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17 April 2019, 16:59
Beyoncé Knowles is an uncompromising vocal actress who has been using operatic techniques throughout her career - and this is how she does it.
When we think of Beyoncé, we think of the voice. Pure, powerful, aggressive when necessary and plaintive when wounded. This is not a revelation - people have been nuts over her voice for years.
What’s surprising is that, whether she’s conscious of it or not, Beyoncé’s voice is an almost perfect opera soprano - it’s just that she’d probably never use it for opera.
As the vocal powerhouse releases a new live album to coincide with the release of her Netflix documentary, Homecoming, we take a look at some examples of how Queen Bey’s voice actually has its roots in the classical tradition:
One of Beyoncé’s strongest traits is her commitment to character. No matter the size of the venue, she maximises every emotional gesture, and not just in her voice. She’s playing to every seat in the house, fully aware that there’s a whacking great LED screen projecting her image to anyone with eyeballs.
Here she is singing ‘1+1’ live on telly in America, absolutely embodying her character - it’s essentially a one-sided love duet, during which she KNEELS ON THE PIANO LIKE A LEGEND:
You know else embodies their characters like this? The greats:
Queen B’s range is really something, and we’re used to hearing her rocketing up to the very limits of her soprano range. But what about the very bottom end of it? In the opening verse of ‘Halo’ she effortlessly shoots down to a low C sharp as if it’s nothing:
At the other end of the scale, listen to how Cecilia Bartoli supports herself at the extremes of her register:
When you’ve got fireworks going off, dozens of TV cameras pointing at you and co-stars to interact with, most of us would probably forget to sing. Or, more accurately, curl up under the stage and do a solid hour of fear-crying. But not Beyoncé - here she is literally in formation as she performs ‘Formation’ for a TV audience of approximately everyone on Earth who ever lived:
So in Puccini’s La Bohème, this set-piece from the end of the second act uses the exact same skills. All the singers integrate with dozens of extras, a whole marching band and complex ensemble singing without breaking a sweat.
This is a more nebulous one, and it’s an absolute cop-out to put it down to ‘star quality’ or ‘the x-factor’, but Beyoncé has what Maria Callas has, what Joyce DiDonato has, what Montserrat Caballé has - attitude. The kind of attitude where you can headline Glastonbury while pregnant, where your voice sounds as slick on record as it does when someone’s filming you on their phone.
Here’s Joyce DiDonato still performing WITH A BROKEN LEG:
So, Beyoncé, we salute your technique, your voice and, most of all, your attitude. You’re already doing what so many operatic sopranos should be doing already.