Top Five Faked Classical Performances

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Cellist Yo Yo Ma (R), violinist Itzhak Perlman (L), and Pianist Gabriela Montero perform John Williams's  'Air and Simple Gifts' during the inauguration of Barack Obama in 2009 Cellist Yo Yo Ma (R), violinist Itzhak Perlman (L), and Pianist Gabriela Montero perform at the Obama Inauguration in 2009 (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Last week tenor Jonas Kaufmann posted on his Facebook page that he in fact lip synched the Champions League theme at the soccer tournament’s final game. His disclosure came to quell another bigger scandal—he had cancelled a pair of performances at the Metropolitan Opera citing illness just before he appeared at the sporting event.

While Kaufman’s admission to stave off furor from his fans might be unique, it's certain not the first time a performer has faked a performance in classical music. These are our top five:

1. The Hatto Hoax

For years Joyce Hatto was an enigma among piano connoisseurs. Though she seldom performed live—a cancer diagnosis forced her to retreat to the English countryside—the musician suddenly started churning out celebrated recordings in her 60s and 70s. Following her death in 2006, interest in the reclusive pianist’s recordings swelled, as well as skepticism of her unlikely story. The discovery that Hatto’s husband had copied other pianists' recordings and attributed them to her caused an international scandal in classical music.

2. The Obama Inauguration

Washington, D.C. was mired in of one of its coldest winters on record as the city prepared for Barack Obama’s inauguration. As onlookers readied themselves for temperatures in the teens, four musicians—Itzhak Perlman, Anthony McGill, Yo-Yo Ma and Gabriela Montero—made the executive decision not to play their priceless instruments in the string-snapping cold. Instead, the performers played to a prerecorded track, which provided better sound and fodder for a scandal.

3. The Beijing Olympics

The culmination of the spectacular opening ceremonies 2008 Olympics in Beijing offered a sentimental climax, as a sweet-voiced fifth grader sang the specially commissioned “Ode to the Motherland.” However, its composer, Chen Qigang, raised a fuss when he found out the actual singer wasn’t the adorable girl who appeared in broadcasts around the world, but a more homely one with crooked teeth. Both performers later said they were privileged to participate in the ceremony.

4. Luciano Pavarotti at the Torino Olympics

Lip synching rumors swirled around Luciano Pavarotti—his longtime manager, Herbert Breslin, maintained the tenor occasionally relied on pre-recorded tracks throughout his career. However, the aging singer most definitely used a tape when he was called on to sing his trademark "Nessun dorma" during the 2006 Opening Cermonies for the Torino Olympics.

5. Kirsten Flagstad

Kirsten Flagstad was 57 and arguably the most famous Wagnerian soprano of the time when she recorded the female title role in the Wilhelm Furtwängler version of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. However, her high Cs—Isolde sings two—weren’t quite up to the level of the rest of her singing. Enter Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, who donated a pair of high notes to the recording.

Weigh in: Is it ever okay to lip-sync or mime a performance? Leave your comments below:


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Comments [26]


Some DVD recordings of operas have separate audio and video, i.e., they were recorded at separate times. This makes the singers look like they are lip synching, which in a way they are. Such as the Carmen recorded by Leontyne Price, directed by Herbert von Karajan. Some times they are lip synching.

Mar. 05 2013 09:54 PM
Richard Brice from Richard Brice, 5962 S. Eudora Way, Centennial, C 80121

In Memory of Mike Wallace, there was a Violenist who played the most wonderful piece of Music I have ever heard.

I want to know who this Violenist is, and How do I get a DVD of the Event.

Feb. 05 2013 08:41 PM
RP from NYC

I'm curious as to whom is supposedly conducting this nonsense. I bet if Sir Colin Davis was still in the best of health, he would be at the head of the LSO and enjoying it thoroughly. No one could possibly replace him.

Jun. 25 2012 11:51 AM
Bruce from Los Angeles

Let's not forget all the "live" classical recordings on CDs which not only usually have touch up sessions in the studio, but also usually take their performances from several concerts.

