What on earth could they have in common? Only one thing, according to Minnelli's co-performer the singer/pianist Michael Feinstein: when the world ends, they'll both still be here. It's one of a hundred pithy comments in one of the best interviews with any artist I've read, written by Marcelle Bernstein for, of all things, Saga Magazine.
There are two special reasons to welcome the interview. One is that it's very close in time to the nearly-67-year-old's unforgettable appearance in the Southbank's The Rest is Noise festival on Saturday, an occasion which I'd viewed with some apprehension but which turned out to be one of the great showbiz testaments to an indomitable spirit (the only other evening I can remember quite like it was Nina Simone's appearance in the same hall back in 1999). I count myself very lucky to have got in via The Arts Desk, for which I duly raved; I wouldn't have risked £40-£100 on a ticket*, though as it turned out the event would have been worth every penny.
The other reason is that the interview contradicts all the press baloney about a tragic life. It's been a tough one at times, no doubt, but the only real sadness I can see here is of an artist who, like her mother, is loved by everybody she touches but not, as she deserves, by one single person. But that's showbiz: the devouring, slightly vampiric fans demand all, and boy, do they get it. Minnelli's torch song should surely be Sondheim's ' I'm Still Here'. He wrote new lyrics specially for Barbra; why not do the same for Liza? For the sake of the truth, I have to say she no longer looks like she does in the above photos, but it was amazing to see the years fall away as Friday night's show hit ever new highs.
What I had to pinch myself most about was that I was hearing that very same Americanized Sally Bowles whose screen renditions of 'Life is a Cabaret' and 'Maybe This Time' had become so legendary singing those very same songs, with different inflections but just as much meaning and vitality, possibly more. 'Liza's at the Palace', filmed a couple of years ago, is as close to our night as I think film will provide, though her delivery of the key song was not quite the same. I thought I'd put up the original film version
and the Palace's 'Life is...' revisited. Stick with it because the Elsie sequence is both much more poignant than the original and shot through with an earthier humour.
If you got to the end of that, you'll understand why I've ordered up the DVD.
Bob Fosse's film of Cabaret came out when I was 10 years old. There was no possibility of seeing it then, but I remember walking past the big cinema in Sutton wondering why it was X certificate and why a man as well as a woman in the photos on the wall was wearing so much make-up. Later it coincided with a golden time in the summer term of my first year at Edinburgh University when we all revelled in a fortnight of working on a production of the stage musical, so different from the film.
I've written about this in the Bedlam Theatre 30th birthday tribute way back, but I can't resist a recropped shot of our dear Mary New (now Amorosino and living in Washington with husband Roberto and two of their three wonderful children - Alexandra, the eldest, has followed her ma to Edinburgh University) as Sally Bowles.
If truth be told, she was of course much closer to Kander and Ebb's (and of course Isherwood's) Sally, this vicar's daughter who sidled up one evening to the Rev (by then Canon) Tom New, sitting at one of the beer barrels, with the 'Don't Tell Mama' song-lines, 'you can tell my papa, that's alright, 'cos he comes in here every night'. Well, those of us who were in it will never get the nostalgia for such a time out of our systems. But by any standards the movie is a classic, probably the musical I'd choose in a list of top ten films. Evviva Liza!
It was quite a weekend of experiencing divas in spheres other than the operatic: Liza on Friday, 'anarchist cabaret performer' Meow Meow as Jenny in The Threepenny Opera on Saturday - not a patch on Allison Bell's Polly, though she looked extraordinary - and singer-songwriter Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond as Anna in The Seven Deadly Sins on Sunday. This last concert had an only-connect programme which also included necessary - though dreary, if mercifully short - dodecaphonic Schoenberg and wonderful Hindemith: hardly box-office nectar, you'd have thought, and yet the audience was packed with young people. Clearly The Rest is Noise festival on the Southbank must be marketing itself well.
Diva and devotion combine in the only Bach cantata of this Lenten season. For Oculi Sunday, we have only one specimen, for alto and strings without so much as a concluding chorale, 'Widerstehe doch der Sunde', BWV 54. The soloist's low notes, like the F sharp to which 'übertünchtes Grab' ('whitened sepulchre') descends in the recit, sound much more butch coming from a real contralto rather than a countertenor.
Besides, Nathalie Stutzmann is another of those truly great artists who stand out in any crowd of soloists. We haven't seen nearly enough of her in the UK recently. The recorded performance I heard, with John Eliot Gardiner's Bach Pilgrimage team in one of England's most beautiful churches, Norfolk's Walpole St Peter (reverenced on the blog via two visits, briefly here and more extensively here), reminded me that I ought to go out of my way to see her when the opportunity arises.
'Eyes' Sunday gets its name from the first word of the psalm introit for the day, oculi (Vulgate Psalm 24 verse 15: 'mine eyes are ever towards the Lord'). The New Testament reading from St Luke deals with Christ's words on the casting out of devils. Holbein's woodcut was the only image I could find on the subject.
Georg Lehms' text for this Weimar cantata is one of Bach's crappiest: what's this about being felled by a curse for violating God's majesty? How very Old Testicle. Never mind: there's originality as usual in Bach's five-part string writing (divided violas). I don't, unlike Gardiner, hear dissonance in the opening chord (dominant seventh over tonic pedal), only a novel suspension which means postponing E flat major until the eighth bar. The chord pulsing seems to me calm and confident rather than evangelical; though there's darkness and dislocation in the middle verses' veering to the minor.
Stutzmann makes more of recitative than any of the other singers I've encountered in my own Bach cantatas pilgrimage so far; and in the final aria she echoes the strings' chromatic fugue subject so nobly. We'll have to make do on YouTube with a jaunty Andreas Scholl (low notes not as full as Stutzmann's, of course) and Herreweghe's Collegium Vocale, but that's not a bad second best.
*Nothing for an event like this. To indulge his daughters' love of total crap, one father forked out £400 for three tickets to see Justin Bieber the other night. They were rewarded by the cute but anodyne star's turning up two hours late, way past most of his audience's bedtime.