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Music Review: Paul Potts – One Chance

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Several months ago I wrote a short piece about Paul Potts, Opera’s Cinderfeller, for Blogcritics. I’ve written a few Blogcritics articles and essays this past year, but none of them have had the staying power the one about Paul Potts has had.

It took awhile for me to finally realize the much anticipated debut album by Britain’s Got Talent winner Paul Potts had finally made its way across the pond. Not content to wait for a few days for it to reach me in the wilds of New Mexico, I checked to see if it was available for download on i-Tunes. Success!

My first thought, would I be disappointed? Would the Cinderfeller story continue? Was the fairy tale Welsh tenor a one song wonder? Could he handle an orchestra? Perhaps it is fate that I downloaded his album a few days after the great Luciano Pavarotti’s death. There will never be another Pavarotti, just as there has never been another Caruso, but opera is a funny thing. It never fails to provide just the right artist for the age.

Perhaps Paul Potts is that artist for today. He is failure, hope, futility, perseverance, and victory personified. He is every dream that ever came true. We are living in a strange world today, one where we don’t know what the future is going to bring. Is that the secret of the Paul Potts story? He just could be the right person at the right place at the right time.

My second thought? I noticed the album had a little of everything, Broadway, opera, pop, even "Silent Night". This puzzled me for a moment, then I realized this is a true representation of Paul Potts. It is as though he was going to throw everything, including the kitchen sink into the album – just in case it would be his only album. I truly hope and pray it is not – for my sake if not his! Then I learned he was performing some of his favorites, including "Cavatina," which he dedicated to his wife.

I don’t mind admitting I am disappointed with this album. I believe I’ve mentioned I am an opera freak. I wanted more “hard core” opera on it! Other than that, I am so pleased with it. That said, this is the perfect debut album. It has a little bit of everything including "Silent Night and O Holy Night," some Broadway, a little Neapolitan, and what is fated to become his trademark "Nessun Dorma." For an opera singer, a debut album should be a sampler of the ‘talent’. Paul Potts, One Chance is just that. By the time I was half-way through I realized this man could sing Wagner!

Opera fans are funny creatures. We like to compare performances the way baseball fans (which many of us are for some strange reason) compare pitching or hitting stats. The best way to judge a voice is to compare it to other performances. For me, Potts does this with "Amapola," and "Con Te Parliro" and his trademark "Nessun Dorma." During the past couple of decades all three songs have been recorded by two of the greatest tenors ever, the late, great Luciano Pavarotti and my personal favorite Placido Domingo. They have also been recorded by every other great tenor from Caruso to Richard Tucker. Paul Potts can hold his own with the ‘gods’ of the High C’s!

I am not an Andrew Lloyd Webber fan. When I noticed "Music of the Night" was on the album I inwardly groaned. A few notes into it and I was in tears. I don’t mind admitting most of the album on the first listen brought me to tears. Maybe it was the music, maybe it was the story, maybe it was the artist. Is it possible part of Potts’ appeal is the emotion and back-story behind the music? Would I be brought to tears if I did not know it was Potts?

The secret of a great musician is his or her passion. To have great passion one must have the ups and downs of life, especially the heart-ache. That passion, that depth that only heart-break and pain brings to a performer is there in Paul Potts’ voice. Perhaps it is the mark of greatness. In Paul Potts’ voice you hear those years of heart-break, of hopes dashed, and of dreams that might never be realized. You see a man who isn’t quite sure if anything good is going to come out of those hopes and dreams. You see every person who has ever nurtured a dream and failed. Paul Potts’ success is our success. His dreams are our dreams. His amazing victory was our victory! And there-in lies the passion to color a remarkable voice.

I cheer when Potts nails the high notes. He has two spectacular ones in this album in "O Holy Night" and "Con Te Partiro " and they are magnificent! Opera fanatics thrill to the “High C’s” and he has ‘em. But, he also has Placido Domingo’s lower register. The man has his own unique voice.

Paul Potts is a true Heldentenor. I don’t care about the fluff, I want the ‘hard stuff’. I want to hear him do some Tannhauser, Siegfried, or Parsifal. He has that kind of a voice. Only the greats have the voice that can handle the grand Italian Spinto and Dramatic Tenor roles and do the Heldentenor thing. Pavarotti could not. Only Placido Domingo comes to mind. It is entirely possible Paul Potts is going to end up in that league.

My personal favorite track of the album is "Caruso." It has everything and is the perfect showpiece for his voice.

Amazon has Potts’ recording "Nessun Dorma." Before you tune into it, grab a tissue. You are going to need it, once again.

