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Viewpoint | Will Beyoncé’s Act III be an opera? I say maybe!


A.Right now I’m at home with a slight temperature and the new Beyoncé album. And maybe it’s just the Tylenol PM talking, but I have feverish, dreamy visions of the future.

More to the point, I’m pretty sure Beyoncé is going to write an opera. Please listen to me.

This isn’t my usual beat, so for regular readers who may have no idea what’s going on: Last week, Beyoncé, the biggest artist in the world, dealt a devastating blow to projects on Terre by releasing his very first country album. Or what everyone who isn’t Beyoncé is calling for a country album.

And in fact, “Cowboy Carter” is a veritable rodeo of familiar tropes, with all the scale and accessibility of a mall — and if you’re from Houston, you know that doesn’t amount to an insult. Over the course of 27 tracks, Beyoncé summons a small pantheon of co-signs of country legends (Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Linda Martell) and grants what amounts to tidal force to a new wave of black country talent (including Tiera Kennedy , Tanner Adell). and Brittney Spencer).

But at the center of this musical reclamation experiment dominating the discourse is Beyoncé herself, and the sense that the flashy stylistic alliance of “Cowboy” is merely a disguise for a more definitive statement: Country music is American music, and American music is black. music.

“Cowboy Carter” also arrives as the second installment of the singer’s much-teased trilogy, launching in 2022 with “Renaissance,” an album that similarly (albeit more casually) took up the reins of a now-global house music tradition that originally flourished in the strange corners of black nightlife.

Some have speculated that Act III of the trilogy would confront the history of rock and roll – a prime candidate for a righteous Beyoncé.

But I can’t help but think that opera offers an equally great opportunity for the script-flipping queen to flip a serious script.

Many, I’m sure, will reflexively respond to this idea by dismissing the bona fides of the singer’s voice – i.e. “She’s not a opera singer!” But while opera may not be Bey’s wheelhouse per se, he won’t be lost at sea. The singer has been luring audiences for years with fleeting samples of her mezzo-soprano sense figurative and unknown.

There was this little interlude in “I Care” from “Homecoming” — the 2019 Netflix film documenting and articulating her Coachella performance — where she slides up to a snappy A. The same year, she posted a clip on Instagram of her adding some melismatic touches to some “Lion King” recordings. In “Cowboy”, there is her surprise interpolation of an 18th century Italian song (“Caro Mio Ben“) – one that survives as a staple of classical training. Never one to drop anything accidentally, it’s hard not to see them as seeds planted with particularly specific intention.

So, without further ado, here are some stray ideas that turned into a full-fledged intuition:

The power of three First, this whole “three-act project” model itself feels like something between an allusion and a set-up. Some of opera’s greatest heroines have stories that unfold over three acts. Think of Handel, Wagner and especially Puccini (“Tosca”, “Turandot” and “Madame Butterfly”). It is a form with a built-in denouement, reliable delivery with unpredictable predictability.

What’s in a name? Additionally, let’s say we take “Renaissance” much more literally as the first act of a three-part series – it would make perfect sense from a musical historical perspective for two additional acts to take us squarely into the classic. (I realize this model would make “Cowboy Carter” the metaphorical baroque album, but we’ll move on.)

Start, take two In 2001, Beyoncé Knowles (as she was still known) made her acting debut playing none other than Carmen on the MTV show “Carmen: a hip-hopera», a dramatic adaptation of Bizet’s 1875 opera, transported by director Robert Townsend to present-day Philadelphia. (Also cast: Mos Def, Joy Bryant, Jermaine Dupri, Da Brat and Wyclef Jean.) Was it good? The computer said no. But when has this ever hindered a reboot? (Plus, we love redemption arcs.)

There is history here “Cowboy Carter” and its country side were reportedly inspired by his 2016 performance of “Daddy Lessons” with the Chicks at the CMA Awards. In the Instagram post announcing the album, she wrote, “it was born out of an experience I had years ago where I didn’t feel welcome…and it was very clear that I didn’t wasn’t.” Speculative concerns about whether Beyoncé could actually live up to expectations as an opera singer would perhaps be limited to diaries, as she might have no choice but to respond: “Critics that I faced when I entered this genre forced me to go beyond the limits imposed on them. were imposed on me.

And a much bigger story Bey’s headlining slot at the 2018 Coachella festival – the first by a black woman – drew comparisons to another historic outdoor concert: contralto Marian Anderson performance on Easter Sunday in 1939, held on the National Mall in front of more than 75,000 people because no D.C. concert hall would allow him to take the stage. It’s easy to imagine Beyoncé extending the historical collage approach of the “Renaissance” project to American classical music, where a rich legacy of black musicianship is only beginning to emerge from obscurity through scholarship and performance, see : Mary Cardwell Dawson’s National Negro Opera Companyor the rediscovery and resurgence of the music of composers including Florence Price, Julia Perry and Helene Hagan. Beyoncé’s work with Rhiannon Giddens – who plays the banjo on “Texas Holdem» and recently started as artistic director of Silk Road – suggests that his engagement with reclaimed musical traditions may already be gaining momentum.

A winning set One of the main reasons I suspect that the “Renaissance” project could very well end with an operatic finale is a signature feature of the trilogy itself: other voices. Whatever you suspect of Beyoncé’s potential lyrical talents, she is undoubtedly one of the greatest synthesizers of young talent working today. The singer loves ensemble actors, and black women working in American classical music represent a particularly rich pool of talent – ​​particularly under-exploited since the pandemic. (Could this be one of those things I summon through will? For example, if I express out loud the notion of a Beyoncé album that brings together the forces of, say, Imani Winds, Nathalie Joachim, Jasmine Barnes, Jessie Montgomery and the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra Can Beyoncé do it? There’s only one way to find out.)

Family affair The fine arts were already a well-established family concern. Bey’s Grammy-winning sister Solange, whose practice has expanded to visual arts And dance – made her own history in 2022 as the first black woman compose music for the New York City Ballet, providing the original music for “Play Time” by Gianna Reisen. The sisters’ musical output, while distinct, has always been connected by a wink and a wave, but opera could represent a form large enough to accommodate two visionary Knowles.

Because the opera And finally, opera seems to me arguably the art form best suited (and best suited) to Beyoncé’s all-in-one artistic endeavors – which regularly go out of their way to include dramatic visuals and grand spectacle , complex choreography and finely constructed drama. bows. It’s hard to find another mainstream artist more concerned with world-building, more steeped in pageantry and hyper-activated camp, or more of a de facto diva, than Bey.

So there you have it, my collection of tea leaves.

Pop may not be my department, and opera may not be Bey’s department, but if the last ten years have shown us anything, it’s that Beyoncé is more about departures than departments, more concerned with defining the genre than letting the genre define her: This is not a country album,” she said in the album announcement post on Instagram. “It’s a Beyoncé album.”

If we are indeed on the brink of Bey’s operatic era, I count myself among those who are ready. And if you’re one of those who think she won’t make it: you must not know her. (You must not know her.)

Okay, I’m going back to bed.


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