By Amy Justman
In preparation for my upcoming TheoryWorks Master Class “The Art of Crossover," I started to compile breakdowns of Fach classifications, current audition expectations, and terms specific to classical music with which musical theater performers may not be familiar.
But there was a larger question I had avoided in the midst of all this information: What is crossover? What am I really talking about when I use that word?
I Googled “crossover singer” and up came smiling images of Andrea Bocelli, Sarah Brightman, Jackie Evancho, and Charlotte Church (and, okay, Luciano Pavarotti).
Am I referencing artists like these when I call myself a “crossover singer”?
Or is it less about mashing up these genres than reflecting each one as authentically as possible?
I fell into a crossover career mostly through indecision and the desire to find multiple ways to support myself as a performer. I started as a pianist at age 6, showed some potential as a vocalist at age 10, started working in local theater at age 11, and continued on these various paths as I entered high school, college and finally, graduate school for Classical Voice at Manhattan School of Music.
I finished my graduate degree and pursued a path of “throw spaghetti against the wall and see what sticks”: choral and church work, Young Artist Programs with opera companies, children’s theater tours, contemporary opera...you name it. Three years out of school, I had my Actors’ Equity card and some credits, but felt no closer to a “career”.
One of my mentors — a fierce crossover singer herself — suggested I “pick a lane and stick with it."
“After all, Dawn Upshaw isn’t singing 8 shows a week on Broadway, and Audra McDonald isn’t singing at the Met.”
So, I pursued solely musical theater for the next few months and booked my first big job.
But that wasn’t the end of the story.
Fast forward 20 or so years: Renee Fleming is now singing on Broadway, and Kelli O’Hara is singing at the Met.
I’ve established a career that encompasses Broadway shows and singing for the New York Philharmonic.
Right before the pandemic hit, I had a two day turnaround between singing the soprano solos for Messiah at Carnegie Hall and belting out “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” in rehearsals for the new Andrew Lloyd Webber review at the Paper Mill Playhouse, called Unmasked.
I love the emphasis on text and the openness to a wide variety of not-always-traditionally-beautiful sounds in musical theater. I love the musical complexity and preeminence of composer intention in oratorio and opera. I love everything that falls in-between!
And I know there are other singers out there who feel the same way and dream of using their talents and training on more than one type of stage. I’ve been a voice teacher and coach since I was in high school, soaking up everything I can about technique from teachers and colleagues I admire and passing it on to the next generation.
Join me for “The Art of Crossover." We’ll be talking not just about the nuts and bolts of pursuing a career in classical music coming from a musical theater background, but also how to lend your voice to both styles without diminishing your own unique expression.
Whether as a participant or an auditor, I can't wait to see you next week.