 The US version of the album adds the two Christmas songs as ‘bonus’ tracks. Does this mean there is a Paul Potts Christmas Album in our very near future. The consummate Scrooge, I’ll even listen to it!

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About SJ Reidhead

  • Mark Rhoads

    Is “One Chance” primarily a collection of songs from opera? No. Did I enjoy it very much? Yes. Some selections from opera such as those of Puccini can be enjoyed by those who do not speak Italian. We are appreciating just listening to the human voice as an instrument.

    In the expectations game, it is not really fair to compare a man who was selling cell phones to earn his living just a few months ago to long-developed professional talents such as The Three Tenors at their peak.

    Before March 2007, Potts had not sung in public in four years. With coaching during the Britain’s Got Talent competition, his voice improved dramatically between his first audition in March and June 16 when callers voted for him to win the contest.

    In his last years, Pavarotti was wise to sing extremely close to his microphone to sing Nessun Dorma so that he would not strain his voice. Even when they were younger, Pavarotti, Domingo, and Carreras, I would argue, did not really have the effortless power for high notes that Mario Lanza had fifty years ago.

    The point is that Potts is just starting his career and is still training his voice. The market for an album of nothing but songs from opera is a tiny one. He and his producers were wise to offer other songs for a broader appeal to the general public. Professional music critics I think would be better advised to keep their powder dry and wait a few years before they begin to review Potts as primarily a tenor for professional opera.

  • Sally Griffith

    Finally, an intelligent response to “One Chance”! Thank you so much. The few reviewers who have deigned to listen to it have focused mainly on the choice of music rather on the voice itself. Amateur reviewers, on the other hand, have shown the true power of Paul Potts’ voice to move us, to reach our hearts in a way the opera is supposed to do but rarely does in this day of technical perfection.

    Of course, Paul still has a way to go. He’s the first to admit that he’s not “the finished article.” But I feel privileged to be able to follow his progress every step of the way. I have listened to One Chance almost daily since receiving the UK version in July. It never fails to please, though the tracks I respond to most change from day to day. “Cavatina” has always been my favorite, for its purity and depth of feeling. But “Music of the Night” began as my least favorite and is now at the top of the list; his expert mining of its dramatic potential shows that he has the ability to take on real operatic roles.

    I hope that his next CD has more operatic material — I would love to hear “Che Gelida Manina” which is his personal favorite. But I am very, very happy to have his “One Chance.” It will definitely not be his last!

  • Skidegodt

    As Andrea Bocelli is the classic example of the blind leading the deaf Mr. Potts is the classic example of media marketing leading the consumer horse to water while convincing them they are partaking of vintage cognac. I find the comparisons to Maestro Pavrotti to be an insult to the memory of one the great singers of all time and Maestro Domingo might wish he were dead if he realisd he was being humped in with Mr. Potts. As an opera critic I think you make a great baseball fan.

  • Patricia Sayre

    I agree. His voice is beautiful. He is a beautiful person regardless of his teeth and round face. He truly has inner beauty.

  • Ken

    I am a singer, with years of performing behind me, and hopefully more to come. As a stage performer, I would like to suggest that singing on TV, radio, or any medium involving a microphone is an entirely different experience (i.e projecting a few inches to the mic instead of 100 feet across a full orchestra)than singing an opera in a theater with no amplification.

    So, while I heartily join the enthusiasm for this delightful singer, and wish him all the very best for continued success, I wonder if comparing him to the finest stage singers in recent history is justified.

    Having said that, I enjoy his singing, and am a great fan of many other “microphone” classical artists (i.e. Lanza, Bochelli, Schmid, etc.

    Some of these singers were also adept on the stage when they needed to be, and all certainly garnered more fame and money than those of us who sing exclusively on the stage. Indeed, these artists bring more people to the classical music experience as well.

  • http://blogcritics.org B. A. Mohr

    Saddened me to see the pouched egg, fried egg review on Master Paul Potts One Chance Album.

    Opera will have him soon enough,& for a long time to come; lets let common music lovers have him for a while. Angel of Music he is covers more then Opera, wait your our turn. give him an other Chance, buy his 1st CD, and expand his Horizon.
    ~Bobbi~
    Seattle WA.USA

  • Joe

    Mr reidhead, you are a disgrace comparing Paul Potts not only to the great Pavarotti, but to the great Enrico Caruso. You clearly know absolutely nothing about Opera, and that is putting it lightly. You say you are an opera freak, but I would have a bet you are one of those people who bought a Greatest Opera arias collection because to compare Paul Potts, an untrained singer who struggles almost every single time to hit the B flat at the end of Nessun Dorma, who struggles for his breath at the end of almost every line of every song he sings live…….to GREATS LIKE CARUSO AND PAVAROTTI, WHO HAD TRAINED INTENSIVELY FOR YEARS AND YEARS AND YEARS, WHO HAVE SUCH POWERFUL VOICES……….IS ONE OF THE SILLIEST THINGS I HAVE EVER HEARD.

