Broadway, Baby

Next week, I’m giving a little duo recital for the Liederkranz Foundation, a joint venture with the fabulous mezzo-soprano Stephanie Lauricella.  This is a great organization, who provides support to young singers via their annual vocal competition, of which I was fortunate enough to be among this past year’s winners.  They’ve already presented me in concert at Carnegie Hall, which was an honor and a thrill, and it’ll be great to sing with Stephanie again– we were colleagues in 2010 at The Santa Fe Opera.

So, yeah, yeah, a concert, what’s the big deal?  Well, the first half of the program is all operatic arias from my and Stephanie’s standard rep: I’ll be singing arias from Faust, Don Giovanni (a recording of which you can hear on my page at my manager’s website), and Eugene Onegin– but the second half will consist of a corner of the repertoire that has been, for me, much, much rarer: show tunes.

Now, there are some opera singers who are all about broadway musicals.  Some of my best friends are all about broadway musicals.  They listen to The Music Man or Oklahoma when they’re in the car, they know all the words to seemingly all the songs, they watch Glee; their memories of teenage forays into performing are happy ones, free of cardboard props, endless, un-synchronized kicklines, and of lacrosse-playing colleagues as emotionally ardent as they are tone-deaf.  (Yes, you, David.)

I am not one of those opera singers.  With respect to those artists who have put in their work and become masters of the art form, the absence of technical virtuosity in musical theater– virtuosity which is an absolute requirement in opera, which is why you’ll never see a high school putting on Parsifal– takes away some of the thrill of the live theater experience.  Of perhaps more importance, I just don’t think the music is all the good most of the time.  Most of the composers who gave us the great operas were some of the greatest musical creators of their respective eras, and some are the greatest of all time: Handel, Mozart, Wagner, Puccini, Debussy.  It’s not that Lerner and Loewe were bad at creating works for the stage, but few would claim that their compositions are among the best, most influential, or most culturally relevant music composed in the 60’s… there was this guy called James Brown, a group called The Beatles, maybe a few others.  Works of music theater have meant a lot to a great many people over the years, of course, and hey, if you can move people and fill up their hearts, more power to you– it’s just that, if a production team is going to invest hundreds of thousands of hours of work, why not invest them in bringing one of the world’s greatest masterpieces to life?

You get the picture:  I don’t sing a lot of musical theater, I’m not that kind of singer.  But, at the presenter’s request, I agreed to sing a few songs from musicals on this concert coming up.  And you can bet that I was all ready to thumb my conservatory-educated nose at this music, put on all kind of prideful airs, and prejudge the music to the detriment of all involved.  It’s not Mozart, after all.  There was just one problem: it’s really, really fun to sing.  The melodies are gorgeous, the turns of the text are charming, and the characters are sharply delineated.  And the honest truth is that, though plenty of high school students could give moving renditions of Autumn in New York (and there’s not a high-school singer in the world could hold a candle to what Stephanie can do in Rossini), the audience will probably love it.  It’ll probably be some people’s favorite part of the evening, and if we do our job well, it might be a musical highlight in someone’s memory for years to come.  Maybe even in our own.

So, it’s time to climb down off the high horse and make some freaking music.  If you want to catch the show, off you’ll have to shuffle: shuffle off to Buffalo.  Donizetti will be there waiting afterwards.

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