Thom Duffy
February 22, 1991 AT 05:00 AM EST

How did a classical album chart high enough to outshine records by pop stars like Debbie Gibson and Hall & Oates? The classical smash was Carreras-Domingo-Pavarotti in Concert, featuring opera’s three star tenors, Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo, and Luciano Pavarotti. And, as London Records VP Lynne Hoffman-Engel reports, the strategy was simple: ”We treated the record exactly like a platinum pop project.”

The concert itself (a grand affair staged July 7 in Rome) made news; it even landed coverage, rare for any classical event, on Entertainment Tonight and the Today show. London then blitzed the music world with 5,000 postcards announcing the album, hitting not just buyers for large record chains but also key execs at other labels. ”The more buzz we got started, the better,” says Deborah Morgan, VP of classical and jazz marketing and sales for PolyGram (London’s parent company). London fanned the flames with print advertising, targeting glossy mainstream magazines like Vanity Fair and Premiere.

The label couldn’t get the tenors on pop radio, though they tried: They sent lite-music stations a promotional CD. ”I thought it was a joke,” says Jeff Silvers, an adult-contemporary programmer at WLEV in Allentown, Pa. TV spots were much more successful; London ran them on CBS This Morning, CNN’s Headline News — and even VH-1, the adult-oriented music video channel.

Classical purists didn’t like that, just as they didn’t like London’s 1988 pop-like promotion of violinist Joshua Bell, whom the label photographed in blue jeans and featured in a rock-style video. But the purists better duck. According to David Weyner, senior VP and general manager of PolyGram Classics and Jazz, celebrity-style classical music marketing is strongly on the rise. As America grows older, he says ”a lot of consumers are looking for alternatives to rock & roll” — and the smash success of Carreras-Domingo- Pavarotti ”makes the whole classical music industry more hungry.”

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