    The other commenter who mentioned about his inability to sing without the microphone…..is 100% correct. A relative, knowing that I am an Opera fan, bought me a ticket to see Potts. Not wanting to disappoint, I attended. I had a decent time, but was really really really disappointed. Having experienced La Scala once in my life, I could just imagine Potts getting bombed of the stage. He is simply not a good opera singer. He reminds me of a choirboy. He has a nice voice and would do great singing gospel hymns or something.

    All of this isnt Potts fault at all. I like the guy a lot, so humble, had a tough enough life and has now done well for himself. GREAT. But it is people like Mr Reidhead, who are comparing him to the all time greats (such a comparison would probably annoy Paul Potts), who are ruining it for Potts.

    One final point, I honestly believe that Mr Redihead has written these silly review of Paul Potts to pander to the huge public love that has gone his way. Their is no other reason for such complete ignorance!

  • Joe

    Mr reidhead, you are a disgrace comparing Paul Potts not only to the great Pavarotti, but to the great Enrico Caruso. You clearly know absolutely nothing about Opera, and that is putting it lightly. You say you are an opera freak, but I would have a bet you are one of those people who bought a Greatest Opera arias collection because to compare Paul Potts, an untrained singer who struggles almost every single time to hit the B flat at the end of Nessun Dorma, who struggles for his breath at the end of almost every line of every song he sings live…….to GREATS LIKE CARUSO AND PAVAROTTI, WHO HAD TRAINED INTENSIVELY FOR YEARS AND YEARS AND YEARS, WHO HAVE SUCH POWERFUL VOICES……….IS ONE OF THE SILLIEST THINGS I HAVE EVER HEARD.

    The other commenter who mentioned about his inability to sing without the microphone…..is 100% correct. A relative, knowing that I am an Opera fan, bought me a ticket to see Potts. Not wanting to disappoint, I attended. I had a decent time, but was really really really disappointed. Having experienced La Scala once in my life, I could just imagine Potts getting bombed of the stage. He is simply not a good opera singer. He reminds me of a choirboy. He has a nice voice and would do great singing gospel hymns or something.

    All of this isnt Potts fault at all. I like the guy a lot, so humble, had a tough enough life and has now done well for himself. GREAT. But it is people like Mr Reidhead, who are comparing him to the all time greats (such a comparison would probably annoy Paul Potts), who are ruining it for Potts.

    One final point, I honestly believe that Mr Redihead has written these silly review of Paul Potts to pander to the huge public love that has gone his way. Their is no other reason for such complete ignorance!

  • Anima

    I normally wouldn’t comment but just can’t help myself after reading “Joe’s” presentation above. Just two small things, Joe, and I’ll leave the rest alone. First, Paul does not struggle at all with breath at the end of almost every line of every song. Where did you come up with that idea? As anyone who has ever listened to him knows, that’s just patently false.

    Second, you say “a relative” bought you a ticket to see Potts, you attended and were really disappointed, having previously attended La Scala. Well, I just can’t help laughing at that, since Paul has not even begun his concert tour yet. Of all his performances around the world, he has done a couple of brief shows in Canada that may or may not have required a ticket; they were not full-blown concerts but private shows sponsored by radio stations. 99% of his performances have been promotional gigs that don’t require a ticket.

  • EC07

    RRRRRRROOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLLLLLLFFFFFFFFFFF ……….. Anima whooped joe . LMAO.

  • jackie Lamphier

    To those who imagine Paul Potts can’t project, remember he sang in 4 ameteur Operas in Bath the last opera house with no audio help at all. And there are a few videos as lead in to shows (The Hour in Canada for one )or even 1 video I found of Paul in the Prague opera house sans mike and filling the whole house. They are presently used for promotional use. We wish there were a DVD of this.

  • Lee

    Paul Potts has brought much joy & pleasure to a lot of people but there are always those who want to tear down anyone on their way up.

    Simply listen to the music & the voice & enjoy the moment. If you spend your time trying to find fault & trying to turn each artist’s performance into some kind of competition, a comparison in which you’re obviously only trying to prove “you know better than anyone else what is or is not good”, then you’ll never really ever enjoy the performance before you. That is what is really sad.