Jun. 15 2012 04:38 PM
Zachary Smith from Pittsburgh

Whitney Houston pre-recorded the "Star Spangled Banner" with the Florida Orchestra in Tampa for Super Bowl XXV and they all faked along with the recording during the show. I've played the "Banner" in big stadiums(Three Rivers, Heinz Field, PNC Park) and it is next to impossible to stay together with the sound delay that comes back through the speaker system. You start playing, 2 seconds later you hear your opening followed by layers and layers of "Oh say can you see"..... good luck!

Jun. 08 2012 02:33 PM

Of course, the list is missing the first big lip-sync scandal - Milli Vanilli.

I have no problem with lip-syncing or "air-violin" as long as 1) there is full disclosure, 2) the track you're pretending to play is your own, and 3) the point of the event isn't about live performance. When people went to hear Pavarotti sing, they wanted to hear this legendary tenor "live" and that's what he was hired for. We certainly didn't go just to look at him - at least, not in his latter days!

I had no problem with the Obama inauguration air-sync. Anyone expecting a musician to move his/her ungloved fingers in 15-degree weather is crazy!

There were 2 things that were scandalous about the Beijing Olympics lip-sync: 1) China tried to get away with it until they were "outed," and 2) the idea that the real singer didn't get to perform because she wasn't "perfect" in her appearance - and that was communicated to the little girl, who then had to put on her propaganda face and say what an honor it was to participate at all (what, it was an honor that her voice was selected even though she is "defective"??) - raises the hackles of anyone with a heart.

This issue, however, brings to light a conundrum for the performing arts. With our CDs and mp3s, overdubs, Auto Tune, and our "disposable" society in general, we have come to expect constant perfection, which is hardly fair to the performers. Not sure what to do about that.

Jun. 08 2012 11:45 AM
Stiv2slava from Atlanta

I can confirm for a fact that the 1996 Olympic opening and closing ceremonies were synced. I was at the pre-recording sessions and ceremonies. The orchestra used cheap instruments rented from a local music store. I have photographs of a pile of violins pretending to lit on fire in the green room of the stadium.

Jun. 07 2012 10:49 PM

I suppose in this day and age it is no more different than caving into withdrawing not to complimentary reviews
of a certain ny opera house .

Jun. 07 2012 01:17 PM
eric cosentino from peekskill, ny

No one using a microphone is giving a "live" performance. At best, we are receiving a contemporaneous, faithful reproduction. That said, all should strive for a "faithful" presentation ("warts and all" as mentioned above). However, I think microphones and recordings have no place at all at the opera (where the audience is expressly paying to hear the living, human, voice), and in church (where the audience for the music is, properly, God, who can hear perfectly well without electronic amplification).

Jun. 05 2012 07:38 AM
Patricia G. Gerresheim from Upstate New York

I believe it all depends on the circumstances. Singers in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade all lip-synch to recordings to protect their voices in the cold. Performers in movies regularly perform to playback, so that they have a crisp recording in the soundtrack. Sometimes, professionals will dub the singing voices of actors who don't sing that well. A great example is the film version of 'My Fair Lady', where Marni Nixon provided the singing voice of Eliza Doolittle. (To hear Audrey Hepburn's actual singing voice, watch 'Breakfast at Tiffany's', in which she sings 'Moon River'.)

Also, actors *can* dance energetically and go right into singing. The cast of 'CATS' did that eight times a week for 20 years on Broadway, and 21 years in the West End, in addition to innumerable performances elsewhere in the world.

The use of microphones is a two-sided debate. While I prefer to hear an un-miked performance, it would be a shame to miss otherwise excellent performances because the actor/singer can't project his voice as well as some of his colleagues.

By the way, I remember being a chaperone to a student performance of 'The Magic Flute' at the Met back in the 70's. We were in the second tier, and during the intermission, I was talking with students from a different school, and asked them how they were enjoying the performance. They told me they liked it well enough, but they couldn't understand what was being sung, even though the performance was in English. I then pointed to the microphones hanging over the stage, and told them that they were for the Saturday afternoon broadcasts. Well, their chins were on the floor!! They just could not believe that the human voice could travel that far without amplification. They had a new appreciation of the opera after that!

