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All the languages-5/24/24

Wow! Our first Simply Overdressed show is here! What used to be our original Tiny Lawn variety concert is growing! It's the same variety as usual, but the shows are a touch longer, and some of the songs revolve around a theme, oh! And we are making this blog feature!

This is for those of you who are curious about classical and want to dive in deeper. Welcome to Nerd Corner, where Carole and Elizabeth talk a bit more in depth about the things we love about the music we make!

Now, on to the actual show. This week’s theme is “classical music in all languages (or as many as we can fit into one program)”. A lot of times, there is a stereotype that classical music is some snooty European aristocratic art form. Not always true! (but also sometimes, very true.) Classical music was being developed all over the world simultaneously! Today’s program consists of the “big three languages” as we call them in the opera world: Italian, French, and German. While classical music was everywhere, these three languages dominated the opera world for a very long time. Even English composers like Handel (of Handel’s Messiah fame) would write their music to German or Italian texts because that’s what was popular at the time.

Of those big three languages, I want to highlight our German selection for this show. It is considered to be an art song. Think of art song as a very detailed painting. This genre is considered to be the pinnacle of artistry for classical singers/pianists. It is incredibly detailed and well thought out. Each piece contains so much nuance in the text, how you sing the piece, and how the accompaniment is played. It is impossible to untangle all the symbolism built into these little works. The piece we have programmed is from a set of songs called The Last Four Songs, by Richard Strauss. As you can probably guess from the title, these were the last songs he published in his lifetime. Strauss was a German composer who lived through both World Wars and you can hear that part of his life in his music. His pieces sound very complex and the voice goes to unexpected places. It feels like his music has no direction. You literally get lost in his music! But then, suddenly the shifting sounds sync up and build into this beautiful climactic moment that sends shivers down your spine before all the parts drift away again. If you want to experience it, I highly recommend listening to this clip from his opera Der Rosenkavalier (the Rose Knight)

Hi, welcome back! If I lost you in the previous paragraph, here is a quick fact to bring you back in. Strauss also wrote Also Sprach Zarathustra. What is that, you ask? Listen to the opening few notes of this clip. I promise you know this song.

Strauss is one of my favorite composers. His music is difficult and at times very, very strange (see his opera Salome where in one scene Salome is more or less making out with the head of John the Baptist after it had been removed from his body. The music matches the vibes of that plot).  But those moments when it all comes together, they take my breath away and keep me coming back for more.

 That was a deep dive on Strauss, but we have a few other languages to get through yet! In this show we are also presenting a Czech aria from Rusalka, which is the opera version of the Little Mermaid. It sounds very different from Ariel singing Part of your World, but it is hauntingly beautiful. This opera was written by a guy named Dvorzak. Two fun facts about him.

  1. Dvorzak wrote New World Symphony, which you probably know from commercials/movies etc. Here is a clip of a pretty famous part.

  2. Secondary fun fact: he finished this symphony while on vacation in Spillville, Iowa. 

  3. Personal fun fact: I once went on a date with someone who was descended from Dvorzak, but alas, the only memorable moment about that date. It did not lead to a second.

Because of the timing of this first Simply Overdressed, I want to also highlight the Villa-Lobos Bachinas No. 5. I just sang this past Sunday with BorderCrosSing and Metropolitan City Orchestra’s cello section! This is just one section of a larger work called Bachianas Brasileiras. Villa-Lobos was attempting to combine the structure of a Bach orchestra work with Portuguese folk music and I think he nailed it. (FYI: A Bach structure is basically a really specific framework for how orchestra music has to be laid out. Fast song here, slow song here, song in ¾ time goes here, etc.)

I love how cellos sound and letting a soprano just oo and ah her way through a song is just so fun! I really enjoy singing this one and it's my first foray into singing in Portuguese! I invite all of you to come hear more of this type of music. Check out BorderCrosSing on social media if you are curious to know more! 

And that is where I will stop for today (though I could keep talking. There were so many things we didn’t hit!) Thank you for stopping by Nerd Corner and talking classical music with me! See you at the next Simply Overdressed!

Your friendly neighborhood soprano,


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