At the 1998 Grammys, the great tenor Luciano Pavarotti was slated to sing “Nessun dorma…” from Puccini’s Turandot prior to receiving the Grammy Legend Award. However, he was benched due to a sore throat. Who could step in to sing the aria for him?
Apparently, Aretha Franklin could.
This is amazing. I’m normally not a fan of crossing genres—I feel like opera singers should stick to opera, and rock singers to rock, and soul to soul, and pop to pop. But sometimes, if you have enough artistic power, you can figure out a way to make it work.
If you can only do two things as an opera singer, I would say the most important ones are: being able to sing in impeccable Italian and being able to sing over an orchestra without the use of a microphone. Aretha Franklin, despite failing these two litmus tests, totally fucking ROCKS THE SHIT OUT OF THIS ARIA. Watch all the way to 4:25 and you’ll see what I mean.
She performed a quantum leap, straight into a different musical sphere, and she made it work. How did she do it? Easy. She stuck with what she knows, she played to her strengths, she stayed true to her voice and her artistic sensibility, and she certainly wasn’t apologetic about it. But she also possesses something else that singers need, singers in any genre: behind each note she sings, there is a clear vocal intent and strong commitment to sound. To me, this is incredible artistry.