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La Voce
Russell Watson La Voce
Released 19 November 2010
Producer Mike Hedges
Label Sony
Length 52:41
Genre Classical crossover
Website www.russell-watson.com

Let’s ignore that awkward, nonsensical title (Russell’s voice has actually changed after a battle with cancer involved a tumour being removed from his sinuses), and listen to a story about opera:

Werner Herzog was attending a rehearsal for Wagner’s Parsifal. Alone in the auditorium, he sat with his knees propped on the back of the seat in front. At one point a soprano’s cry so overpowered him that he managed to topple back in his seat, uprooting it and tearing down the neighbouring seats to which it was attached. The director, a relative of Wagner, approved of this response, and Herzog went on to direct Tannhäuser.

Here’s another: In 1990, FIFA launched the World Cup Finals in Italy. The BBC used 'Nessun Dorma' sung by Luciano Pavarotti because of the climactic “vincerò, vincerò [I will win, I will win]”. The song transcended its use as a theme tune; articulating the passion of the terraces, and fixing itself in the popular psyche. For the duration of the tournament, Pavarotti was right: No-one slept.

Such is the power of the human voice. There is, however, a coda to the story of 'Nessun Dorma'. People liked it, and they bought it; but they bought it as a single. It reached Number Two in the charts. It was included on the album The Essential Pavarotti, which reached Number One. Turandot was ignored. Pavarotti’s agents smelled blood in the water. He, Plácido Domingo, and José Carreras formed The Three Tenors, and eschewing full works, sang a collection of Broadway numbers, pop tunes and opera favourites to popular acclaim and the sound of cash registers.

All of which brings us to Russell Watson and His Voice. The afterglow of 'Nessun Dorma' had not faded when he sang England’s national anthem at the 1999 rugby finals in Wembley Stadium, 'Barcelona' at Old Trafford, and a set of songs at the UEFA Cup finals in Barcelona itself. A star was not so much born as cloned. People wanted more of the same, and La Voce is the latest helping.

La Voce recalls Watson’s 2001 debut The Voice in content as in title. An anaemic selection box of well-known, decontextualised arias and show-tunes; it hovers between Take That and The Three Tenors. Of course, the appeal of Russell Watson lies not in the music, but in the Blairite fantasy he presents: Here is the totem figure of the Conservative working class; more Abigail’s Party than Fitzcarraldo, a patronising ‘People’s Tenor’ for those who see opera as a shibboleth conferring entry to the middle class.

Not a story about opera, then; but about status anxiety. You will not topple back in your seat. You will sleep.

-Paul McGranaghan