Of this century’s most celebrated vocal artists, the singers who have best caught the imagination of the public, it seems, are those who have been able to bridge the world of popular song and the operatic stage with the greatest ease. Bringing the poise and discipline of the concert hall to lighter music and, conversely, infusing recitals with the freshness and vitality of the popular song seems to give us the best of both worlds. Whether it’s Caruso singing Neapolitan songs or McCormack’s rendering of Irish ballads, the best singers have an ability to blend the immediacy and communicative thrust of native popular musical traditions with the rigorous vocal and technical demands of operatic performance. Wagner noted that the farther music gets from the dance, the more it tends to ossify, and, perhaps, the same could be said of song the further it gets from traditional folk-flavored musical expression.

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