Ashley Marie Slater and Luperci de Souza, founding members of classical crossover duo “Classique,” may be shiny, chic, and modern, but their passion for the scintillating music of Hollywood from the 1920s to the 1950s proves that “everything old is new again.”
Their first single, “Be My Love,” was a breakout crossover hit for the great tenor Mario Lanza, while their second single, “Amado Mio,” first enchanted audiences as it was lip-synced by Rita Hayworth in “Gilda.”
In this interview, Classique takes us through some of their early influences, and the reasons they are drawn to movie music of the past: the source of classical crossover as we know it today.
In the vast genre amalgam that is classical crossover, what drew you to the songs of early “movie musical” and operetta?
We wanted to remain true to our classical training and the songs we’ve chosen really allow us to do so. We really love the beautiful classical voices of the movie musical era, in particular Mario Lanza, and we’ve received a great audience response from songs of this period. This era represents an incredible period of music making in American history as well, and contains so much fantastic music.
I see in a recent Spotify playlist you shared that there is a distinct Hollywood influence — is this a clue to what songs we can expect in your upcoming album?
Yes! Both of our singles, “By My Love,” and “Amado Mio” are from Hollywood films of the 1940s and 1950s. Just as they do today, the studios had wonderful composers writing music for the silver screen, and since singing actors were quite popular, there was more of an emphasis on song writing. We’ve given many of these songs our own spin, as they may or may not have been written for a classical voice. For example, one of Ashley’s favorite films is the 1946 film noir “Gilda” starring Rita Hayworth. In one of Gilda’s most famous scenes, she sings “Amado Mio” in a sultry nightclub. Inspired by Buenos Aires where the film takes place, our duet version is a fiery tango with piano, solo cello and string quartet. All of the songs on our album were written for or featured in Hollywood films from this era.
Who are some of your favorite classical and crossover voices in the industry, past or present?
Ashley: One of the first female voices that I fell in love with and was greatly influenced by was that of Kathryn Grayson. I was amazed at her versatility, easily going from songs to musical theatre to opera, and how clearly she articulated while still maintaining a beautiful high soprano voice in a classical style. As for contemporary artists, I think Il Divo’s arrangements are amazing and they choose great songs.
Luperci: Luciano Pavarotti is one of my greatest inspirations, and the concerts he did with the Three Tenors are favorites of mine. Also, Andrea Bocelli, Josh Groban, and more recently Il Volo do some great work.
Are you partial to any composers? Anyone whose songs you love singing in particular? For example, your style seems suited to Rogers & Hammerstein.
We certainly love Rogers & Hammerstein and have sung many duets and songs from their repertoire in our shows. We really enjoy doing songs from the classic American musicals, but absolutely love songs by Nicholas Brodzsky, Jerome Kern, Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne, many of which were included in Hollywood films! We also have a soft spot for Andrew Lloyd Webber and do his music whenever we can.
What are your thoughts on retro classical crossover: Deanna Durbin, Mario Lanza, Kathryn Grayson, etc, etc, vs modern crossover artists? What lessons could each learn from the other? How has the genre progressed, and what elements of the past should be (in your opinion) maintained?
We are quite partial to these retro artists as they were some of the first singers to “crossover” into popular songs with their classically trained voices. Mario Lanza is one of our favorite singers and one of our biggest inspirations as well for our debut CD. He had a #1 hit on the pop Billboard charts in 1950 with “Be My Love,” which is an unbelievable achievement for a classical singer! His films certainly helped him get the kind of exposure that led to his popularity in the United States and abroad for the next decade and still today. We think contemporary artists could learn and be inspired by his high standard of vocal excellence and versatility. His voice was rich, dark and full, and yet at the same time, light and full of youth. He was praised by fellow opera singers for his phenomenal technique and received “carte blanche” from some of the world’s most prestigious opera companies who would spare no expense to have him sing in a production of his choosing at their theaters while at the same time appealed to a much broader audience by singing popular songs and film music. There are very few artists in history who have been able to replicate his success.
One really exciting aspect about classical crossover is that it has certainly progressed to include more genres. You can hear artists, not just singers but classically trained musicians as well, crossing over not only just into pop, but into rock, electronic, folk, symphonic metal, etc. As a result, the classical crossover genre has become more widespread and includes a lot more styles of music and when it is done well, it really works. This is a very exciting development and you can be sure that there is something for everyone. For example, besides our love for the retro artists, we are big fans of 2Cellos and their arrangements of Michael Jackson, Sting and Led Zeppelin!
How do you think the vintage classical crossover artists would have fared in the “internet age”?