Jun. 03 2012 01:02 PM
Kelvin Domovs from Morris Plains, NJ

I heard or read that Schwartzkopf was married to the director of the recording company who substituted one of her high notes for Tebaldi's in a recording. However, the whole controversy may be moot. My own voice teacher, who sang in nearly all the houses and halls of Italy, France and the U.S.A. in the good old days between 1909 and 1925, regarded all recordings and broadcasts as artificial.

Jun. 02 2012 11:44 PM
w.Pagenkopf from Flushing, NY

Horowitz return concert which wound up as a two record lp set was reportedly edited in a studio before release.

Jun. 02 2012 04:56 PM
william pagenkopf from Flushing, NY

I wonder if their were ever days of complete honesty.
No it is no EVER okay to fake a performance.
Now we are already suspicious of the Met and microphones.
Motion picture singers are always faked. Rise Stevens said when appearing they wanted her to look glamorous, keep her head up, so she would mouth to a pre recording. Watch the throats of singers and breathing. One cannot dance and have breath to go into a ballad immediately, film goers should know that much, Most movie stars are dubbed and mouth pro
singers recording.
Pat Neway who I knew did the singing for "climb every mountain" in the film Sound of Music. She had done the original on Broadway but Hollywood wanted a star for the part. Recently I believe it was wqxr whose announcer named that star as the singer when they played Pat's recording.
As a pianist my main teacher said you do not give excuses if you perform. If you cannot give a decent performance, don't. A hint to Mr. Gelb of the Met for telling us so often a singer is ill but will perform regardless.
The world has lost all its political ethics does everyone
have to follow?

Jun. 02 2012 04:48 PM
Les Bernstein from Miami, Florida

Lip-synching is an activity that is premeditated and should always be avoided. "Faking", during a live performance, is something that's not only acceptable, it's to be applauded, as in the case of Caruso singing "Vecchia Zimarra" for an indisposed Andres' de Segurola who turned his back to the audience while Caruso sang it offstage! This was witnessed by the late Max de Schaunsee, the great Philadelphia newspaper critic. "Faking" in a recording should also be acceptable if, as in the Flagstad example, it's for a specific reason that's short in duration and doesn't distance itself --- or call attention to itself as being anomalous.
Two examples of this are excerpts from "Otello" recorded in May 9, 1939, with the Met Orchestra conducted by Wilfred Pelletier. In Giovanni Martinelli's "Dio!Mi Potevi", he changes the color of his voice and sings Iago's "Cassio e' la?" then completes the aria in his own "Otello" voice! Why the splendid Lawrence Tibbett didn't sing it at the session I've long wondered about. My last "acceptable faking" example is Martinelli's recording of "Di Quella Pira" recorded November 17, 1927 with the Met Orchestra conducted by Giulio Setti, then the chorus master. Maestro Setti sings Ruiz's part, "Manrico? La Zingara" in his light tenor one would expect... right on pitch! Both Martinelli examples are RCA Victor recordings.

Jun. 02 2012 11:57 AM
Randall Dentworth IV from Calgary, Alberta

The incident at the Beijing Olympics was more political than anything else, wasn't it. Another way for good ole USA to bash China. It appeared to some of us that the Led Zeppelin guy at the end of the Beijing Olympics was lip synching on top of that bus, but nobody seems to bring that up.

Jun. 01 2012 10:06 PM
Dapahne H Romeo from Westchester, NY

I agree a faked performance at an inaugaration in the bitter cold, or in a stadium where acoustics are awful and a voice could be badly strained is permissable. Otherise, no.

Jun. 01 2012 03:40 PM
Justin Snider

The cutline in the Obama inauguration photo is wrong. Obama was inaugurated in 2009, not 2008. The election was in November 2008, yes, but the inauguration was in January 2009.

