The Worst!!

[a confessional posting at this stage in the life cycle of the blog felt weird so I keeled it. instead, something I started a thousand million years ago]

Ok more opera. You asked for it. You will be sorry!

Sometimes what is interesting about a grotesque trend is trying to figure out why it happened at all.


So that’s Charlotte Church, singing on British tv at age 11. This was a long while back, before Britain’s Got A Modicum of Questionable Talent and all that. I find it sort of sweet. Charlotte Church went on to become an extremely well-marketed product, releasing albums of mixed pop and opera-lite, and then as I understand it she went through a kind of Lindsay Lohan patch or something and maybe started singing pure pop music.

Two trends follow: the trope of “some schmo from the sticks has a voice–you know, with vibrato and everything!” (see under: Boyle, Susan and….oh, that guy who was a cell phone salesman and went on one of these shows); also, more child opera singers, though one might be a dick and put “opera singer” in scare quotes. Both of these trends relied strangely on the reduction of opera in the televidic imagination to basically two pieces of music. One is “Nessun Dorma” from Turandot, which got performed horribly, fabulously by Aretha Franklin


I mean this is the best and worst thing that ever happened musically. Her Italian is jaw-droppingly terrible, like she gets every word break and word stress wrong, it’s stylistically god-knows what, but of course it’s endlessly fun and her musicality, if you take idiom out of the question is unimpeachable.

The other piece of music comprising opera is “O, mio Babbino caro” from Gianni Schicchi which already had a public life…it was a thing in the early 90s after featuring prominently in A Room with a View and being in a few commercials. But it turned out what everyone REALLY wanted to hear was little girls singing it. Not that it matters a lot, but what is actually happening in the aria is that a young woman is begging her father to let her marry a young dude, saying she’ll toss herself in the Arno if she can’t, but in a cute way.

Anyway one of the chickadees who earned a gazillion dollars by singing this is, and yeah I am actually going to google-proof this because her fans are seriously insane*, Ja/ckie Eva/ncho.


Everything about this is horrible, the gaga backstory, the weird arm gestures, but most of all a ten-year-old trying to sing like she’s thirty. Most people who have any opinions about singing will tell you this is a terrible idea that’s going to wreck her voice, which I think turned out to be true with Charlotte Church after she laid on similar effects, but mostly what’s so grotesque is just this chain of ideas that 1) opera is about singing in a pretentious, overblown style 2) it would be adorable to have ten-year-olds do this 3) they should all sing the same goddamn piece of music…and on and on. I’m not one to get all sticky about childhood but there’s something particularly galling to me about little kids trying to appear, in various ways, adult. Like when the little girl sings the beginning of that Christmas song I actually kind of love in sultry-croaky voice in the worst movie ever made, Love Actually. As a friend said in response to this non-operatic grand guignol from Sweden


“Enough. I don’t want the words “whiskey-soaked” and “seven-year-old” anywhere near each other.”

Amen. I actually had to turn that clip off. But this brings us to the apotheosis of blech:


This still makes me laugh. Talking, she’s a cute kid. Singing, she makes me regret having senses. The tone is hideous, she looks miserable, she is not singing the words in any particular order, and because she is nine and listening to older people who just want her to be marketable, she caps the whole thing off with an unsteady, unwritten high note that is wholly vulgar.

The only good direction this trend can go is if someone will turn it up to 11 and have these kids sing Elektra’s monologue about avenging the murder of her father or something. Like wouldn’t this be darling with a little moppet singing all grown up?


I’m not sure there’s actually a narrative here. I just wanted an excuse to post all those awful links. I hope they curdle your blood in an amusing way!

*I mean insane insane. They have internet forums for discussing her greatness and expressing anger at people who don’t get her and writing creepy, creepy poems. The friend quoted above found one of the poems that begins

I love you like sunshine loves the bright green grass
And helps it keep growing
as all the days pass

From there it gets, I don’t know, vaguely molesty?

10 responses to “The Worst!!”

  1. LP says:

    Grumpy Smearcase is the best Smearcase!

    Where to begin? I love how the karaoke-level reverb instantly pops in when little Charlotte Church starts warbling. (I also quite enjoyed how the host pronounces “Cawoline.”) She can sing, but her super-precocious sense of confidence is annoying as hell. And of course, singing notes beautifully isn’t the same as infusing a song with emotion and heft.

    Aretha’s R&B stylings mixed with opera is a fantastic mishmash, as you say. I’d kind of like to hear more artists who are famous for very particular styles do this. Jon Bon Jovi, say. Or, like, Gloria Estefan. Just not Zoe Deschanel, please.

    That seven-year-old singing Gloomy Sunday is just bizarre. She really does have a similar tone / timbre to Billie Holiday, which she’s clearly been honing. Good parlor trick! I tried to imitate Pavarotti as a kid, but with far less success.

    Oh, and is it just me, or does anyone else see an odd resemblance between little Amira Willighagen and a young Molly W?

  2. Mister Smearcase says:

    Video plz of Pavarotti imitation!

    There are other instances I know of pop singers opera-ing it up, but they made the mistake of not molding the whole thing around their pop style/what they’re good at. Cheryl Crow sings an endearingly bad Don Giovanni duet with Pav himself, and David Byrne and Rufus Wainwright recorded an excruciating account of the big duet from The Pearl Fishers.

  3. LP says:

    For most of third grade, I was convinced I would be a famous tenor someday.

  4. LP says:

    Wow. I sounded like a girl trying to sing like a man singing tenor. Ruby Helder sounds like… a man. And, well, judging from that wiki photo, she kind of looks like one too.

    I googled “Highland Hotel” in Hollywood, where she supposedly died, but could only find the “Highland Gardens Hotel.” Wonder if that’s the place…?

  5. LP says:

    Please skip to 2:08 in this video.

  6. Mr. S says:

    Oh fer fuck’s sake. But thank you for sharing this abomination. (Better in some ways, and worse in some ways, than creepy little Jackie. Pretty much better in all ways than Amira, though.)

  7. Mr. S says:

    I was listening without visuals for most of it both because his eyes skeeve me out and because I am pretending to work. I’m wondering if my favorite thing happened, which is that one of the judges will often sit there trying to blink up some tears because PEOPLE CRY AT OPERA. I remember this in particular with Paul Potts (wait is that actually his name or did I make that up? It sounds awfully like Pol Pot) where this judge who looked like maybe a former Spice Girl was practically jabbing herself in the eye to drum up tears.

  8. J Wood says:

    more opera posts please

  9. Bryan says:

    A quick note to say I enjoyed this post but had to read it slowly, over several days. Just couldn’t do that many of those clips in a row.