November 11, 2004

Name That Tune, Dave

It's been many months since I've managed to stay up late enough to watch Letterman. But since I didn't get around to dinner till about 10:30 last night, I wasn't in any hurry to rush to bed. (For me, sleep too soon after a meal always leads to nightmares involving Susan Sarandon, a giant squid and the Code of Federal Regulations. Just don't even ask.)

I was a very early Late Night fan, zealously watching Dave back in the 80's when he was, (gulp) younger than I am now. And like many such fans, I've been disappointed with his gradual dehipification, as it were. I'm not suggesting that a guy now in his mid 50's ought to be acting like he's still a 38 year old maverick, but I miss the old "edginess" and wish he could have found a way to preserve it better.

Last night's show was rather strange. I actually dozed through the first part of it - an interview with Pierce Brosnan. But I woke up in time to see Dave being very rude to some extremely twitty chef who was on to make a fried cod dish and flog a new cookbook. It was quite entertaining, in an extremely childish way.

But the really strange thing was that the last guest of the evening was Renee Fleming, who came on to sing an (unidentified) Handel aria, complete with chamber group accompaniment. I have no idea what prompted Dave to book her or what prompted her to accept. Either Letterman wants to burnish his respectability a bit - a preposterously misguided goal IMHO, or else there is a larger audience for sophomoric humor combined with Baroque music than I had previously imagined. (Okay, I fit that demographic, but there can't be that many like me around.) As is usually the case with this kind of act on Dave's show, the audience response was interesting - they applauded heartily, but you could tell they were doing so because they thought they ought to, not because they had any particular taste for the music. (I'm guessing not many of them went round the corner to Tower Records afterward to stock up on Handel CD's.)

Anyhoo, the main reason I even wanted to post about last night's show has little to do with Dave Letterman and more to do with Renee Fleming. (Helm, disengage Gratuitous Musickal Posting (TM) cloaking device!) She sang the Handel piece very well. But I find myself increasingly put off by anything more than the slightest hint of vibrato in a singer's voice. As long time readers know, I am in love with Emma Kirkby, the single purist soprano I've ever heard in my life. I also love other such true-note singers such as Evelyn Tubb and Alison Hagley. Given that, it's become very hard for me to appreciate members of what might be called the Diva Class, however meritorious their performances.

Just in case you were wondering.

Posted by Robert at November 11, 2004 11:26 AM | TrackBack

I know what you are saying. Too much vibrato makes my ears tickle. I do enjoy Renée Fleming, but not every song. And the fact that she was on David Letterman is just bizarre.

Posted by: Rae at November 11, 2004 02:04 PM

Any CD recommendations for an introduction to Emma?

Posted by: Derek at November 11, 2004 02:12 PM

It all depends on what you're looking for, of course, in terms of period and style. Flipping through Tower Records or some other such on-line catalogue reveals lots and lots of different recordings by her. If you are just starting out, you might want to look for a sampler with music by various composers - Mozart and Schubert, Bach and Handel, Purcell, etc.

Most of her CDs that I have are from the Italian Baroque. And most of those center on the music of Claudio Monteverdi. She's done quite a bit of Monteverdi's work with Anthony Rooley and the Consort of Musicke. If you're into that sort of thing, you might want to check out some of the books of Madrigals, for example.

However, my all time favorite recording is a 1987 CD on the Allegro label of Monteverdi duets and solos that she did with Evelyn Tubb. (I don't even know if it's still available. The jacket carries a reference number of PCD 881.) This recording is - almost literally - celestial. Fourteen tracks, half of them secular and half religious, that often make me get all teary.

Hope this helps a bit. And thanks for asking!

Posted by: Robert the LB at November 11, 2004 05:42 PM

I'm still frustrated the Leno continually outdoes Letterman in the ratings.

Posted by: austin mls at November 11, 2004 06:00 PM

"I'd like to see a nude opera, because when they hit those high notes, I bet you can really see it in those genitals."

It was worth bringing up...

Posted by: Squatch at November 11, 2004 10:08 PM

What a strange succession of comments.

Thanks for the recommendations. I had somehow managed to miss madrigals to this point in my life. I browsed through amazon and enjoyed the music sampler's teases. Although they don't have any tracks for the duets, The brief moments of just the ladies did sound enticing. Does the track list of this record look similar to your disc?


Posted by: Derek at November 12, 2004 04:28 AM

I feel the same about too much vibrato - the sad thing is that as you age the vocal cords loosen and the natural vibrato a singer has becomes more pronounced. It's why older singers sound so awful.

Anyway, I'm a soprano and before I had any vocal coaching I used to try to sing without any vibrato at all. Turns out that's not healthy, so I'm thankful for my voice teacher in high school. But I'm curious - by "true note" do you mean vibrato or trills? Because I can live with a singer's natural vibrato, but overdoing on the trills drives me nutso.

Posted by: jen at November 12, 2004 08:22 PM

Derek - I can't get that link open, so can't give you an answer.

Jen - what I mean is vibrato. Ornamentation is a different kettle of fish. Depending on what you're singing, sometimes it's very appropriate, sometimes absolutely not.

Posted by: Robert the LB at November 13, 2004 03:11 PM

Sorry, let's try it again:

Posted by: Derek at November 14, 2004 01:06 AM
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