Saying classical music and opera aren’t everyone’s cup of tea is akin to announcing anchovies are unpopular pizza toppings. It isn’t exactly earth-shattering news and, moreover, it’s well-established fact. Neither genre has ever experienced meaningful commercial popularity in the American market, as much a result of cliché as any inherent stuffiness in the music. Many view classical music as inherently elitist, overly academic, and buttoned-up, an aristocratic curiosity, but not Hench.
Her approach to the conventions and cliches of opera is to open it up, incorporate her personality into her artistic presentation and decisions, and let listeners/viewers decide for themselves. Picking projects such as covering Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé’s 1987 duet “Barcelona” for a modern audience who likely doesn’t realize the iconic Queen front man, near the end of his life, collaborated with one of opera’s leading talents will definitely garner her much deserved attention.
Hench chooses well for her own duet partner. Progressive rock vocalist Gregory Markel, formerly of the band Altered States, proves more than ready to measure up to Hench’s performance without ever trying, in vain, to imitate Mercury. There is the expected amount of tribute paid to his Hall of Fame predecessor, but Markel interjects crucial distinctions between him and Mercury at the right moments.
Hench’s performance proves what opera followers already know – the Michigan-born singer, now residing in the Detroit area, is one of the style’s best practitioners. Passion, and love for what she does, carry her over the hump with listeners far more than any gimmick or over the top histrionics. The exchanges between Hench and Markel gather intensity as they trade off lines, but they are never anything less than musical.
Hench’s dazzling upper register never wearies listeners. It’s a bit like watching a high wire act when you listen to a first class soprano such as Hench; you are always wondering if they are going to fall. Hench does not and the exceptional ability required to be a potent soprano singer isn’t any impediment to listeners connecting with the material. Emotion pours off every line from both Hench and Markel making their take on “Barcelona” one of the year’s must-hear singles.
The video they’ve filmed for the song is a worthwhile visual companion for the piece. Hench and Markel don’t attempt dazzling listeners with special effects in an effort to conceal the inherent weakness of their performance but, instead, provide viewers/listeners with a powerful video that accentuates the physical qualities inherent in both performances.
It’s a wonderful exclamation point on the release without drawing any attention away from the song itself. Angela Hench and Gregory Markel’s cover of “Barcelona” has genuine crossover potential and will satisfy any open-minded listener who hears it. Let’s hope it gives Hench’s vocal career the push that it deserves. “Barcelona” is a high profile release netting Hench actual Grammy buzz that will likely come to fruition. She’s chosen well with the selection of this song for a cover and her duet partner is an excellent match as well.