POWERS AUDITORIUM Ten Tenors twist opera out of rock 'n' roll classics
The Australian group's song list includes 'Bohemian Rhapsody' and 'Stayin' Alive.'
When the Ten Tenors first came together nearly a decade ago in their college home of Brisbane, Australia, a classical tenor repertoire dominated the group's live performances.
However, a funny thing happened along the road to international acclaim. The youthful tenors discovered another batch of classics, this time of the rock 'n' roll variety, would go a long way in not only entertaining audiences but showing off the outfit's impeccable vocal talents.
So alongside "La Danza" and "Santa Lucia" came seemingly irreverent opera concert surprises that invariably would have Luciano Pavarotti, of the Three Tenors fame, rolling around in his pasta. However, these 10 men from Down Under could care less.
"Our show started as doing the straight up classical hits and Italian songs," said Tenor Jason Turnbull. "One day, one of the guys brought an arrangement of the Bee Gees song 'Stayin' Alive.' So we said, 'Let's have a little bit of fun and see what we can do.' Suddenly, we inserted a disco number into the middle of this opera repertoire and people just went nuts. And we were like, obviously that works, so let's try that with something else."
From that point, the Ten Tenors went on a mission to find the perfect rock-turned-opera pieces. Today, the contemporary set list includes Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," Abba's "Dancing Queen" and even the theme song from '60s television show "Rawhide."
While Stevie Wonder tracks have been sung in the past, and the group used to perform Toni Basil's one-hit-'80s-wonder "Mickey" a cappella for radio stations, one danger of retooling pop hits into opera harmony fare is the dreaded "novelty" word. Sure, the Ten Tenors like the attention and rabid audience response from its rock material, but too much could mean a loss of credibility.
Nevertheless, the 10-voice outfit has its principles.
"It all comes down to using the voices cleverly," Turnbull said. "The thing about Queen songs is Freddie [Mercury] was a good singer and he always had really strong vocal arrangements and a really nice melody line. And for us, that is the key because you can sing on them and make it work. The hardest thing about a lot of contemporary repertoire is that it's often guitar driven or drums and bass driven. There's not a lot of melody in the lines so you have to make it sing-able."
For its Youngstown performance Saturday at the Powers Auditorium, the Ten Tenors will be showcasing material from its latest Stateside disc "Larger Than Life," including original pieces "Cast in Stone" and "Thunder Point." Plus, music enthusiasts will hear a few of the outfit's covers.
However, not every song the Ten Tenors attempts to transform into opera rock actually works out. Somewhere along the way, the intended magic gets lost in the translation.
"We've had a few," Turnbull said. "One that we recently tried and we've kind of thrown back into the workshop area is 'Africa' by Toto. We did this really cool arrangement but sometimes it sounds really good in the rehearsal studio but you just put it on stage and it just doesn't feel right. It's just sort of that instinct thing."