I live at Crossover Corner. Or at least it feels that way most days. When I’m not at the university, I teach at my private studio in Midtown Manhattan at West 55th Street and 7th Avenue—just two short blocks down from a very famous intersection of classical, musical theater, and world music: Carnegie Hall at 57th & 7th.
Most days after teaching, I make it a point to walk up 7th Avenue, past the west side of the iconic hall, to look at the poster boxes. They’re changed regularly to reflect the upcoming concerts and recitals, and I feel energized knowing that so much music is going on in there, in multiple halls. And it is heartening to walk by a long line of people snaking into the building before a performance. People want live music. People want live artists.
Two blocks down, at The Voice Studio where I teach my private students, crossover is happening constantly. To give you a better idea, I’m going to use my “Golden Girls” Sophia voice: “Picture it, New York City, 2023.” Ok, I’ll stop. But do picture it: the second floor of a tall pre-war building called The Wyoming. It’s a 12-story apartment building, and on the second floor are two large apartments that have been converted into several welcoming voice studios with pianos.
Formerly known as Paul Gavert Studio, The Voice Studio is owned by Broadway luminary, producer, and voice teacher Kurt Peterson. At any given time, you’ll find Broadway and classical voice teachers and performers rehearsing, preparing and chatting. It’s a haven in the bustle.
Much like a studio building at a university or conservatory, you walk in to hear multiple singers through the walls. One may be singing a Rossini cabaletta over the sound of another practicing a 32-bar cut of “Dead Mom” from Beetlejuice. It’s like sonic double exposure, like when you developed your pack of 24 pictures and discovered two pictures in one—remember doing that? Experiencing this in the hallway is how I’m frequently reminded of—or introduced to—new repertoire.
And this brings me to our discussion:
- Could versus should, and
- Just what exactly are we crossing over these days?
Could versus should: One of my favorite things to say to voice students and friends is “Don’t should on yourself.” And I need to regularly remind myself of the same. I’ll overhear a teacher working with a student on a piece I’ve forgotten or a song from a new musical and think, “I should assign this to so-and-so” or “I should learn this music” or “I should start singing Purcell again” or “I should do a lecture recital.”
If I’m not careful, this can turn into negative self-talk, and spiral into thoughts that I’m not doing enough, learning enough, staying current, blah, blah, blah. This does nothing for me, let alone my students. And it can all begin with one little should.
Don’t get me wrong: if the thought “I should brush my teeth tonight” flashes through your brain, you should do that. But here, let’s look at the power of could when we consider crossover repertoire and related experiences. When I begin an artistic statement with “I should,” it’s highly likely that I’m already acting as if I’m late—or have missed an opportunity altogether. When I start with “I could,” the story, opportunity, and what I can do is still ahead of me. And that’s a relief.
What can we do with crossover? And these days, what is crossover? The definition is pretty bendy. In the early 90s—before I was aware of crossover as a concept, I experienced it by watching “The Three Tenors” on PBS, singing showtunes (with some very entertaining diction) in their Broadway set near the end of the concert. That was my intro as a 7th grader. In high school, it was Sarah Brightman—Christine from my Phantom of the Opera singing “Con te partirò” (“Time to Say Goodbye”) with Andrea Bocelli.
College found me obsessed with Dawn Upshaw Sings Rodgers & Hart and I Wish It So—two of the soprano’s CDs that I listened to on loop to and from my church gig in rural Illinois. Flash forward 20 years—I find myself texting the Spotify link of “Barcelona”—the epic Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé duet—to a Freddie Mercury obsessed BFA Musical Theater student looking for new rep.
We’re a long way from simply tagging a showtune or Broadway set to the end of a recital of classics. Or, we can be, if that’s where we want to be. YouTube (and memories!) help in recalling where crossover has been—but what about where it’s going? And where are artists easily identifiable as crossover artists heading? Who can we learn from? Who might we emulate and be inspired by?
The changing landscape of classical singing is well viewed in a recent New York Times article about how the Metropolitan Opera is handling sluggish ticket sales and what it means for the company and its content. Met General Manager Peter Gelb has said that the company will now open each season with a new production of a contemporary work—and in the same article, the Met’s music director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, further explains this decision in a statement that I find empowering for today’s singers and those who write for them:
“Opera should reflect the times we’re in. . . It’s our responsibility to generate new works. . .” After Gelb advises that “major stars are increasingly interested in performing music by living composers,” he adds, “ It’s a big shift in terms of opera singers themselves, embracing new work and understanding the future.” Part of this future for the Met includes plans for a revival of The Hours (Kevin Puts) and its initial divas, which premiered starring artists very associated with crossover: sopranos Renée Fleming, Kelli O’Hara, and countertenor John Holiday whose crossover work was very publicly seen/heard on The Voice. (“Pandemic Woes Lead Met Opera to Tap Endowment and Embrace New Work.” Javier C. Hernández, New York Times, Dec 26, 2022)
Using the Met’s strategy to elevate living composers to bolster sales, inspire audiences, and further content creation is a major tool in recognizing crossover as something current and imperative for singers. Using institutions and working singers as models for what we can sing and where—consider venue types and programming strategies—can help in shaping our own or our students’ crossover blueprint.
Let’s take countertenor John Holiday as example. After two or three clicks on his schedule, I glean just how integrated crossover is in his career—in fact, it’s a central component. His upcoming turn in Proximity at Lyric Opera of Chicago this spring—just months after The Hours—sees him working with another living composer, Daniel Bernard Roumain, whose own output reveals a stunning crossover diversity of its own. Another click reveals Holiday’s concert, recital, and operatic work over the course of just one season, ranging from a Sondheim Salute to opera roles of Britten and Dove and the music of Vivaldi.
I invite you to do some similar research—scan through the programs that singers and concert presenters post on their sites to get some ideas of what you can do and not what you should do. People want live music. They want your music. Go make it!