I suspect that the Volvo TV commercial with the opera singer is fairly popular. After all, it's been on the air for six months at this point. That's the one that asks the question "Can you design an SUV for an aria?" and shows how classy the Volvo is because a Mozart aria from The Magic Flute" plays throughout.
Personally, it makes me nuts. I may be in the minority -- but it still makes me nuts. To be clear, I don't mind that while the public likely thinks it's such a sweet piece of music, in fact "The Queen of the Night" aria is sung by a murderous villain to her daughter,
Opera fans watching this commercial must cringe, if they’re not guffawing. That’s because the music on the soundtrack is no paean to grace and lovingkindness, but the homicidal signature aria of one of the most monstrous characters in the canon. As Michael Hiltzik wrote about the ad in the L.A. Times, "she’s one vicious specimen. Think Cruella de Vil times 1 million."
The German aria begins with the words that in English mean “The vengeance of hell,” and eventually get to “Death and despair flame about me. Hear, gods of revenge, Hear a mother's oath!” As she tells her daughter, the girl must commit murder or be "disowned, abandoned, destroyed -- forever.”.
But that's okay if people don't know what's actually be said. What you don't know can't kill you, as the expression goes, although if you're driving at 80 MPH and don't know a blind, cliff drop-off is just around the bend, I wouldn't rely on wise adages saving you. That aside, if people like listening to an aria, fine. It puts things in more of an odd perspective for those who do know the opera, but so be it.
To be clear, it's a fairly well-produced commercial, and from Volvo's history I assume that it's a fine SUV. What rubs me the wrong way is the performance of the singer, which (as I said) I suspect most people love, and certainly do from comments on YouTube. The singer, Emily Cheung, might be wonderfully talented, but she was given a light-hearted, almost sweet arrangement that -- to my ear -- makes the number thin and just on the good side of screechy. She's not straining to hit the notes (in what is a very difficult number), but they don't seem to come fluidly, and the result ends up sounding, as Hiltzik describes it, "chirpy." To me, it's like she's reaching to grab each note individually, rather than having them already deliciously filling her basket.
For the longest while, I've thought that perhaps it's just me. (Or me and Michael Hiltzik...) After all, the ad has been running for half a year with no end in sight. But then just the other day I received a premium gift for donating to a classical music radio station, WFMT in Chicago. It was a CD with a variety of classical selections -- including "Queen of the Night" from The Magic Flute. When it came on, I immediately sat up and thought, "Oh, okay, so it isn't me. That is how I thought it was supposed to sound."
Here's the ad --
And here's the full piece with Mozart's robust, portentous, brooding arrangement, and a vocal performance by Donna Robin (who's on the CD I received) that's rich, smooth and flowing. You don't have to listen to the whole thing (though may enjoy it enough to), but the first minute will suffice.
The only thing I'll add is the suggestion that, if they still sound pretty much the same to you, to go back again and listen once more to the Volvo commercial. The contrast, the thinness, I think, may be more striking now.
To be clear, people may still prefer or simply enjoy the more thin quality of the ad for its "sweetness." And if so, I get it. To me, after six months, it's gotten close to being fingernails on a chalkboard.
And that's largely the only reason I'm bringing this up now. If the ad had run for a month or two, fine, perfectly fine, God speech. But it's been six months, and I think it's fair to say that that's passed the statute of limitations for a TV ad...