Culture > Music

Music: Not the fourth tenor

Music | Christian label is over-hyping its young classical star

Issue: "Forbes: Right on the money," Nov. 8, 1997

Once in a great while, a stunning tenor voice comes forward in the universe of singing. First there was Enrico Caruso, then Richard Tucker, and later Luciano Pavarotti. These are voices that have combined spine-tingling beauty of line along with effortless technique.

There have been dozens of would-be Pavarottis, pretenders to the heights. Along comes Frederico, who according to his Christian music label has one of the great tenor voices of this century. Not in this recording. The technique of this talented young singer is flawed by irregular breath support, mumbled words, and intonation problems. His musicianship leaves the listener with the very strong impression that Frederico has not lived long enough to sing much of the music on this CD.

This is a developing voice that will require many years of training to approach the polish of a Domingo or a Carreras-yet he is compared to them in the promotional literature. Such comparisons are not only rash but unfair to the young singer. He has a long way to go.

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There are a few poignant moments in Franck's Panis Angelicus that show Frederico has true potential. Child soprano Rebekah Hayler manages to shine through the thick texture, thanks to some intelligent mixing at the studio. Frederico seems more at home in standards like Via Dolorosa and The Lord's Prayer and completely out of his element in anything requiring creative phrasing or sensitive vocal shading. This voice needs more time in the teaching studio before public display-it is a good voice, but simply not properly trained for the great tenor literature.

The most embarrassing part of this release is not Frederico, but the commercialism and exploitation being performed by his record label. Brentwood found a singer who is gullible enough to believe that in three years (he only began training in 1993) he can sing like Pavarotti and coached him to sing high Cs over a full orchestra. The London Symphony was hired to play arrangements by pop musician Don Marsh. The hyped-up arrangements were designed for pure show and recorded off-site (the orchestra stayed in London, and Frederico sang over it on studio tapes at Brentwood studios in Nashville).

Worse still, all this is promoted as a "gift from God." The touching story behind Frederico's "journey to the pinnacle of classical vocal music" is affecting. But somewhere along the line a teacher should have warned him, as all good teachers do, that you have to wait until you are truly ready before singing publicly.

So go those in the pop religious music market who are ready to put God's name on anything without reference to its inherent integrity. Many in the growing Christian music industry stumble all over themselves trying to be like their big brothers Columbia or RCA. In the process they stoop to mediocrity.

For all those singers out there who have a heart to serve the Lord and want to learn singing from the ground up and get it right, do not sign a contract after just three years of training. You're better off doing auditions and delivering pizza in New York while studying at Juilliard or with a reliable vocal coach who really knows music. Your first CD, if you make one, should reflect your years of study, your talent, and a higher degree of polish than if you jumped at the first contract that came your way. Do it the old fashioned way: Practice until you get it right.

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