We think quality music and voices can cross the boundaries of time. After Mario Lanza came many successful tenors including ones we’ve mentioned before such as Pavarotti and Bocelli. People love this music! And they love the excitement that a classical voice can bring, therefore we think Mario Lanza would have been a big hit today as well. Of course, his career would be taken a different shape. The vintage classical crossover artists were limited to films, radio and tv shows for exposure, whereas nowadays, thanks to the internet you can choose the audience for your music with the click of a button. Perhaps he would have been able to sell even more records had he lived in our time.
It seems that you both have a passion for travel? How has that directed and influenced your career?
Travel has certainly been a big influence on our lives and careers. Between the two of us we’ve lived in seven different countries and speak six different languages, and so much of who we are as individuals and artists comes from our lives and studies abroad. For example, Luperci studied and launched his career as a tenor in Scotland, but traveled the world extensively as a child in a renowned Brazilian boys’ choir. Ashley spent years in Italy, performing and studying the Italian bel canto singing technique after completing a Bachelor’s degree in New York. As performers, we’ve been lucky to travel the world singing for hundreds of people each week on cruise ships, and we bring all of these experiences to our concerts. Our knowledge of the world and languages helps us relate to various audiences and it certainly affects the music we choose. This next step in our career as a duo is only possible thanks to our mutual love of travel, living abroad and the musical culture we have obtained in doing so.
What is each of yours’ history in performance? Classical training? Theatre? Opera?
Ashley: I’m trained in opera and classical voice, but have had the chance to perform a lot of classical musical theater as well. Another genre which I particularly love is classical Art Song (compositions written for voice and piano for example Schubert, Schumann, Debussy, Fauré etc). After finishing my bachelor’s degree in the States, I followed an urge I’d had for some time and moved to Italy: the country of my ancestors. Over the years I spent there, I debuted in operas and was invited to do many Art Song concerts and even a commercial recording of the complete vocal chamber music of 19th century Italian composer Gaspare Spontini. In Italy, I also had the pleasure to sing a concert with a wonderful classical crossover artist that you may be familiar with – Frà Alessandro. Some of my opera credits include roles such as Rita (Rita), Adina (L’elisir d’amore) and Susanna (Le nozze di Figaro).
Luperci: As a child, I’ve had ten years of training in the oldest boys’ choir in Brazil which was an amazing experience; we even sang for Pope John Paul II in Rome. As a member of this choir, I had a very rigorous but effective musical education which has served me well throughout the rest of my musical career. After finishing the choir and attending a university in Brazil and Argentina, I sang at the opera house in Rio de Janeiro, as well as on Brazil’s main TV channel Globo. I sang many gala concerts for prestigious political events and corporations in Brazil until I was offered the chance to study in Europe. After finishing my master’s degree at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland supported by an ABRSM international scholarship, I sang at several concert halls and theaters in Europe in roles such as Nemorino (L’elisir d’amore), Tito (La clemenza di Tito), and Tamino (Die Zauberflöte).
Who were your musical influences as children; who first drew you in to singing?
Ashley: My dad had a Minnie Riperton vinyl. I just couldn’t get enough of her voice and her whistle register in the song “Loving You.” Her voice was a great discovery to me as it helped me realize the potential of the human voice (and she was an R&B singer, not classical!). Then, as a child I came across a CD of Mozart arias, and I was hooked. That was a deciding moment for me and his music has always been #1 for me. So, thank you Herr Mozart!
Luperci: Well, I had a great introduction to classical music singing in the boys’ choir. We regularly sang Bach, Palestrina, masses and other choral works and this experience instilled a great love of music in me. But in terms of opera, when I was about 15 I saw “The Great Caruso” staring Mario Lanza and I was so moved by his performance that I started thinking about my own voice “operatically,” and the rest is history.
How do you define success? What was a defining moment in your career when you thought “I’ve made it”; what characteristics do you think an artist needs to develop to succeed?
Having opportunities to do the music you love and choosing or creating your own music is a great milestone for any artist. Some important characteristics are perseverance, humility, attention to detail, being a good colleague, staying true to yourself while at the same time being open to change and a bit of luck!
What are your priorities in choosing a song for your repertoire?
It has to draw us in and say something special to us. It has to move us, otherwise it’s probably not the best choice. We also look for songs that allow us to remain true to our classical roots. And we love to discover musical gems that are off the beaten path. Our CD contains one or two of those that we hope you’ll enjoy!
Please give us a few hints about your upcoming album! Are you working with any particular arranger(s) or producer(s)?
Our debut album will be released later this year and will feature new arrangements of songs and duets from the great Hollywood films and the musical era of Mario Lanza. As we mentioned, our first single “Be My Love” was one of Lanza’s greatest hits and inspired us to breathe new life into some of the outstanding music of this time period. The songs themselves come from a period ranging from the 1920s to the 1950s. We’re so excited for this project as we feel that the music from this era deserves to be heard and loved once more by today’s listeners; the music that we’ve chosen for our debut album contains some beloved classics as well as a few surprises that we hope you’ll be excited to get reacquainted with, or will be hearing for the first time with our new interpretation.
