Opera and Country Music are Cousins
Posted on April 29, 2013
…Probably cousins who were long lost and maybe ought not to have drunk so much the other night before all was revealed.
But seriously, ever since I started studying opera singing seven years ago, I have been astonished at the ways that my passion for opera feeds on my upbringing with country music. That’s probably why the characters in Can’t Buy Me Love had so much affinity for ballads both bluegrass and Bellini. I called their [my] musical taste Banjopera.
Oh, would you look at that? My recent foray into Wagner is showing up in photos! Before I get too carried away, here are some affinities shared by country music and opera:
1. Each has an entire sub-genre of drinking songs. Country folks, you know the ones from operas, because they tend to show up in the background of spaghetti sauce commercials. Opera peeps, you probably at least know “I’ve Got Friends in Low Places” and “There’s a Tear in My Beer,” and maybe even, “I Like Beer.” Though we know you won’t admit it.
2. They don’t shy away from talking about domestic violence. And usually the perpetrator comes to a bad end (after the soprano dies).
3. They are your basic two choices of musical style if you want to sing about loving someone who cheats on you. “I’m Lookig for Something in Red,” meet “Dove Sono.”
4. Class warfare is writ large.
5. If you love someone, you had better be prepared to sing about it and give it all you’ve got. Whether that’s a high C or just a lot of belting over a big guitar build up, it had better be said big if you are saying it at all.
6. There is no sadness in opera or country music, only heart-rending or soul-crushing agonizing grief and despair and longing. Like love, sorrow is best said big. Opera people and country folks make eye contact through their tears, as they wait for their favorite performers to make them cry. A lot.
7. God is big. Here’s a little story. When I was a kid in Houston, the sky was huge. We used to sit on the hood of our car to watch lightning storms that were miles away. They were absolutely terrifying and also thrilling. God was dang big in Texas. And God is huge in opera and country, too. That’s why sopranos sing so loud and why so many Southerners play country songs at church funerals.
8. They are both part of me. I used to listen to country music in the car, then sneak off to my bedroom to watch PBS opera broadcasts on an 11 inch black and white analog TV (the kind with a dial that fell off) in my bedroom. I’d shoo my siblings off or make them sit in my lap with a, “Shush. That tenor’s singing.” These musical traditions are part of the way I talk about love, and I hope they’ll speak to you as well when you read my books.