Over the years, certain classical music works have gained popularity amongst pop music fans, thereby achieving crossover status. Some of these classical music pieces include the Symphony No. 3 by Henryk Górecki, Canon in D by Johann Pachelbel, and the second movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21, K. 467 from its appearance in the 1967 film Elvira Madigan.
Classical Crossover is used to refer to classical artists’ recordings of popular repertoire including the Broadway show tunes, as well as collaborations between pop music artists and classical music performers. A good example that fits this definition is the album songs from the Labyrinth, by Sting and Edin Karamazov. An earlier example of classical crossover music is Deep Purple’s 1969 album – Concerto for Group and Orchestra, while a recent example is Metallica’s 1999 album S&M.
The most popular vocal classical crossover artist is Mario Lanza, the American tenor and movie star who was popular in the 1950s, whose amazing voice caught the attention of even those who were not die-hard classical music fans. Lanza was signed as an artist to RCA Victor on its premium label – Red Seal. One of his most amazing musical feats was his recording of Be My Love, from The Toast of New Orleans, his second film, which hit Number One on the Billboard pop singles chart in February 1951 and sold more than 2-million copies. To-date, no classical label artist, including The Three Tenors, has been able to match this achievement.
However, the beginning of classical crossover as a truly popular form of music is credited to the famous “three tenors” Pavarotti, Careras, and Domingo. During their tours, these three top opera singers presented a mixture of operatic and popular material to huge crowds, which resulted in the production of enormously successful albums.
In recent years classical crossover has come into its own as a genre of music due to the commercial successes of artist such as Yo-Yo Ma and Josh Groban. Through the infusion of elements of pop, rock and influences such as African chants, Appalachian folk tunes and Nordic fishing songs, these musicians bring a new dimension to classical music.
An example of a successful classical crossover group is Il Divo, a creation of Simon Cowell of “American Idol” fame. According to Billboard magazine, the group’s debut album has sold nearly five million copies, and over a million in the United States. Il Divo offers angelic operatic renditions of pop songs, which have been successful on Billboard’s classical crossover chart. Their style is mainly referred to as “Popera” (Pop + opera) which refers to the singing of opera material in a popularized, but still operatic style. Some members of Il Divo have had operatic training and are able to sing many arias and other classical material using an operatic style of singing.
Singers such as the English soprano Sarah Brightman, Charlotte Church, and self-taught Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli also offer renditions of classical works. The fact that these are done by popular singers has also helped transform classical crossover into a popular genre of its own.
To reciprocate the entry of popular singers covering operatic and classical material, trained opera singers, such as Natasha Marsh, Bryn Terfel and Vittorio Grigolo have also produced classical crossover albums hoping to cash in on this genre’s popularity.
Today, Classical crossover music is generally appealing to a bigger segment of the population, although purists criticize it as being an inferior, diluted version of real classical music. Nevertheless, the increasing popularity of this genre has resulted in more young people gaining interest in classical music enough to take up violin lessons or even lessons in opera singing. This has also been fuelled by the glossy, sexy marketing of most of the successful crossover artists that has transformed them into modern day pop stars.