Make it big. That seems to be the primary directive in the classical crossover genre.
Perhaps your average American isn’t going to become a classical music fan, but there’s always an appeal to music that overflows with big sounds and earnest urgency. Such is classical crossover, which gives voice to that part in each of us that feels deeply passionate about something or someone.
Andrea Bocelli is the king of classical crossover. Yes, he sings operatic arias and periodically has performed in productions, but some call what he does “popera,” a hybrid in which everything is infused with import.
On Sunday, Bocelli brings that formula to the Target Center stage with conductor Steven Mercurio and an orchestra, closing out a six-city U.S. tour. At age 64 and after 30 years in the business, the Italian tenor might be at the peak of his popularity.
But Bocelli is the heir to a long tradition of finding common ground between classical and popular music. While his specialty is mixing arias by Giacomo Puccini and Giuseppe Verdi with pop songs by David Foster and others (sometimes in tandem with Céline Dion, Sarah Brightman or Ed Sheeran), it’s far from a new hybrid.
Here’s a thumbnail sketch of how the past century of classical crossover has unfolded.
John McCormack: This Irish tenor achieved stardom on the stages of the world’s great opera houses, but when RCA Victor started recording him in 1910, he turned to the popular songs of the day and became a star during World War I by making hits of “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” and “Keep the Home Fires Burning.”
Mario Lanza: He may not have had the voice of opera legend Enrico Caruso, but Lanza did play him in a movie, “The Great Caruso” (1951), one of the tenor’s many starring film roles. He also was among the first to bring operatic arias and Neapolitan balladry to the small screen via variety shows.
Liberace: Speaking of TV, that’s where “Mr. Showmanship” first reached out and grabbed America’s attention, the rhinestone-clustered pianist flamboyantly tackling popped-up versions of piano concertos with a blazing candelabra atop his lengthy concert grand. At his popular peak in the 1960s, he became the world’s highest paid entertainer by playing what he called “classical music with the boring parts left out.”
Rock meets classical: Circa ’70, a new kind of crossover emerged with the Moody Blues’ orchestral song cycle, “Days of Future Passed,” and Deep Purple recording an orchestral album. But no band forged the hybrid quite like Emerson, Lake & Palmer, which created a synth-rock version of Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” and brought Béla Bartók and Aaron Copland to arena rock, complete with an airborne, twirling drum kit. The subgenre persists, thanks in large part to Metallica.
The Three Tenors: When Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo and José Carreras teamed up for a 1990 outdoor concert in Rome on the eve of soccer’s World Cup final, they created a phenomenon. Or more than one, when you consider that this is where public TV started seeing classical crossover for the pledge drive attraction it’s been ever since. They made Il Divo, Il Volo and a host of guy groups possible.
André Rieu: Waltz and schmaltz are this Dutch violinist’s specialties. He cultivated so much interest in the bubbly fare of Johann Strauss Jr. and company that (again, with a little help from PBS) he and his itinerant orchestra toured hockey and basketball arenas in the ’00s and teens.
Lindsey Stirling: The heir apparent to Bocelli’s classical crossover crown is this dancing American violinist, who offers all the passion, bombast and urgency one could wish for in her pop-flavored mini-epics.
When: 7:30 p.m. Sun.
Where: Target Center, 600 1st Av. N., Mpls.
Tickets: $80-$330, available at targetcenter.com.
Rob Hubbard is a Twin Cities classical music writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.