What Happens When Singers Are Out of Their Comfort Zone: Either Magic or Disaster

Written by

Forget about Pat Boone’s pathetic attempt at a death metal record.   Argh.   This is about more subtle things.

I was listening to the brilliant new ECM album by Giovanna Pessi and Susanna Wallumrød the other night.  She’s a Norwegian pop singer who made fame with the Magic Orchestra there, but here she finds herself in a musical arena of 17th century Elizabethan consort music by Henry Purcell (1659-1695).  She’s way out of her comfort zone here, but she performs these old songs with a convincing edge that few other singers have achieved.  Her voice trembles and quivers with emotion at the end of some songs, many of which are dark and goth (“If Grief has Any Power to Kill” is an example).  The haunting Leonard Cohen song she sings has a similarly tenebrous sound.

So this is a successful recipe.  Less successful was when the Kiwi opera diva Kiri te Kanawa recorded West Side Story, the producer, whom I recall was Nelson Riddle, made the mezzo-soprano sing lower than her range so she could sound more pop and get rid of that operatic vibrato.  The result was disastrous.

I can’t recommend the new Pessi / Wallumrød cd enough.  It casts a spell and has appeal for both classical, pop, and even goth audiences who like the group .