My absolutely favorite opera singer, Dawn Upshaw, was supposed to perform with the Portland Symphony this weekend and I was going to pay a pretty penny to see her- it was going to be inspirational and motivational. Alas, she cancelled the concert, so I will have to find encouragement from her recordings which are numerous and sublime. She was going to sing a very varied program starting with Benjamin Britten’s Les Illuminations and ending with Bernstein, Gershwin, and Sondheim songs! Even this choice of idol is yet another clue that I too belong singing both genres, as she does so frequently and brilliantly. Dawn Upshaw is my favorite for many reasons. She sings everything exquisitely and with great feeling, theatricality, musicality and perfect diction. Her operatic singing is glorious. (I think my favorite is her recording of “No word from Tom” from Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress. I knew the minute I heard it that I had to someday sing that aria. Little did I know how devilishly hard it is- she makes it seem ridiculously easy.) She sings Musical Theater equally well and best of all, with a perfect sense of the STYLE. One of my biggest pet peeves is an opera singer who sings Musical Theater as if it were opera. ARGH! (Renee Fleming comes to mind. Her “I could have danced all night” is just wrong. But her “Ain’t it a pretty night” from Floyd’s Susannah is very beautiful and expressive. This kind of American music she understands.) Ms. Upshaw seems to take great joy in the uniquely American qualities of Musical Theater; the phrasing, the diction and theatricality. She always sounds like she is having fun while singing- what a wonderful quality!
I confess that some of the very best compliments I have ever gotten on my singing are the rare and amazing times I have reminded people of the great Ms. Upshaw. That makes me feel so wonderful, humble and warm all over. To even be in the same sentence as her is an honor.
I actually met her my freshman year of college when she came to UCI to give a Masterclass. I did not get to sing for her because I was a lowly underclassman. But after the class I got to shake her hand and in my laryngitis-riddled voice thanked her for her insights and her talents.
Thank you, Ms. Upshaw, for always being an inspiration to me.