Monday, August 23, 2010

One Waltz, Four Versions

Occasionally, AriaGirl takes a break from blogging to catch up on her sleep, her "Oprah," or to work on other amazing projects. Today, I'd like to present Bossman aka Rex Fuller, Director of Marketing, as he takes on one of Bohème's most popular arias: "Musetta's Waltz."

One Waltz, Four Versions
Rex Fuller

One of the most popular melodies in the opera La Bohème is Musetta’s second act aria “Quando me’n vo.” If you don’t recognize the title immediately, just give it a listen and you will instantly know if from the hundreds of appearances the song has made throughout pop culture, frequently in spaghetti and olive oil commercials.

The aria is a real show stopper for whoever sings it. In Opera Colorado’s upcoming production, the role of Musetta will be sung by Sari Gruber. “The Act II Café scene bustles with wit and excitement,” wrote one online critic. “That’s where soprano Sari Gruber, as the spoiled party girl Musetta, makes her appearance – and steals the show. Paris Hilton wishes she could command such attention when she opens her mouth!”

To set the scene, Musetta enters the Café Momus on the arm of a rich gentleman named Alcindoro. Musetta is well aware that her erstwhile lover Marcello is there. “When I walk alone in the street, people stop and stare at me…everyone looks at my beauty,” Musetta sings in order to make Marcello jealous. Her message to Marcello is simple: “You know you want me.” It has the desired effect; by the end of the aria, Musetta has ditched Alcindoro and she is in Marcello’s arms once again.

The melody has enchanted opera lovers for generations. Many singers have made it their own. You can find a lot of examples on YouTube. Here are a few of the more unusual selections.

Have you ever heard a Theremin playing Puccini?
If not, here’s your big chance. Actually, it might be better to first ask “What’s a Theremin?”

Thanks to our friends at Wikipedia, we have an easy answer: A Theremin is an early electronic musical instrument controlled without contact from the player. It is named after its Russian inventor, Professor Léon Theremin, who patented the device in 1928. The controlling section usually consists of two metal antennas which sense the position of the player's hands and control oscillators for frequency with one hand, and amplitude (volume) with the other. The electric signals from the Theremin are amplified and sent to a loudspeaker. It creates weird, otherworldly sounds you most likely will recognize from old sci-fi films such as The Day the Earth Stood Still.

That should translate nicely to a romantic, 19th century Italian aria, don’cha think?

Famous faded glory sings Musetta, part the first
Born Edna Mae Durbin in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1921, the talented young singer moved to Southern California with her family and became an international superstar named Deanna Durbin. The huge success of her films helped save Universal Studios from bankruptcy during the Great Depression. Durbin became the teenage ideal for thousands of young women, including a young Anne Frank who kept a photo of Durbin with her movie memorabilia while her family hid from the Nazis. In addition to being a captivating actress, Durbin was an accomplished singer who performed both popular tunes and operatic repertoire. Here, from the 1940 film It’s a Date, she sings Musetta’s most popular aria.

Famous faded glory, part the second

Conchita Supervia was a Spanish singer who performed all over the U.S. and Europe. Adored by millions for her stage appearances, she made one film, the 1934 British drama Evensong, directed by Victor Saville. This charming clip gives a great flavor of backstage life, early British talkies and of a style of singing and performing that is now lost.

Famous faded glory, the final chapterAs one friend of a certain age once said to me, “There didn’t always used to be all these divisions in music. Music was just music.” During the early days of television before the rock and roll revolution, the barrier between popular music and classical music was not as rigid as it seems to be today. Performers frequently crossed over from one style of music to another and audiences were open to embracing the music, no matter what style it was performed in. A diverse career was a true key to success.

Take for example, this clip from “Your Show of Shows” from March, 1950. American-born mezzo-soprano Marguerite Piazza grew up in Louisiana. After graduating from college, she appeared in the first season of the newly-formed New York City Opera where one of her signature roles became Musetta. Soon she made her Broadway debut opposite Burgess Meredith in Happy as Larry. From there, she went on to be a regular on “Your Show of Shows” from 1950 to 1954. During this time, she also made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera and became a paid spokesperson for Camel cigarettes. She also had a very successful career entertaining in nightclubs and supper clubs of the era.

I think it's really interesting how one aria can be sung so many different ways...and it makes me excited for how Sari Gruber will sing it when she comes here in November!

Ciao for now!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Deanna Durbin was by far the best singer of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Actually, her real birth middle name is spelt "May" which is how she signed her name in high school before she became a film star.