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The Lebrecht Weekly


Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]

How do you solve a problem called laryngitis?

By Norman Lebrecht / March 28, 2007

The singing failure at The Sound of Music was foreseeable from the moment the great British public was invited to cast the show. Connie Francis, who won the Friday-night BBC-1 reality talent show called How Do You Solve A Problem Called Maria, was described as a ‘classically trained singer’ She proved ill-equipped, in the event, to handle eight shows a week.

Connie, an amateur of 23 plucked from a telesales job, had acted in the National Youth Theatre in her teens and took a degree (1st class hons) in Musicals at the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts. She trilled an aria or two at Eisteddfodds in Wales. Nothing in her CV suggests that her voice was groomed in the hard slog of scales and barks and warm-ups that are class routine in any respectable conservatory of music. The first thing a professionally trained singer learns is how to sing through an incipient cold or a sore throat, and when to rest the voice.

Connie took a fortnight off when her throat started bleeding, which was too late; the damage had been done. On return, she has been miming to a pre-recorded tape. Many in the audience who paid up to £110 for a pair of seats were left wondering why she sounded so much better on telly. Their complaints hit a brick wall. ‘It’s common practice,’ said the producers at the London Palladium. Up to a point, that may be true.

Many concert halls, including the Royal Fetival Hall until recently, artificially boost the sound on stage. Many singing stars have their top notes discreetly faked for them on record. Luciano Pavarotti was once caught miming to his own records by a BBC crew filming his Modena festival. He put his hands up and repaid the broadcast fee (though not the public their tickets).

Maria’s mishap is less forgivable. To put on stage a singing nun who does not sing is a severe strain on the public credulity – that happy suspension of disbelief that allows us to enter the fantasy world of theatre. Disillusioned, we do not return. Lord Lloyd Webber, the show’s producer, should offer unconditional refunds.

And when he and the BBC launch their next talent trawl this Saturday for a Joseph to fit his Amazing Technicoloured Dreamcoat, they must take additional steps to protect the eventual winner, having first ensured that he has tougher larynx walls than poor Connie Fisher and enough professional training. To lose one voice is unfortunate. Two would indicate negligence.

To be notified of the next Lebrecht article, please email mikevincent at scena dot org

Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]


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