Imagine you’re the proud parents of a girl who has grown up with a love of music and singing. You watch her evolve into a young woman who follows the path of the soprano. The concert halls of the world beckon: you’ll be jetting off to La Scala, Covent Garden, the New York Metro
Then, one day your clasically trained daughter comes home and says, ‘I want to be in Iron Maiden.’
Tarja Turunen, to my knowledge, never had aspirations to sing for Iron Maiden, but she did the next best thing and joined another rock band. Imagine her parents, sitting there, suitcases packed, Lonely Planet guide to Milan on the table, ready for the proud moment young Tarja mixes it with Domingo, Pavarotti et al.
And instead, she’s using coal for eye liner and making this funny horn-like gesture with her fingers.
Of course she wasn’t the first classically trained musician to defect to the dark side. Jon Lord knew his way round an orchestra and Motley Crue’s Vince Neill auditioned to play the tuba for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. (He didn’t really, I made that bit up.) Sometimes they go the other way: remember Nigel Kennedy and Vanessa Mae, both fiddling about with non-classical music?
But Tarja is somehow different because in amongst the powerchords the spirit of clasical music continues to mooch about. She, more than any other soprano in rock music, has managed to fuse the drama of classical music with the drama of rock. Losing her was the reason why Nightwish took so long to find some kind of equilibrium (which they now have, thankfully).
(For those who don’t know: ‘Thank you Joe’ is a thank you to Joe Satriani playing lead solo on Falling Awake.)
Nightwish, or more strictly, Tuomas Holapainen, needed Tarja’s voice and style and image to bring life to his extraordinary musical arrangements. And three albums after parting ways with her old band Tarja continues to mix two musical cultures.
But are they really that different? Is opera, with all its death and despair, so alien to Tarja’s kind of rock? When we see photos on her second album of a bleached face with some grotesque death-mask scarring, is that the rock equivalent of Turandot and its grisly execution, torture and suicide? Nothing nice about grisly execution, torture and sucide!
And there lies the rub. If the audience are in tuxedos and evening gowns it’s high art. If the crowd are in black tee-shirts and hob nailed boots it’s low brow. Tarja’s talent as a singer becomes lost in cultural snobbery. Listen to the rolled Rs on Victim of Ritual. Only Till Lindemann of Rammstein can roll his Rs for as long as that.
With the occasional trend for orchestras mashing it up with rock bands it’s only a matter of time before Tarja brings her Gothic extravaganza to a posh crowd for a right old knees up they’ll never forget. But for now she’s sticking to what she does best: producing teeth-rattling symphonic metal and confusing the fuck out of me.
I blame the parents.
More information at tarjaturunen.com