Classical duo rise from buskers to a singing sensation via word of mouth

They sang at Twickenham before the England versus Wales rugby international. They were the entertainment at the launch of the baton for the Commonwealth Games. They will be singing at Buckingham Palace as a part of the Queen's golden jubilee celebrations this summer. The only thing they haven't done is release a record.

The remarkable rise of a classical music duo from street buskers to celebrity singers, without the indignity of having to cut a disc, has led to a six-figure deal with a leading record company.

Classical music's newest sensation is the OperaBabes, two attractive young female singers whose record label, Sony Music, has earmarked them as one of its top projects of the year. Their first album, Beyond Imagination, will be released in May.

Yet less than a year ago, Karen England and Rebecca Knight were busking outside the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden in London.

The novelty of their approach is to give personal adaptations of classic arias and great classical orchestral works. They will, for example, almost heretically add their own lyrics to Dvorak's New World Symphony. Karen, 28, and Rebecca, 32, met while touring with an opera company and decided to try busking.

"We'd sit on the pavement wearing four pairs of socks to keep out the cold, as we waited for our turn to busk," Karen said recently, "and we'd joke to one another, 'You never know, maybe a year down the line we'll have a major record deal and be really famous.' Then we'd laugh and spend our last 30p on a cup coffee."

One of the people who gave them 30p was an executive for an events management company. The next week he telephoned them and asked them to sing at last season's FA Cup Final. Since then they have performed at several high-profile events. Last week they sang at the HMV sports dinner to honour Sir Bobby Charlton.

Now they have been signed by Trinifold Management, the company that manages The Who and Robert Plant.

One industry insider said yesterday: "What we are seeing here is a relatively new phenomenon, the power of 'events performances'.

"Within the industry you can build up quite a reputation singing at these launches, sporting events and dinners. Record company executives tend to be in the audiences, and the word of mouth on OperaBabes spread quite rapidly."

While the OperaBabes are aware of the selling power of "crossover" music, with classically-trained singers performing middle-of-the-road music, they are determined to stay true to their classical roots.

"We don't want to sell out," says Rebecca. "There has to be a reason for everything we do. It's natural that people will bracket us with Russell Watson and Charlotte Church as it's the same crossover genre, but we are coming at it from a classical angle.

"We have a strong image and ideas, but we don't want to move away from who we are."

Opera babes

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