We are working with an incredibly talented arranger from Edmonton Canada, Ben Christenson. We met him through a mutual friend in the music industry, and we knew he was a great fit for this project. He really understood from the beginning what we were hoping to achieve and we look forward to more collaborations in the future.
Tell us the story of how you met and formed a duo.
Well, with Luperci being from Brazil and Ashley from the US, it’s kind of funny that we met nowhere near our home countries, but in London during rehearsals for a contract on a cruise ship. Each ship had a classical tenor and soprano and we were paired up on the same ship. It was the first time either of us had ever worked in the cruise industry so we experienced it together and started right away developing and doing our own show as a duo. Our repertoire consisted mainly of opera, operetta, musical theater and some popular classical crossover hits. We immediately recognized a synergy onstage and felt that the blend of our voices and the interaction of our personalities combined with the positive response from audiences, made officially forming a duo a natural progression. From there, we really wanted to create something of our own and starting thinking about producing our first album. Thanks to the help of many generous friends, we’re about to realize that dream.
You mention the name Mario Lanza frequently; what drew you to him specifically?
Definitely the film “The Great Caruso” was a deciding influence for us and we recommend it to anyone who hasn’t seen it yet. Mario Lanza’s interpretation of the great Italian tenor Enrico Caruso is very moving and his glorious voice can be heard singing both opera arias and popular songs. Besides his incredible voice, his charisma onscreen is infectious and you just can’t help loving him.
How do you bring something new to a genre whose primary focus is to regenerate the familiar?
That is a great question and one that all artists have to ask themselves. As opera singers, we are used to performing music that is centuries old and has been done over and over, but we are taught from the beginning to do “our” version and to be ourselves. With years of this kind of preparation, we always approach songs searching for our own musical truth and experimenting with the possibilities. These aspects, infused with our personal aesthetics and life experiences, are what guide us.
In the case of our upcoming CD, we felt that this music hasn’t been done enough recently, and that it deserves to be heard even more. In the right hands, cover versions of well-known songs can be just as exciting as new compositions, so we hope to make our mark by helping some of these songs become more mainstream again.
Favorite songs? Dream opera/operetta roles?
Luperci: “Cinema Paradiso,” by Ennio Morricone, Prince Franz from Romberg’s The Student Prince, Nemorino from L’elisir d’amore.
Ashley: “Tracks of My Tears” (Linda Ronstadt version), “As If We Never Said Goodbye” from Sunset Boulevard, “Eternally” by Charlie Chaplin, Queen of the Night from The Magic Flute
Why choose duo over solo?
There was no doubt in our minds that Classique had to be a duo. With each song, we try to highlight both of our voices working together, often in harmony or playing off each other in a way which will excite the listener and allow them to have a powerful and moving experience. We realized the potential that we could have together when we started performing as a duo on cruise ships. There was a great audience reaction when we sang certain songs and interacted together on stage, and that inspired us to form Classique. It also helps that we have a similar vision and coinciding musical tastes.
Just for fun, do you have a favorite classic Hollywood musical film? One that you like to watch, aside from performing?
West Side Story immediately comes to mind as a personal favorite, to watch and to perform. It has had a huge impact on pop culture as well. How many parodies of the Jets and Sharks snapping their fingers as they move down the street have we seen in commercials, advertisements and videos? Too many to count! It was a powerful film and its message is still important for our society today.
Who is your ideal audience? The older generation that is already familiar with these retro songs, or the younger generation, to introduce them to classical crossover and classical music in general?
Ideally, we’d like to reach a widely varied audience. Of course we hope the older generation who might be more familiar with these songs will hear our versions and reminisce about the first time they heard them. Perhaps their families used to listen to Mario Lanza records and our music will transport them back and connect them to those moments. Likewise, we would like to introduce this music to a younger generation who might not be so familiar with it. Just with our first single “Be My Love,” we’ve had a great response from social media from followers of other classical crossover artists such as Andrea Bocelli or Katherine Jenkins, so we know that people, especially young people, are open to and looking for new music.
Any other info you would like to share?
We’d like to thank Classical Crossover Magazine for featuring us and we invite everyone to connect with us through our social channels, we’d love to hear from you! We are currently living in Germany and recording our CD here which will be coming out in late summer 2017. Music is a force which unites people and can bring light into our lives. We are so lucky and proud to dedicate our lives to it!
Don’t miss a note! Follow Classique at www.classique.biz