Anastasia Tsioulcas writes at NPR Music for “Deceptive Cadence” (http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence). Widely published as a writer on both classical and world music, she is the former North America editor for Gramophone Magazine and the classical music columnist for Billboard. She has also been an on-air contributor to many public radio programs, including WNYC’s Soundcheck, Minnesota Public Radio’s The Savvy Traveler, Public Radio International’s Weekend America, and the BBC’s The World.
Maybe the production team for The Bachelor and The Bachelorette has a newly acquired taste for high Cs and Wagnerian levels of personality conflict, but this reality-show franchise has suddenly made a habit of casting aspiring opera singers.
The newest edition of The Bachelorette premieres Monday night, with tenor Bradley Wisk included among the initial 25 contestants vying for a rose from "bachelorette" Andi Dorfman. On Wisk's website, the 32-year-old singer says that he was a student of Giorgio Tozzi at Indiana University and then received his master's degree at Manhattan School of Music. But over the past few years, he's been shopping himself around as more of a aspiring "popera" performer, complete with backup dancers.
If you're curious to hear Wisk in action in pure classical mode, we've dug up a video of him singing the ever-popular "Che gelida manina" aria from Puccini's La Bohème.
Maybe Wisk's turn on The Bachelorette — regardless of how many roses he accepts along the way — will provide just the kind of media exposure that he seems to be seeking for his own, not-so-highbrow career. But he might also want to heed the words of Sharleen Joynt, the young soprano who recently, and famously, decided to leave The Bachelor of her own accord partway through taping.
Joynt is no Miss America talent-competition-level dilettante, and, unlike Wisk, she's a hardcore opera singer. This past season, she's been covering Strauss' Arabella at the Met. Her teacher in New York, Ruth Falcon, has also taught heavy hitters like Deborah Voigt, Sondra Radvanovsky and Danielle de Niese. A shakily recorded video of Joynt singing "Grossmächtige Prinzessin" from Strauss' opera Ariadne auf Naxos in Heidelberg, Germany, is just stunning.
In retrospect, though, it seems like Joynt may have made a serious career misstep by appearing on an immensely popular reality TV show. In separate interviews, Joynt has told a couple of our classical media friends that she thinks appearing on The Bachelor has held her back professionally. "I wouldn't say this has helped my career," she told Anne Midgette over at The Washington Post. "I was recently refused an audition in the States. I haven't been refused for an audition in like three years. ... I can't see it not being show-related. Evidently, the casting director said I was too junior-league for them."
On WQXR's Conducting Business podcast, the clearly talented Joynt told our WQXR colleague Naomi Lewin, "I think that the opera world is very wary of me at the moment." (Additional note: This may be the first — nay, only — time that Us Magazine picks up a lead from WQXR.)
"Everything I have done in my life, more or less, has been for this career [in opera]," Joynt told Lewin. "And so to suddenly maybe to be taken less seriously because I spent two months filming a reality show — it's a little heartbreaking, in a way." Joynt says she thought she was doing a good job of splitting the two by not mentioning the show on her own, completely opera-geared website. (I say: Google knows no bounds.)
Maybe what Wisk is grasping at in his career is so different from what Joynt wants that there won't be any blowback the way there might have been for her. But it's worth asking: Was there some level of snobbery at play here? Was The Bachelor just too popular a media vehicle for the opera world to abide? There's probably no clear-cut answer to these questions, but they're worth asking during an era in which struggling opera companies across the U.S. each try their hardest to be the most beautiful belle at the ball.