Sunday, March 04, 2007

Stream of Consciousness

Things I learned about Cathy Berberian just now, all of which may be false because the internet is, um, the internet:

1) She recorded not just the three Beatles arrangements available on cd's (Yesterday, Michele, and my favorite, Ticket to Ride done as a sort of 24 Italian Art Songs number) but in fact 12 Beatles songs. I'm dying to know which others. Back to teh intarwebz with me.

2) She has an official website even though she's been dead for over twenty years. It has a "news" section.

3) Best of all: the day she died, she was scheduled to sing The Internationale on Italian tv for some kind of Karl Marx centennial. She planned to sing it in the style of Marilyn Monroe.

I think she popped into my head because I ran across her cd while trying to find Patti/Melba (I always confuse them and always forget which it is) singing Home, Sweet Home to play upon moving into a new apartment, as one does. I could find neither Patti nor Melba, and so played Madame Ponselle. A lovely rendition also, though without quite that deep nostalgia of the almost lost sonic past that the version I usually play has.

Continuing in this vein of loose association, Madame Ponselle also sings a song I believe is entitled "Little Alabama Coon." I'm guessing that one's not on as many compilations these days. It's fun to imagine what the lyrics might be, and then to imagine her singing them. In blackface.

Oh dear. I just looked up the lyrics. Blackface would rank about fifth among the offensive things going on in that rendition. I wonder maybe if Cathy Berberian could have made something exquisitely sarcastic and hilarious of the whole thing. She could have done a whole program of now mortifying Stephen Foster songs or something. (The state song where I grew up is by Stephen Foster and has at least two lines that have been changed so fourth graders forced to sing it won't immediately become hysterical with laughter and there will be no race riots.) It's really a shame she's dead for so many reasons.

On the topic of the fallibility (???) of the internet, by the way, there was a horrible temptation, upon discovering that Ewa Podles has a rather sparse Wikipedia page, to update said page with perfectly factual information along the lines of:

Madame Podles is universally acknowledged to be the greatest singer in the history of sound.

Kids, you can't democratize knowledge. It's just not a good idea.


alex said...

oh hey! i love cathy berberian!

I used have, illegally, of course (please note past tense!) at least a half-dozen or so of the beatles um...rearrangements. and they were all a hoot, though i think some were rather better done than the others.

off the top of my head, i remember hearing Help! and Eleanor Rigby. OH! And the favorite of the ones I had heard, I Wanna Hold Your Hand.

I think some of them are played in a rather long interview taken by Charles Amirkhanian (sp?).

You can access links to the stream here:

though I think it still pops up on my sidebar playlist. Of course there's a lot of talk about this and that in between (no idea if you happen to like that stuff as much as I seem to...)

berberian is kind of a hero to me (ha, betcha couldn't have guessed!) for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the piecemeal yet dogged development of her voice and technique and the recognition and subsequent capitalization on the weaknesses and strengths of her vocal capabilities...

hmmm. it seems Ms. Berberian has an even sparser wiki entry than Ms. Podles. I suspect that my regard for (and hence, temptation to make additions to the internets about) Ms. Berberian are somewhat similar to yours for Ms. Podles.

(flipping through a relatively recent issue of Opera Now, I became deliriously giddy to read a reviewer rave about Tom Meglioranza's programming and performance of Berberian's Stripsody!)

alex said...

also: I didn't realize that there were so many recordings of Home, Sweet Home. The only one that I'm familiar with (and it tears my little beating heart out) is Amelita Galli-Curci's, which gives one of the most poignant moments in Grave of the Fireflies a particularly heartbreaking quality.

wow. i am sentimental.

JSU said...

I love Galli-Curci's version. Never knew it was in an anime flick, though.

Anonymous said...

ticket to ride; i want to hold your hand; michelle; eleanor rigsby; yellow submarine; here, there, and everywhere; hide your love away; yesterday; can't buy me love; girl; hard day's night

all recently released on a french cd entitled "beatles arias," although i think it's only available in, er, france.

she more or less *did* do a recital of embarassing stephen foster songs

meretrice i. d'oscena said...

Blech-- No one can make Stephen Foster songs work. Not even universally-acknowledged-greatest singer Ewa Podles.

meretrice i. d'oscena said...

I realize that no one said that Madame Podles was singing Foster. I was just thinking what a hoot that would be. A hideous, no one gets out of here alive kind of hoot, but a hoot nonetheless.

Gregory said...

I must own "Little Alabama Coon". I rejoice in such anachronistic incorrectness. The gauntlet has been thrown, and now it's up to me to find it, though I'm hoping Maury has it and can direct me to a recording, commercially available or otherwise.

Maury D'annato said...

Gregory: I'm pestering Alex von Wellsung to tutor me in putting sound files on here, and then maybe I'll post it. With rather large disclaimers.

rysanekfreak said...

If you go to you will find there are 6 copies available of a 2 CD set which contains, and I paste----

Little Alabama coon
Composed by Hattie Starr
with Rosa Ponselle

Anonymous said...

Listen to Cathy Berberian's recording of "Surabaya Johnny", if you're searching for something "exquisitely sarcastic".

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I used to think of Berberian's Surabaya Johnny vs. Stratas' as a good example of camp vs. kitsch, respectively. I'm not sure that makes any sense to me anymore. Anyway, you've put me in mind of my intro to Cathy B. which was a musician friend freshman year, an excellent guitarist, playing me Surabaya Johnny. I didn't remember that until just now.

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