|La Scena Musicale - Vol. 5, No. 7 |
April 1, 2000
• Peter Schickele and P.D.Q. Bach Professor Peter Schickele, a well-established composer in his own right, is better known for the works he created for the fictional composer P.D.Q. Bach, who he introduces as being the last long-forgotten son of the great Johann Sebastian Bach. Shickele has "unearthed" the works of this creative offspring, which he presents to delighted audiences. Available to fans are records by P.D.Q. Bach, bearing such titles as The Short-tempered Clavier and Other Dysfunctional Works for Keyboard, Music for an Awful Lot of Winds and Percussion, Oedipus Tex and Other Choral Calamities, 1712 Overture and Other Musical Assaults and P.D.Q. Bach: A Little Nightmare Music. A biography of the composer,The Definitive Biography of P.D.Q. Bach has also been published. One of P.D.Q. Bach's major works of is The Abduction of Figaro, (available on videocassette by VideoArts international) a completely absurd genre where the "corpse" de ballet, PapaGeno, MamaGeno and a Hawaiian guitar enter the mix. Schickele has become an expert at parody, and the more you know about music, the more you will be able to appreciate all the jokes and music quotations from his clever P.D.Q. Bach pieces. - Marielle Leroux
a "Simply Grand Opera in Three Acts." It starts as a witty parody of Mozartian opera, making fun of the way some sentences are repeated in opera, includes references to American folk music, and then progresses to
• Anna Russell and Florence Foster Jenkins
Anna Russell was a music conservatory graduate who turned her adequate abilities in piano and voice to comedy. Florence Foster Jenkins was a rich American socialite who prided herself in her vocal abilities eventhough she had none. Though different, Anna Russell and Florence Foster Jenkins had much in common, including their ability to laugh at themselves and at opera, a genre that they both fundamentally loved.
Russell's comedy came from her ability to evoke the plots and characters of operas in monologues with her own unique vocal style. She would construct miniature musical sketches on operatic subjects finely chiseled to her deadpan approach and vocal attributes. These sketches were delivered in a spontaneous, conversational style, interspersed with vocal snippets of the opera's highlights. I recently heard once again her classic 15-minute résumé of Wagner's Ring cycle. The timing is perfect, the manner self-deprecating without being cheap or vulgar.
There are many memorable moments, such as Russell's comments on Wotan's 20-minute farewell monologue; "Obviously the poor love had a lot to get off his chest." Then there is her inimitable reaction to Brünnhilde's entry aria, a part of which she has just sung; "as you can hear, it was obviously not her day — she simply got up on the wrong side of the bed."
Jenkins's comedic talents, on the other hand, did not reside in the monologue but in the way she unequivocally massacred vocal classics. Her timing was equally faultless but its effect gained in being anticipatory. One knew she would flatten a climatic note, fudge a coloratura run, or sled onto or off a determining note, but one never knew exactly when. She kept you dangling on her line and suddenly had you swallow her bait.
Marguerite's "Jewel Song" or Gilda's "Caranome" would never remain intact. Sudden wrong notes, coups de glotte, inopportune breaths, or horrendous glissandi would be catalysts for frenzied laughter.
The impact of the comedic effect and vocal punch lines were made all the more immediate and powerful by Jenkins's innate sang froid and straight-laced determination. She seemed oblivious to the vocal mishaps that cascaded around her and ploughed on regardless. Her self-assurance and sense of decorum in such circumstances only emphasized the comedy. She was a vocal straight woman who needed no partner to make a comic point. And like all good caricatures, the reality of her performances made the final result even more effective.
Both singers proved that no matter how serious an art form might consider itself, it should never be so serious as not to be able to laugh at its own self-importance. - Richard Turp
• Canada's Divas - Mary-Lou Fallis and Nathalie Choquette
Canada currently has its own brand of operatic humour divas in the form of sopranos Mary-Lou Fallis and Nathalie Choquette. Fallis who will soon be approaching 60 has for the last 20 years been trail-blazing with her series of hilarious parodies of her own opera experience as a diva. Nathalie Choquette is an accomplished singer with a knack for the goffy. Her brand of humour falls into the realm of slapstick where she makes fun of operatic situations through costumes and a play of the voice. - Wah Keung Chan
Musical Humour Web Pages