March 30, 2012

Why Have I Never Heard of Vitas? Intro to Vitas

escorted by a dozen Chinese soldiers
to protect him from fans [video below]


How did Vitas, the handsome young Russian pop star, a countertenor with over a five-octave range, become such an international smash and rise to be the one of the biggest celebrities in China- even though singing almost exclusively in Russian?

. . And need a dozen uniformed Chinese soldiers at the concert hall to protect him from a mob of hysterical fans, shrieking and pushing, and chanting "Vitas" -who in spite of the soldiers, manage to rip his shirt (VIDEO BELOW). Without intending to, Vitas (pronounced "Veee-tahs") seems to have become a bridge between east and west, a sort of "cultural ambassador" (to be explored in a forthcoming post).

Do not use your microphone! 
Kremlin orders, protect the chandeliers
Surely Vitas could never have imagined what has happened- the hysterical fans; large concert halls selling out in an hour; playing to 50,000-seat concerts; a thousand people chanting 'bravo'; and be booked solid months in advance.

Or that he would become the face of Mercedes-Benz of China. -With explosions!- VIDEO AT END, under "NOTES" -highly entertaining; includes another video of how they made those explosions! *

And numerous awards each year. Just this year 2011 alone, he made the Guiness Book of Records (Russian branch) for having the most fans; and won MTV Asia Best Foreign Artist. He is wildly popular across all of Asia, as well as his native Russia and Europe.

And the question we in the USA ask is: with all this going on- Why have I never heard of Vitas?

This post is an introduction to those who do not know of him. It's also my exploration to understand Vitas as a phenomenon. Part II to this post analyzes Vitas's mystique as a performer. Further posts focus on Vitas's popularity in China.

For this post I've packaged a general introduction to Vitas, with four world-favorite music videos that give an idea of why people like him so much. I give a link to all lyrics.

incarnation #1: 
flashy rugged Russian boy

Around 2000, a striking, charming Russian boy from Odessa via Latvia** sang a flashy, most peculiar pop-rock song "Opera #2," punctuated with an arousing falsetto.

2002 Vitas was the youngest artist to perform solo at the Kremlin. Here is Vitas as he began: at his most Russian, with rugged cheekbones and mysterious black-hooded violinists and accordionist, and a set-piece of people bowing.

He would go through a few transformations after that, but this is his first "incarnation."

It was largely through this internet video that Vitas gained his international fame, particularly in Russia and Asia. Vitas's world breakthrough 'Opera #2'


Lyrics: "My house has been built but I am alone here
The door banged behind my back
An autumn wind is knocking on the window. . ."


Vitas composed that song at 10 years old (elsewhere, 12 or even 7). He says he awoke in the middle of the night with the song in his head, and went to the piano to work it out. He says the high notes came from loneliness. The neighbors heard the singing and came running out into the street thinking it was a fire.

His Fans Know All the Words 
Vitas listens to audience
During a Kremlin concert, Vitas's voice broke some part of a chandelier, I believe a light bulb. He is now forbidden to use a microphone there. 

He has one of the highest male voices in the world- a falsetto remarkably clear and sustained to such an unparalleled degree, even onstage, people assumed he must be lip synching. (Why in concerts now, he sometimes takes away the microphone.) No one knew falsetto could be so exciting.


Here is that video of Vitas mobbed by hysterical fans, guarded by Chinese soldiers in their camouflage, who chain their arms to form a protective circle around him; three-quarters in, you see them escorting him back afterwards, and you can count them: a dozen soldiers.

It's particularly amusing, to see an official literally stuffing dozens of crowding fans back outside the door and closing it in their faces. Vitas however was not amused, he looks a bit nervous. Vitas was coming to sing at the World Student Games in Harbin, China. Near the end, you see the beautiful ice skater pair skating to his singing. It is a fragment of his song Cranes Crying; the full version is further down in this post.



Here is a second world-favorite music video, necessary in an introduction to Vitas. It shows the operatic side of Vitas, but also his flash and fire. The 'Mad Scene' is a tragic aria from a Donizetti opera. Lucia, going mad, unwittingly murders a husband she doesn't love, and, in bloodstained wedding dress, rapturously believes she is marrying her lover.

Ultimate in heartbreaking tragedy, this aria is famously used by coloratura sopranos to show off their range and expression, so Vitas took quite a chance to be compared.

Do not shut this video off too soon- it gets quite exciting halfway through. I'm assuming Vitas designed the costumes the violinists are wearing, as he is also a fashion designer.

