Saturday, 20 February 2010

The path to La Stupenda



News of Kathryn Grayson's death at the age of 88 brought with it a flash of recognition. Not that I think I've seen any of her films, in spite of a fondness for Hollywood musicals; even Kiss Me, Kate I only caught in bits on the telly years ago. Yet thanks again to La Cieca's coverage on Parterre, I've been able to pinpoint what I think it was caught my mother's imagination and led me to the great Joan Sutherland.

She'd seen the Bell Song from Lakme performed in some film or other; she never could remember which, or who sang it. So we searched Sutton Record Library and found it on a celebrated LP, The World of Joan Sutherland. I was hooked; you can take that old 'my mother made me a...' line if you like, but I was ripe for operatic camp anyway.

And there, on Parterre, is this YouTube sequence of Grayson in It Happened in Brooklyn (1947), singing the entire Bell Song in a raj setting not devoid of imagination, and in French. Rather well, too.



Ma still thinks the one she saw would have been even earlier than that, but unless anyone can come up with an alternative, let's believe that this was the fountainhead.

PS - 25/2: Will HAS come up with that alternative - Lily Pons in the 1935 film I Dream Too Much. She, of course, is the kosher operatic diva, and one of the first really svelte ones at that, but her sense of pitch isn't quite up to pretty Kathryn's. Note that they shipped in a few genivine 'Indoos for the occasion.



Review of last night's 'Hollywood concerto' and the much more important Martinu Fourth is now up and running on The Arts Desk. What made me really happy was that in the very diverse audience for my talk sat a glamorous street dancer called Imelda who'd never been to a concert before, and who loved every minute of the concert. A heaven-sent punter.

15 comments:

jondrytay said...

I think that's terrific. Auger is my nonpareil in this aria though- ever heard her version.

I expect Kathryn Grayson will always be the only person to have both played Violetta and appeared in 'Noises Off'.

David said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David said...

Sputtering text there - I'll start again.

No, I had no idea Arleen Auger recorded the Bell Song, though I do tresutr her G&S Mabel (to Martha Mudel's piratical maid of all work) auf Deutsch. I met her with her great pal Della Jones at the Glasgow recording session for Weill's Street Scene (they snuck in as the noismaids). Lovely, lovely lady and very self-deprecating.

David said...

Treasure. Treasure, dammit. Forgot what I'd deleted to correct.

And, Jon, I was curious to know what you thought of new tenor on the block Brownlee - the real thing, surely.

David said...

Modl with an umlaut (still not doing accents on the blog). Not the most awake of replies, that one.

jondrytay said...

David, the Auger Bell song is preserved in the CD of a concert given by her, Troyanos and Janowitz. Her other solos are O Zittre Nicht and Deh Vieni, both glorious, and she joins the other ladies for a pretty wonderful Rosenkav Trio. I also have the Mabel, which is great, not least for the bonus disc of extraordinarinesses...

I've not heard Brownlee yet, which is hideously remiss of me.

David said...

He'll be around for some time. On which note, so will the superb baby tenor I heard last night in the Chelsea Opera Group Traviata, Cosmin Ifrim (reviewed it for the Arts Desk). Thrilling top C, melting mezza voce. Bit short, but so is Barry Banks. What's wrong with me? Those are two tenors I adore. It's all about musicality, I guess.

A Rosenkav trio with those three? That I must get.

JVaughan said...

p.s. Mr. Banks is a singer I also like, having him at least in Mendelssohn's _Paulus_, the Chandos English _Falstaff_, and, yes, Sir Charles's _SUPERB_, at least in my opinion, Telarc _Trial_ _By_ _Jury_!Unless this German _Pirates_ was recorded some years ago, it would seem that Miss Modl would have been getting on a bit since, of course, she was performing at Bayreuth in the 50's. I like Miss Auger's Nitocris in the Pinnock recording of Handel's _Belshazzar_, though agree with one reviewer that she takes a while to get fully going dramatically.

I do have Miss Grayson in _Kiss_ _Me_, _Kate_ and in _Anchors_ _Away_, both on DVD. It was good that, after her film career, she was able to realize her dream of doing some opera work since, if that coloratura in her vocal version of the Tchaikovsky Waltz from his _String_ _Serenade_ in _Anchors_ _Aweigh_ is any indication, she indeed merited it! I think her "I Hate Men" delicious!

J. V.

Will said...

Lily Pons, who made the Bell Song a signature piece and who owned the complete role on stage sang the Bell Song in the 1935 movie "I dream too much." The context is a staged performance on stage at an opera house. YouTube has several postings of it.

There is also one filmed version that show her singing it in a concert hall setting; I am not sure if it's from Hollywood movie but it certainly looks like it.

David said...

Aha! That sounds more like the one the mother will have seen. I'll check it out. Very pleased to have seen this, though, which is charming, isn't it?

Will said...

Yes, Grayson was the real deal--several of the ladies resident in Hollywood who moved among operetta, musicals and some opera selections on film actually had very prominent vocal coaches. Vera Schwarz, a Croatian soprano like Milanov and who had a significant career in Berlin and Vienna, coached several of them until Rise Stevens made two movies and mentioned that she needed a coach back in NYC.

Grayson's work in Kiss Me, Kate is really wonderful. The whole thing is a fine piece of work except for the idiotic casting of Cole Porter as a butch little frat boy type, but perhaps that was a little in-joke(?)

JVaughan said...

Did I understand you correctly to say that Miss Milanov was Croatian?

If I am not mistaken, Mr. Porter did not actually appear, but someone else portrayed him. If I am correct in that understanding, one wonders why, if he was going to be represented in the film, he did not do so himself.

Did you see _Anchors_ _Aweigh_?

Do we have a recording of her doing _Naughty_ _Merietta_?

J. V.

Will said...

Yes, Mr. Vaughan, you understood that--she was born in Zagreb.

No, indeed, Mr. Porter did not as himself. One would never have thought him the sophisticated man he was from the short, very butch little actor who was cast in the "role." When Cary Grant was cast as Porter in The Cole Porter Story it was a far better match on several levels.

David said...

And Kevin Kline maybe not. Though I thought he did his best in a dog's dinner of a film.

JVaughan said...

I ought to be doing better with languages than I have been here of late, having this time pegged the great Miss Milanov as Russian.

It presumably goes without saying that Mr. Porter had to approve those two actors who portrayed him. And do you like Miss Grayson's usual film partner, Mr. Keel (or Keal?)? I certainly do!

J. V.