    Mr Potts has provided a great deal of enjoyment to a great many people & I hope he continues to do so. His story is an inspiration to many & I can’t think of a single fault for any of it. I hope he & everyone else learns to ignore the self described “critics” who think they are right to try to destroy the beauty & joy others found in him & his performances. Sing on, Mr Potts! A lot of us out here enjoy it & those who don’t, don’t have to listen but they can do the rest of us a favor & keep their so called “expert destructive” comments to themselves.

  • Lauren

    You disgraceful people who are trying to destroy the amazing PaulPotts. Pavarotti trained from a child, he was born into an opera family. Pul Potts is not a trained opera singer, but he is better to listen to than others, including Pavarotti. Pauls voice is soft, yet very strong, opera singers shout, and shouting puts people off, put Paul Potts in a top opera house they would queue miles. Please you opera critics, do not tell us what to listen to, we know what we like,and I am afraid after one play, Pavarotti CD collected dust, no chance of Pauls One Chance doing that, his voice is like velvet, opera critics UP YOUR ARIAS>

  • Merle

    I was born with an acute ear for music. It can be very painful because I hear mistakes others do not. I attended the Opera in Vienna once and was severely disappointed as it has an outstanding reputation. The whole thing for me was extremely painful to listen to as so many awful mistakes were being made by the singers. Luckily I was sitting right before the orchestra who were shear perfection. I did my best to zone out the singers and focus on the orchestra. To my amazement, the performance received a standing ovation. I remained seated and had to restrain myself from yelling – are you people deaf!! Sometimes I think people hear what they expect to hear, and do not apply any real judgement. Maybe they have no real judgement and rely on reputation to tell them what is good. The Vienna Opera has a great reputation, so people love it regardless of the quality of the performance. This is extraordinary to me.

    Paul Potts is known as a car phone salesman (though he does have a history in the classical music scene from what I have read), so by the same crowd that would love the Vienna opera, he is disliked because he is not that thing that they have been taught to understand to be quality. As they do not know what quality is, they can only go by peripheral factors. They fear that their own reputations as refined appreciators of music will be damaged if they were to demonstrate appreciation for the music of a car phone salesman.

    I have only listed to a few isolated TV performances of Paul Potts. The man is very close to perfection in those performances tonally. The emotion behind the performance was extraordinary. The reviewer expected to hear an amateur performance on the album and instead heard perfection. He is not swayed by reputation and has his own judgement – which is good judgement.

    Art snobbism is a strange thing.

    Must get that album.

  • http://www.ideo.ro/ Ideo

    A new Paul Potts was born! Romanian Costel Busuioc came out of nowhere and won the Hijos de Babel competition in Spain. Here are his videos, he is amazing.

  • Terence Lawton

    One of the most important issues raised here is the vexed question of which faculty has primacy – the creative or the critical.Opera critics, or at least the most formulaicly inclined amongthem, work within a narrowly constrained series of diagnostic qualitative criteria. If enough boxes get ticked they’re happy. If not they take pleasure in tearing the entire performance apart. Technique is privileged above interpretation – and where the latter to any extent is seen to challenge the former critics rapidly lose their aesthetic bearings and respond negatively. The reason of course is quite simple -people like Potts and Bocelli, by confounding the critics’ expectations, breaking their arbitrary rules and still managing to fill concert halls, threaten the raison d’etre of those critics. They lose their power, respect and position and, of course, they hate it. In the light of a postmodern aesthetic, fixed notions of what comprises a good or bad or mediocre voice are becoming obsolete. We live in the 21st Century not the 19th. Why should popular taste suborn itself to critical narratives whose origins are lost in history and whose self-proclaimed custodians are usually so out of touch with what is happening outside the rarefied and artistically stale air of Covent Garden and La Scala? Critics of the school represented by the above poster who described the comparison between Potts and the insufferably mechanistic Pavarotti (who pushed his voice so far beyond its sell-by date that in his later performances Paul Potts could have sung him out of any hall without raising a sweat) are a dying breed. Equally under threat are the rules they attempt to set for the rest of us. But even if one accepts these criteria one is inevitably impelled to concede that the conclusions derived from them are by no means definitive. Take Callas for example – possessed of a seriously flawed voice yet regarded as one of the greatest sopranos ever. What is really at stake here is something rather more insidious – namely the stranglehold which opera critics and the people who hold them in regard feel they have a right to hold upon “high” culture. What offends them about Potts is not his voice but the fact that he was a phone saleseman, that he is working class, that he probably wouldn’t know which knife to use first at a snooty banquet, and above all that he is liked and applauded by people who neither regard themselves as especially cultured nor fluent in the operatic medium but who nonetheless like what they hear and are moved by it. He outrages not so much their appreciation of vocal artistry but their notion that opera should be inaccessible, elitist. God forbid that opera should actually become popular. Where would the critics be when they found themselves outnumbered, out-manouevred and out-moded by the common herd? Potts’ voice has a long way to go. He would, and doubtless will, also benefit from coaching in the cadences and subtleties of the languages other than English in which he sings. Nonetheless he is a shining beacon of talent which will improve over time to become something truly sensational. What’s the difference between a critic and a cobra? One is a poisonous snake that will lash out at anything if its terrirotry is invaded. The other is a reptile. Bravissimo Maestro Potts!

