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Classical Notes

New diva on the block

Posted at 6:28 AM on September 4, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

OK, maybe it's because her boyfriend, Jay-Z, and I sort of share the same initials. Or maybe it's because she's one of the most beguiling and beautiful women of her generation. Or maybe it's because she has a huge amount of talent. For whatever reason, I'm a big fan of Beyoncé Knowles.

Beyoncé turns 25 today, and she's already in about the 4th or 5th stage of a remarkable career. Like many classical prodigies, she got her first big push at age 9 when her father put together a group based on the singing and rapping skills of her and her little friends. That group has gone through some changes over the years, but Destiny's Child is still performing and recording hits together today.

Beyoncé has new solo album, "B'Day," which is getting some mixed reviews. She also has a fashion line called "House of Dereon."

Movie fans will remember Beyoncé as Foxy Cleopatra in the Austin Powers movie "Goldmember," but I want to give her some props for a unique contribution to classical crossover four years ago.

Bizet's opera "Carmen" wasn't a hit when it first came out, but it's been one of the most popular operas ever since, and the story and music lends itself to adaptations. In 1954 Otto Preminger did an updated movie version with an all-black cast called "Carmen Jones." Dorothy Dandridge brought her charisma to the title role, but even though she was a good pop singer her voice wasn't up to the operatic music, so her part was dubbed by a 19-year-old music student named Marilyn Horne.

MTV took Carmen one step further in 2001 with their production of "Carmen - A Hip Hopera." This time the smoldering troublemaker was played by pop star Beyoncé, who got great support from her co-star, Mekhi Phifer. Hip hop fans didn't have much good to say about this Carmen, but I liked her...er, uh...it.

Crossovers between the classical and pop worlds are generally well-intentioned and ill-fated, but if another generation can discover some of the great works of opera and classical music through the back door of another medium, I still think they're worth trying.

Happy B'DAy, Beyoncé.