What is ‘Classical Crossover’?

It has only been in recent years that classical crossover music has been defined as its own genre, however, the practice of singers with classical training ‘crossing over’ to sing popular music is not new. Performers like Mario Lanza, Deanna Durbin, Jeanette Macdonald, Kathryn Grayson and Jane Powell popularized the tradition in the 1900’s. In fact, in days past, it was not unusual for popular singers to possess classical backgrounds.

Opera singers are highly trained musicians who perform full-length operas live without the use of amplification. Most opera singers study for years and additionally are fluent in many languages (usually Italian, German & French) and have a thorough knowledge of music history and theory. They devote themselves to this art form and are especially skilled at bringing the great composer’s vision to life. They may, on occasion dabble in popular styles of music (Renee Fleming being a notable example) but opera remains their main focus.

Classical Crossover performers on the other hand usually receive some training in classical technique (Laura Wright & Katherine Jenkins both studied at the Royal Academy of Music) but have chosen not to peruse the operatic stage. They are most likely to be heard on studio recordings or live concerts. The repertoire of most classical crossover performers leans more towards popular music, although the “top hits” of opera are also included. Their vocals and inflections are often more similar to Broadway performers. Most depend on amplification to project to their audience – although there are many exceptions. The music, in general, has a great appeal to the public who enjoy listening to a trained voice sing popular and classic favorites.

The strength of the classical crossover genre lies in the freedom of artists to express themselves without the confines of a particular technique or musical style. There is a wealth of material available to the classical crossover performer – in fact, there are currently no limits to what songs can be given a crossover treatment.

Crossover performers often receive criticism due to incorrect marketing from their record labels and sometimes the performer themselves. While taste and technique will always bring lively discussion, there is room for both genres to co-exist and thrive. To do so it is especially important for classical crossover musicians to identify themselves as such and raise awareness about the genre.