Diva: dē-və (noun)
1. An exceptionally talented and famous female singer, usually in the realm of opera music.
2. A famous female singer of pop music.
3. A pain in the arse.
The word diva gets thrown around like old socks these days, slapped on as a label for just about any female singer with a charting hit. Leontyne Price, Birgit Nilsson and Beverly Sills were true opera divas. They were able to deliver the goods performing difficult roles with a level of remarkable consistency…and no lip-synching (!).
This past year the music industry lost a true pop diva when Aretha Franklin passed., another artist who delivered the goods with skill, emotion and consistency. I never had the opportunity to work with any of these artists, so I cannot speak about whether their temperament fit the stereotype of a diva, but if I could sing like any of them I’d probably be a wee bit temperamental, too.
A few days ago, I saw a performance of Mozart’s The Magic Flute at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. The entire cast was excellent, but the one performer who really impressed me was the soprano who sang the role of Queen of The Night, Kathryn Lewek. I’m no expert in the field of opera, but my Mom is a huge fan. So growing up, I became familiar with some of the repertoire. I was hoping to hear a first-rate performance of the “Der Hölle Rache” (aka, the “Queen of the Night” aria), and Lewek did not disappoint.
I’m not sure that any mortal soprano can actually nail that aria, but Lewek’s performance blew me away. The amount of control she has over her voice and the accuracy of her pitch (skills that few pop singers possess) were remarkable. The fact that the aria is so incredibly difficult to sing made it all the more impressive. Notably absent were any of the safety nets such as pitch correction or backup tracks that we’ve come to expect while witnessing performances by the so-called “pop divas” of this era. Nope. Lewek was the real deal.
Contrast that performance to what was on the menu for any one of a variety of New Year’s Eve countdown shows on Monday: artists who can’t sing or play their instruments, or who need real-time pitch correction, or sing along with a prerecorded track that bolsters (or replaces) their voice when they can’t hit a note. It’s nice to know that there are still some real divas in the world. Check out an excerpt of Lewek performing the work here.
On a more serious note, I recently learned about the passing of Jeff Alexander. Many of us in the audio industry knew Jeff from his work with Neumann USA and Sennheiser. Jeff was in a serious traffic accident in 2012 and eventually succumbed to complications from that accident. He will be sorely missed.
My best wishes to you for a happy and healthy 2019.