An unexpected crossover: a rock guitarist plays opera

I will confess that I have never liked very much of the popular music of my lifetime. Once I got out of college, I stopped paying attention entirely. As I have studied the history of popular music, I noticed that from its beginnings at the end of the eighteenth century through the heyday of Tin Pan Alley, it was marketed to adults.

Beginning with the rock music, marketers have sought to appeal to teenagers or even younger children. It appears that the audiences age along with the performers. Many people in their thirties and forties consider the Rolling Stones to old to keep playing rock, for instance.

And so I wondered, where will there be continuity? Is there still an audience for Tin Pan Alley songs that’s much younger than I am? Will any music popular to one generation be of any interest to any later one? And with so many school music programs as risk from funding cuts, how will any critical mass of young people even hear classical music?

Those of you who enjoy recent popular music and know the scene, please hold your laughter, go on to the videos, and enjoy some very expressive performances. But first let me explain why they are a revelation to me.

I recently received an email with a video clip said to be Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck playing “Nessun dorma” from Puccini’s opera Turandot. The person who sent it promptly corrected herself. Clapton sat out the number and Beck played it alone, and very well.

As I listened, I knew I wanted to share it with my readers, but that particular video started with about a minute and a half applause for whatever Clapton had just finished playing. Fortunately, I noticed that YouTube had other performances of Beck’s “Nessun dorma” to choose from, given in several different cities.

On the way to making my selection, I read some of the comments. Although Beck has gotten criticism for performing this piece, most commenters loved it. One said, “My favorite aria by my favorite guitarist.” There is certainly no reason why someone can’t like both rock and opera. I am always happy to see evidence that some people do, in fact, like both.

I couldn’t help but notice videos of Beck and/or Clapton playing “Moon River,” “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and other pieces that certainly do not come from the rock mainstream. I have selected one of several videos of Beck playing the “Corpus Christi Carol.”

Somewhere, I have some sheet music of a setting by Benjamin Britten. I don’t recall hearing a performance, recording, or radio broadcast of his or any other setting. Wherever Beck found tune, he clearly has fairly broad knowledge of all kinds of music and believes his audiences will enjoy even lesser-known pieces. I’m so glad he’s right about that.


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