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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

'Tis the Season

...to sell CDs

It's been a long time since classical musicians and opera singers have attained Mega-Superstar status in the eye of the general public. For this type of musician, it seems as if the very highest level of fame and notoriety has been reserved for only a hand full of greats (such as Caruso).

However, this year I have noticed a concerted effort by the recording companies to market their classical artists a more aggressively way - perhaps out of sheer desperation. For example, I've seen prominent television commercials promoting hefty CD box sets of music performed by Yo-Yo Ma and Joshua Bell. It's not everyday that one sees a spiffy Yo-Yo Ma TV commercial. Then again, his new box set of 90 CDs lists for $789.98. That's more than I paid for my first car!

Perhaps it is the Holiday Season that prompts the mainstream broadcast networks let a classical artist onto their set. High Holidays = High Culture.

Such was the case last evening when two-time Grammy winner Renée Fleming appeared live from LA on (of all places) The Late Late Show with Craig Furguson.

Clearly, her label Decca had arranged for Ms. Fleming to appear on the air to sell her new CD titled Verismo. The CD was released in September, and has already been a commercial success by classical music standards. Her new recording features a collection of rarely heard Italian arias with the Orchestra Giuseppe Verdi di Milano conducted by Marco Armiliato.


Renée Fleming is no stranger to the wider media. She has represented Rolex and launched her own line of fragrance, "La Voce by Renée Fleming." Her brand well-placed.

So it is natural that I stayed up past my usual bed time to hear one of America's great opera singers on television. Her latest CD is an interesting compilation that celebrates the composers of the "Verismo" style.

Verismo refers to a post-Romantic Italian operatic tradition. It is associated with Italian composers such as Giacomo Puccini, but its practitioners were greatly influenced by the work of Richard Wagner. Verismo advocates naturalism and realism on the stage as well as in the music. The score is written to reflect the scenery, action, or a character’s feelings, but arias are not tailored to wow the audience with catchy melodies or vocal gymnastics.

How often do we have the opportunity to hear one of these musical rarities, such as an aria by Umberto Giordano, on late night TV?


Umberto Giordano (1867 - 1948) was from Southern Italy and one of the great practitioners of the Verismo style. His opera Siberia had been a success. It is set in Russia during the first half of the 19th century. After the opera's New York première, it was suggested that the plot was based on Tolstoy's novel Resurrection.

The world-première of Siberia took place on December 19th, 1903 at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. The composer revised it in 1927. Little did he know that his music would later be featured on the Late Late Show with Criag Furguson.

The "Monday night run-up to Xmas Show" began in typical form. Furguson's monologue was on the edgy side. Apparently a member of the audience had just vomited in the studio before the program went on the air, and Furguson was a warehouse full of vomit jokes. Furguson rambled on insanely about a number of vomit-related topics, and then told a story about how he had pizza cravings when he was on heroin. He managed to slip in a joke about his penis before the first commercial break.

Then it was time for the glamorous Ms. Fleming to perform. Ferguson held up her CD for the camera, and said "Verismo is Italian for Alcohol Poisoning."

She looked a little out of place in her elegant low-cut black evening gown standing before a blood-thirsty, ill-mannered audience that had just been pumped up on raunchy jokes and metaphors about vomit. But the show must go on, and it did with Giordano's beautiful aria Nel So Amore from the opera Siberia...





After the performance the network immediately cut to commercials - including one with the following catchy jingle:

Nicorette - Makes quitting suck less


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