger Alex Carter said...

I laughed out loud... thank you so much! My husband shared this with me. He has in the past played for some of her gigs in an orchestra. Can you imagine the torture?! Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide... On live telly etc. It must be torture to keep an inscrutable expression going for the whole concert. ;)

 

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