Placido Domingo, Lang Lang and Renee Fleming make Billboard's top classical artists of 2009
For the serious classical music and opera connoisseur, Billboard's list of the top classical artists of 2009 can seem like a sacrilege, or maybe just a big joke -- Il Divo, Paul Potts, Andrea Bocelli, Andre Rieu and Sarah Brightman are among the cross-over superstars whose names dominate the ranking.
Not to belittle any of the aforementioned artists, but their celebrity appeal often makes them the object of ridicule in die-hard classical circles. The fact that their albums are blockbuster hits -- and beloved by public television pledge drives around the country -- only tends to enhance the cringe factor.
Culture Monster likes to think that it isn't snobbish when it comes to classical music. In fact, we have written about Bocelli and Potts in the recent past. Still, it pleases us to report that Billboard's 2009 ranking contains names that both snobs and populists can agree on.
Plácido Domingo scored a No. 14 spot on the list. In a separate ranking of the year's top-selling classical albums, Domingo's "Amore Infinito," a series of songs inspired by the poems of the late Pope John Paul II, came in at No. 16.
Violinist Joshua Bell came in at No. 13 among the year's top classical artists. Two of Bell's recent recordings appear on the album list -- at No. 23 for a recording of Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons" with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, and at No. 24 for "At Home With Friends," an album of classical and popular tunes.
Superstar pianist Lang Lang ranked No. 22 in the top classical artists category. His recording of Chopin's Piano Concertos with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Zubin Mehta came in at No. 48 for the year's top albums.
For top classical artists of the year, soprano Renee Fleming occupies the No. 23 spot, while violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter takes No. 24.
Of particular interest to L.A. classical music buffs, the soundtrack recording of the movie "The Soloist" came in at No. 49 among the most popular classical albums of the year.
The album features music by composer Dario Marinelli performed by the L.A. Philharmonic and conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen. The film tells the story of the relationship between Nathaniel Ayers, a homeless musical prodigy, and Times columnist Steve Lopez.
-- David Ng
Photo: Placido Domingo performing at a concert in Mexico City earlier this month. Credit: Alfredo Estrella / AFP/Getty Images