  • Terence Lawton

    Further to my last post and in response to that of Joe. You seem to be suggesting that Potts has the voice of a Jugendlicherheldentenor when his range and register are patently those of a Heldentenor. (tenore robusto and lirico-spinto respectively, or if you prefer it in French tenor fort Wagnerien and tenor fort Francais) If you know as much as you purport to about opera you will understand the difference and acknowledge your mistake. Alternatively buy a decent book on the Fach system and listen to Potts again.

  • Andre

    The last point is well made but I would make another. Joe says he has “experienced” La Scala once in his life. During my career as a fashion designer I spent months at a time in Milan and “experienced” La Scala maybe three or four dozen times. I can tell you that not everyone who sings there is as brilliant as Joe might have been led to believe by his one-off “big night out”. I have seen tenors perform there who have been so bad that a quarter of the audience hasn’t bothered to return after the intermission – and not just tenors but sopranos too. I am led to suspect as you are Terence that Joe is not much of an opera buff as he would like us to think he is. I doubt if he knows what the Fach system is.

  • sasha

    I do not want to be cruel, but I have to. I wish all the best to Paul, but I have to say that his technique is so bad. Torment for my ears. I cant listen his CD anymore. I am not talking about feelings and emotions in his performence, thats what I like, but that technique, simply terrible. As terrible as my English. :-(

  • http://www.byteburn.com Arthur

    this is a very well written review, and in most cases, we have the same feelings about how the songs in this album touches our hearts.

    paul potts is going to manila and im definitely going to watch his concert.

  • http://www.gloriawaldronhukle.name Gloria Waldron Hukle

    I received Paul Pott’s ONE CHANCE as a Christmas 08 gift. He is wonderful!

  • George

    Those of you who denigrate Paul Potts voice as not Opera material are forgetting that their are lots of important people and corporations who have put their reputations and money on the line to get Paul started in the right direction, you really think they don’t know what their doing? For many of them (business wise)they see a gold mine in Paul Potts, for others who are Opera lovers as well as business men, see Paul’s enormous talent and potential to be Opera’s next big voice who is not of Italian or Hispanic decent. Paul will be polished, packaged, and ready to fill the leading Opera houses around the world in a few years…he just needs time both mentally, physically, and spiritually for the big time, his past has conditioned him to think small, be small, to be meek and unassuming like 98% of the masses, thankfully Paul Potts finally pushed his dream to the forefront and took a chance…took that “One Chance” and gambled everything….and won!!

  • papadon54

    Pure, simple pleasure. It’s rare and elusive. I feel like I’ve been given a great gift. Few voices move me to tears. Mr. Potts voice draws emotions from my soul that I thought were long dead. He is a hero for the simple people that appreciate a special blessing when they see it.

  • wendy

    paul potts is doing fine. he’s doing what he’s good at while entertaining and educating people. humans raise individuals onto a pedestal then kick it from under them. it’s so sad.
    for the record, pavarotti didn’t come from an opera family. his father was a good tenor but they wern’t rich and pav jnr had to work to pay for his lessons and he, just like potts, was fortunate enough to be noticed by someone who gave him a chance in the opera world.
    there are people in this world who have a strong burning desire to follow their dream, no matter what gets in their way. paul potts is doing this. no matter what anyone says, he will continue to do this, it’s not a choice, it’s a calling.

  • Mike

    This comment from Terence Lawton: “In the light of a postmodern aesthetic, fixed notions of what comprises a good or bad or mediocre voice are becoming obsolete” – is the most ignorant thing I’ve read on the internets all year! Thanks for the laugh, Terence.

    By the way, anyone heard of the dreadful Paul Potts lately? Disappeared a bit, hasn’t he?