Fittingly, an opera singer introduced me to the music of George Gershwin. My first exposure to his glorious music was an album entitled “Kiri sings Gershwin.” That’s Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, international opera star, to you. She was the toast of the opera world at the time, rightly so, and was everywhere in the 1980s. (You may recall seeing the movie, A Room With A View, that featured her exquisite voice singing Puccini over the credits and in the scene where the main characters kiss in the poppy field. Various TV ads at the time used the same recording. She even sang at the wedding of Charles and Diana.)
Dame Kiri was/is one of my idols, so being an aspiring young opera singer, I had every one of her recordings. This one was the perfect blend of my favorite opera singer and my favorite genre, American Musical Theatre. I wore that album out (on both cassette and CD). I knew every note, every word, every nuance. Listening and singing along fed my soul (and inadvertently taught me technique, style, and musicality). So today being George Gershwin’s 120th birthday and desperately needing both musical inspiration and motivation, I decided to listen to it again after far too long. I am happy to report it is as wonderful as I remember. Her voice is as fresh and supple, beautiful, joyful and as full of life as I remember it. The orchestra is lush, playful and sparkling. The nuances of interpretation, diction, breath, coloring of words and notes- perfection.
I know opera singers crossing over to musical theatre is not to everyone’s taste. And frankly, it can indeed go terribly wrong- Renee Fleming’s “I could have danced all night” is the perfect example of that (ugh). But in this case, the collaboration is a winner. I think Mr. Gershwin would have heartily approved. (He is after all the same composer who wrote Porgy and Bess, meant for the opera house, and Rhapsody in Blue, meant for the concert hall.) The technique is flawless and the interpretation is spot-on. It conjures up visions of crystal chandeliers, champagne flutes, ladies in flowing evening gowns and gentlemen in top hat and tails- the Ziegfeld Follies, Carnegie Hall and the glossy, art deco stylishness of the RKO films of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. It is beautiful, elegant and fun.
I highly recommend you give this gorgeous, glittering recording a listen. It is not contemporary; it is not infused with a million R&B riffs; It is not sad or moody. It is, however, uplifting and sumptuous. It is musical expression at its most ebullient. It is music that will, “wash away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” Thank you, George and Kiri. This twenty-first century woman is so very thankful for your incredible creativity and artistry.