What is “popera”? Apparently this is the new label for a lowest-common-denominator blend of elements from popular music and opera that has been with us for some time now. You can group any number of acts from the past four decades into this wide, lucrative tent — Demis Roussos, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Jesus Christ Superstar” and its successors, the Three Tenors concerts, Sarah Brightman, Andrea Bocelli, Josh Groban, etc. — and now, a young Bulgarian singer-composer named Krassimir wants to join and perhaps lead the pack. He tried hard — with a big, expensive, stage-crowding, global-flavored breakout of a show at the Kodak (with proceeds benefiting the UCLA AIDS Institute) — but ultimately he was disguising a lack of substance with bulldozing waves of volume.
Krassimir, who moved to Los Angeles from his native country in 1999, received the 2005 Independent Superstar of the Year Award at the L.A. Music Awards — and his most-often-touted selling point is his four-octave vocal range. Sure enough, his voice soared seamlessly from a pop tenor range to an eerie, silvery male soprano without a falsetto break — a true freak of nature — and once he got comfortable onstage, he used his mime training to illustrate, and react physically to, the music.
To decorate his voice, Krassimir added layers and layers of showbiz — a string orchestra sawing away anonymously, backup vocalists, the solo violin of Karen Briggs, trace elements of Asian instruments like the Indian sarod and tabla and Japanese taiko drums, balance-defying stilt dancers, and all the snazzy lighting that the Kodak can provide.
Yet all this care, flash and weight was placed at the service of a modest cache of original material by Krassimir and his collaborators. Cast mainly in minor keys, most of the songs strip-mine opera’s grandiose pretensions and pop’s sentimentality, adding the softest of soft-rock rhythms and the occasional superficial world-music accent.
The one striking piece of material was “Madness of Greatness,” a withering critique of an ego-driven superstar (“You fell like Faustus/Into the mouth of corporate hell/And media cell”) peppered with blows from the taiko drums. Unfortunately most of the words were unintelligible in the hall, but they can be heard more clearly on Krassimir’s recent CD, “Popera.”
Early birds filing into the hall were unexpectedly greeted by an agreeable folk-flavored solo set from singer/pianist Anna Montgomery and folk songs from the blissfully lacerating UCLA Bulgarian Women’s Choir. The printed program was lavish, surprisingly informative — and free.