The 'Mad Scene' (Il Dolce Suono, 'The Sweet Sound') from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor

Lyrics: ". . . Alas! arises a tremendous phantom and separates us!
Here let us take refuge, by the foot of the altar.
Strewn is it with roses!
A harmony celestial, do you not hear?
Ah, the marriage hymn plays!. . ."

I give the full libretto/lyrics in my previous post "Vitas Makes an Exception for Italian," where I also consider Vitas's possible reasons for choosing it.


Here is a third music video I feel is also crucial for an introduction. This is his more traditional pop style, in what many agree is one of his most beautiful songs.

Note the grace of the little bow he gives in the beginning. There are English subtitles.


Incarnation: Smooth cosmopolitan

"I meet your eyes,
We haven’t talked about love
For a long time already.
I shall tell you about it
With night rain,
And you, with the rustle of leaves.

I shall cry with a wedge of cranes:
'I love you!'. . ."

incarnation: When he began, 
he was more interested in novelty 
(Blessed Guru costume)
Vitas's latest incarnation is not just about the new glittering tuxedo jackets. It goes very deep. When Vitas first began, he was more about romance, mystery, black-hooded musicians; he might sometimes have used the falsetto as a novelty. But over the years he becomes more genuine, begins using his extra range for feelings not novelty. The same with dance- at the beginning, his movements were boyishly exuberant. He still uses dance to accentuate the power of the songs, but it has developed it into something smooth and refined.

His voice, emotion and movement have become one, his entire body is part of the song.

incarnation: glittering white tuxedo
Vitas is already referred to as a "living legend." People have compared him to a Chinese "Elvis," and even a Michael Jackson. In fact Vitas recently was set to be in a Michael Jackson documentary, playing Michael Jackson- but as himself!- but then Jackson passed away and it was called off. When younger, Vitas contributed to his family by doing Jackson imitations. There is also a rumor that Vitas is making a film with Tom Cruise.

Vitas gives charity concerts, although keeps quiet about it. The most well-known is the charity concert 2009, for the Sichuan earthquake.

Vitas is also a fashion designer, with creations ranging from fantastical to glamorous to risque.

'Autumn Dreams' collection
Opera #2 continues to be everyone's favorite. He performs it at every concert. It represents his initial bond with his audiences, the way old couples remember "our song." I imagine that's also a reason he still dons that big red scarf.

"Pop Art- Vitas" by 5akurad1va @deviantart 
However much the song is beloved, it is rude and ignorant to expect of any artist that he repeat himself. An artist is to follow his art. The question is, what incarnation is Vitas in now? That's where CHINA comes in. I discuss this in the forthcoming post.


No discussion of Vitas is complete without the song he wrote when his mother passed away, 'Mama,' from an entire record he did for her. It is the heart of his repertoire.

Some people dismiss this kind of pop style as sentimental, or Russian romanticism. But no matter what anyone thinks of the genre overall, they have to admit Vitas simply is different. In any genre, he expresses in a way others do not. It accounts in part for his cult status.

The rumor is, when she died he went away to Tibet for a year. In this video 2003 he had just written the song, and was really feeling it. This is as genuine as anything can be.

MAMA 2003

Incarnation: Vitas sad

". . . Forgive me with love for the last time
How much I failed to understand...
And I still have to understand so much!
It seems that I loved too little
If I failed to experience love

"Forgive me, my dear, for parting with you
For my occasional letters
In my thoughts I kiss your hand. . ."


MERCEDES-BENZ China COMMERCIAL (with explosions)

HOW THEY DID THE EXPLOSIONS (hint: no special effects were used!) 

** He is said to have one parent Jewish and one parent Russian, but no one seems to know which is which. Vitas himself, through clues in his lyrics, gives the impression that he is a practicing Christian. His outward attraction to Buddhism suggests some sort of influence as well.




OFFICIAL WEBSITE, Vitas's awards & much info: 
FULL info, fan stories, interviews, videos etc:
FULL info: 
Twitter:      vitasusa on twitter
Facebook1:  Vitasusa on Facebook
Videos: TV appearances, news etc: Vitasusa news videos

Wikimusic Interview: Interview
TV Interview 2011: TV Interview 2011
Vitas's grandfather:   Interview with Grandfather
"Vitas Meant to Be Heard, Not Sung": Heard Not Sung,
Interview download with Producer 2009: interview doc download, S.Pudovkin.doc

1 comment:

hanhmairua said...

I seldom find someone loving Vitas like me. So thanks for your introduction