(Photo source) I watched the winning entry for the selections chosen to represent Romania at this year's Eurovision Song Contest in Sweden in May, Florin Cezar Ouatu, with a mixture of amazement and horror. I couldn't, to be honest, believe what I was hearing... a falsetto prancing about the stage dressed like Adam Ant and singing terribly off-key. The opening bit was far too low for him and then, loe and behold, he turned into what one can only describe as a crazed Madame Doubtfire on hormones... Aoleeeeeeeeeeeeu!! See the video of "It's my life" HERE. Chronic. Yet another reason for Romanians to feel embarrassed by someone representing their country in an international setting.
The votes from the public made half of his score, and even if the judges’ favourite was for another song, he won all the same. I understand that there was some kind of scandal that followed due to one of the judges giving a fat '0' to Luminita Anghel, but they seem to have since abated... Actually, the whole voting system is an enigma to me since the public were allowed to vote up to 11 times each. There were 9775 votes received, apparently, but that doesn't mean there were 9775 voters - far from it. How come people were able to vote so many times? To make the show look more popular? Seems daft. Anyway...
I wandered off to find more about the very handsome, suave Florin Cezar Ouatu and was bowled over. Wow! This guy is a very successful, not to mention talented, counter tenor, with an extremely promising career in front of him. Listen to THIS lovely performance by Vivaldi or THIS from Haendel's 'Agrippina'. Marvellous!
Wikipedia says: 'In the 2003 International Singing Contest Francisco Viñas, he won the "Best Countertenor" prize and has sung at several European opera houses, including the Opéra de Lausanne as Nireno in Giulio Cesare (April 2008) and as Ruggiero in Alcina (2011/2012 season).'
Why oh why then, would he put himself in a situation that clearly won't do his future any good. Did he actually want to do it or is his manager, Sergiu Stoiadin, a masochist? It's not a criticism. It's an observation. True, many male opera singers have successfully flipped from opera to pop songs & musicals (eg. Bocelli, Fragoulis) - easier than their female counterparts, incidentally. Kiri Te Kanawa did her best with West Side Story (ouch!) but it really didn't do much for her and Leontyne Price performed in Porgy and Bess (written as a 'folk opera') back in 1953. Renée Fleming too tried her hand at jazz - and is the exception in my opinion, for she did it pretty well. But could the marvellous Ruggero Raimondi have sung Bon Jovi, for example? Or Placido Domingo sing Prince? The very thought of it makes me roar with laughter. Florin, please, please don't wreck your very promising career... please don't. If it's world fame you want, you'll probably get it - but perhaps not in the way you wish.
Orlando Gough on whether or not opera singers can sing pop says the following: "It's tricky. The exaggerated vibrato is tricky, but not as tricky as the inability to throw notes away, which is a key element of pop and jazz – singing through all the notes kills the swing. It's more than that, though. Part of becoming an opera singer is about making one's voice cast iron, invulnerable. Of course one learns to do vulnerability on stage, but it's a guise. Underneath, there must be no chink. Folk or pop or jazz is different – the balance between vulnerability and control is always evident in the voice, and the tension is palpable. It's not to do with lack of technique; it's about allowing the vulnerability to show."
Opera singers 'doing' pop sounds so terribly stilted, to me anyway. Perhaps it is due to the extraordinary control that is so necessary, but there is also a definite and very evident lack of 'naturalness' in operatic singing which is glaringly apparent when they try pop.
Opera singers are not taught scat. They are taught to sing what is written on the score. Basta. I know, because I had classical voice training from the age of thirteen and I found it terribly frustrating. One must sing the right notes in the right places as determined by the composer's instructions. They hammer out the beat accurately instead of placing notes gently behind or in front of it. The great singers in all forms of popular music on the other hand hardly ever do this. They flatten out the melody, giving it a form without stating it directly, sometimes changing it quite dramatically (Billie Holiday singing 'I Can't Get Started' is a sublime example). Pop and rock are 'free'. Opera is everything BUT. One needs pop-singing 'instinct' and I do not believe there are many classical singers out there armed with that. Florin Ouatu, like many of the Greats too, is not.
Furthermore, there is the point of physiology. Physiologically, opera-singing is very specific in nature and takes years and years of training. For example, the pharynx needs to be open to develop the placement of the voice, and then there is the breath support and the technique. If you have spent years battling with all the rules that roll around your head when you begin an aria and have managed to perfect it as Florin Ouatu has done, it is then most unconducive to change style (particularly for a counter tenor). Opera simply comes 'naturally'. Pop does not. The reason for this is muscle balance. Using your voice to sing in a particular style means using your vocal muscles and body in a particular way. Opera singers can adopt a muscle balance that is really hard to get out of, making other styles extremely difficult to master physically, as well as for the other points already mentioned above. Some opera singers CAN sing pop. I'm not saying they can't. But when she/he tries to do a version in operatic style, it is a disaster. And this is Ouatu's case.
The jokes are already coming in thick and fast. Here's one: "Mi-e ca din cauza problemelor cu Salmonella la pasari, pe Ouatu nu-l lasa astia sa iasa din tara." ('since there is a problem with salmonella from chickens, Oatu might not be allowed to leave the country' - unfortunately for Ouatu, his name in Romanian means 'to lay an egg' - o gaina a ouat un ou: the hen laid an egg. I'm not kidding)
Here are some more via Twitter:
La cum o cântat Cezar Ouatu ăsta la #EurovisionRo, trebuia să-l cheme Neouatu.
Au ouat și i-au adunat!
De fiecare data cand pronunti numele intreg al castigatorului #EurovisionRO un blogger se ineaca cu un piscot
An interesting point to bear in mind: Ouatu's manager Sergiu Stoiadin also managed Mandinga, the group who represented Romania in last year's contest and came 12th... no further comment on that from me.
Bref, Florin Ouatu, my message to you: Please don't do it. Pleeeeease don't... I truly believe that you have a marvellous voice. For opera. Particularly Baroque. And I am also convinced that you have a bright and shining future. But not, and I repeat NOT, in pop. If you go ahead with this, it could well be shooting your future in the foot and that would be a terrible tragedy. Better be known for the evident talent you have in the classical world of opera than the disaster of "It's my life", right? Oh, and please fire Sergiu Stoiadin... Romania needs something to be proud of at the Eurovision. Please let a singer who has the 'instinct' make them proud (preferably not like last year)....