Jun. 01 2012 03:35 PM
Pat from NJ

I have no problem with lip synching at a ballgame or other arena event, maybe because the microphones, in any case, unavoidably distort the pure quality of the live voice. In the recital hall, lip synching would clearly be unthinkable. Touching up a studio recording seems acceptable, but I think a recording of live performance should be preserved as sung.

Jun. 01 2012 02:40 PM
Bebe from Union City

It is never ok to lip-synch anything. If sickness is involved, the performance should either be cancelled or a stand-by should be announced. I work with children who are starting in theater and musicals, and they always ask about it. I tell them it is cheating just like having someone else take your SAT or defend your dissertation.

Jun. 01 2012 01:52 PM
Mimi Michel from Queens, New YOrk

Recently I had the pleasure of hearing a wonderful live performance of the Beethoven Piano Concerto in C, Op. 15. Sure, there were a few wrong notes, and even one memory lapse. But the performance was a superb one, musically and technically -- as confirmed by the enthusiastic response of the pros -- the orchestra members themselves. As a matter of fact, the recovery from the lapse was beautifully and professionally handled by the soloist, adding an extra dimension to the event. For one suspense-filled moment, I saw the timpanist hold his breath, then grin and exhale with relief as the soloist pulled it all back together. This is what live performance shows us: The most important goal is not absolute perfection, but a performance memorable for extraordinary depth and beauty, sustained throughout, no matter the bumps along the way. If anything, those very human bumps make a performance more interesting and vibrant, not less.

Jun. 01 2012 01:52 PM
Ronald Cohen

As a devotee of older recordings that where pre-tape and you got what the artist gave I consider "assembling" performances to be artistically problematic. If the is a perfect simulacrum of what a performance could be if you exclude the chaff that's one think and should be labeled "artificial". If you've paid enormous sums of money to be "in the house" you deserve a warts-and-all live performance (and in this I also question the use of amplification which distorts and belies a performers true abilities).

Jun. 01 2012 01:13 PM
Robert Davies from Hackensack New Jersey

No, it is never acceptable to lip synch. Yes, it happens. Better to perform, even a bit less well than hoped for, or just admit you can not and play a recorded presentation instead.

Jun. 01 2012 01:10 PM
Bruce Chodosh, MD from Woodbridge, NJ

Why am I not surprised? As I age I have become more skeptical and jaded. I now watch the throats of singers to check on vibrato, but even that can be faked. It's almost as if I look for minor errors as a way to gauge authenticity! As far as instrumental music is concerned, it's nigh on impossible to recognize the real Megillah from the faked. Wouldn't you like to be the one to pull the plug?

Jun. 01 2012 12:55 PM
Lisa Hirsch from California

I'm reasonably sure that Schwarzkopf also sang the Bs in Isolde's music for Flagstad - just listen to the recording on headphones to see why.

As for performance as a subset of Truth, I'm curious what Mr. Hatmaker thinks of modern recordings, which are all heavily edited even when "live." For a fine example, see the example of a violin concerto cadenza in Robert Philip's "Performing Music in the Age of Recordings."

Jun. 01 2012 12:50 PM
Mary Kathleen Whelan from New Jersey

I think the key to this issue is transparency and honesty. People come to live performances to hear live music, not recordings they can listen to in the comfort of their living rooms. However, sporting events, inaugurations, Olympics, etc. are not real musical performance venues. Most people would be appalled at the thought of risking damage to Kaufman's voice or to Itzhak Perlman, Anthony McGill, Yo-Yo Ma and Gabriela Montero's instruments for the sake of LIVE sound that probably wouldn't be as good in those venues as a good recording.

Kudos to Kaufman for admitting and explaining the situation. A better solution would have an announcement that the performance was pre-recorded or "electronically enhanced."

Mary Whelan

Jun. 01 2012 12:43 PM
Dave Hatmaker from Harrisonburg, VA

It is never permissible for a classical artist to lip-sync. Performance is a subset of Truth, and lip-syncing is a lie.

Jun. 01 2012 11:28 AM

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