Classic sounds get hip

IF you happened to have stumbled upon recent coverage of the Classical Brits, you would surely have been forgiven for thinking the latest musical offerings rather more OTT than 'operatic'.

By Debbie Watson

IF you happened to have stumbled upon recent coverage of the Classical Brits, you would surely have been forgiven for thinking the latest musical offerings rather more OTT than 'operatic'.

The world of classical music has come a long way in terms of modernising its own image, and here Debbie Watson asks if its an image we're truly comfortable with.

ONCE upon a time, classical music encapsulated itself in an image of utter refinement.

Talented musical artists dressed in the finest formalwear, melodies tuneful to the ear of the middle-aged critic, and an air of sombre appreciation emanating from within the most supreme theatrical venue.

This was the world of classical entertainment as we had come to know it - The one we hadn't foreseen changing.

Most Read

But those were the days in which the likes of Aled Jones were the only young operatic enthusiasts we could possibly have named off hand.

Those were the days pre-Charlotte Church, pre-Bond. Those were the days before modern pop and youth markets created a change.

When this year's Classical Brits came to our television screens never was it more clear that the transition had taken place.

On stage and clearly making a bold statement about the developments in their music genre, several acts proved their updated presence beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Take the Opera Babes.

Dressed in figure-hugging bustiers and posed in front of five young, toned and attractive male dancers, their voices confirmed a classical technique, but a widely acceptable 'modern twist'.

To the traditionalists and more stern classical critics among the audience, it was, quite likely, a move too far – and one that could not help to confirm the direction in which this musical style is heading.

Proud of the contemporary feel themselves, the Opera Babes claim that they are putting 'classical' into a more acceptable form.

Rebecca Knight, half of the stylish duo, told the BBC recently: "There are lots of mezzo-soprano duets in classical music but many of them are not palatable enough for people to relate to,"

She added: "We have tried to maintain the classical integrity while making these things more appealing to a wider audience."

But however hard they try to transform opinion, Knight, and her musical partner Karen England, are surely no strangers to the sceptical views of those 'purists' who have followed the genre of classical music for many years.

Perhaps that's just part of the reason that the duo have been touring schools by way of attracting a new generation to appreciate their sounds.

And yet, England and Knight are simply following in the footsteps of other 'modern thinking' operatic artists.

Charlotte Church pushed her way in to the limelight at the age of just 11 back in 1997.

She appeared on a television programme, and was promptly signed by Sony for her vocal talent.

Her impressive achievements have included a handful of albums already, being the youngest ever artist to have a number one album in the classical charts – and of course, raising the profile of her music genre beyond all expectation.

Then there was Bond.

That all-female group placed themselves at the centre of great controversy when they emerged into the public spotlight in 2000.

The female string quartet was sensationally banned from the classical listings for sounding too much like pop music.

At the time, Haylie Ecker, 24, of Bond, said: "In a modern world it is disappointing that the classical elite cannot embrace change."

In reality, despite their talent, their image perhaps did little to encourage a place in the hearts of the traditional classical-lover.

As was seen in each of their public performances from their dress, they clearly weren't afraid to show themselves as fashionable, lively, and thoroughly thoroughly modern.

In fact, there was arguably little more Classical or Opera-Inspired about their appearance than there was when Atomic Kitten (another hugely popular female music offering) took to the stage in Ipswich earlier this year.

So, must we simply accept that the lines are merging?

Must we accept that classical has gone funky? Must we accept that it has created its own marriage to the pop world, and that this contemporary stance is here to stay?

Well, it looks more than likely.

After all, few could deny the huge popularity that the Opera Babes – or fellow modern Classical act The Planets – had when they took to the stage for the Albert Hall awards ceremony.

And, given that the Opera Babes were a prominent part of a certain Jubilee performance in the Palace grounds a few weeks ago, perhaps these contemporary musical women have not only gained a public seal of approval – but a royal one as well.