Our Lady

December 12th, 2012

Our local hamlet is putting on a Christmas Musicale later this month. In addition to singing a shaky soprano in the choir, I’m also taking part in a girls trio doing Ave Maria. We’re using Schubert’s setting, since it’s probably the most familiar these days — thanks to Frank Sinatra, et al.

What I didn’t know was that Schubert, who composed the iconic melody and cascading arpeggio accompaniment in 1825, didn’t write it for the Latin prayer. It was part of his seven-song cycle for a German translation of Sir Walter Scott’s Lady of the Lake. I’ll pause a moment while that sinks in. Or maybe you already knew, and I am the only one floored by this revelation, courtesy Wikipedia.

Lady of the Lake
Illustration from Lady of the Lake

Perhaps it hits me particularly hard, since Lady of the Lake is one of my absolute favorites.

He goes to do what I had done,
had Douglas’s daughter been his son…

Doesn’t it just send thrills up your spine? Apparently, Schubert wrote Ellens dritter Gesang (Ellen’s Third Song) for a point in the poem where Ellen prays to the Virgin Mary on behalf of her embattled Highland clan. Here it is in English:

Ave Maria! maiden mild!
Listen to a maiden’s prayer!
Thou canst hear though from the wild;
Thou canst save amid despair.
Safe may we sleep beneath thy care,
Though banish’d, outcast and reviled –
Maiden! hear a maiden’s prayer;
Mother, hear a suppliant child!
Ave Maria

Ave Maria! undefiled!
The flinty couch we now must share
Shall seem this down of eider piled,
If thy protection hover there.
The murky cavern’s heavy air
Shall breathe of balm if thou hast smiled;
Then, Maiden! hear a maiden’s prayer,
Mother, list a suppliant child!
Ave Maria!

Ave Maria! stainless styled.
Foul demons of the earth and air,
From this their wonted haunt exiled,
Shall flee before thy presence fair.
We bow us to our lot of care,
Beneath thy guidance reconciled;
Hear for a maid a maiden’s prayer,
And for a father hear a child!
Ave Maria.

The German pronunciation is a bit beyond me at the moment, but you can bet I’m gonna learn it! I should probably try to dig up the other six songs as well. If this is Ellen’s third, that means at least two more are for soprano…

Help Me Choose a Costume!

April 24th, 2012

I’ve already revealed that I’m going to do the unthinkable — sing in public. I also have to play the cello briefly during the same program. So of course the question arises, what to wear, WHAT TO WEAR?

The theme of the concert is early 20th-century American music and I initially planned to drag out my Edwardian duds (see the picture at the bottom of this post). But that would require a corset. And I’ve gained five pounds in the last three months (doughnuts and steak). And I already have trouble breathing when I sing.

So…the search begins. Luckily I’ve recently been reunited with a lifetime of costumes rescued from my (ever-patient) mother’s attic. Some fantastic pieces that I should never have used for “dress-up,” a few that should have died long ago, and many just plain goofy get-ups.

Blue Velveteen Gown

This is the current front runner. It’s royal blue velveteen with a back zip and sash and elasticized sleeves. Very comfortable. I have no idea where it came from. It’s built like a costume — and come on, who would wear a floor-length velveteen dress if they weren’t on stage? On the other hand, it’s pretty conservative for theater and has standard care tags as though it were factory made. There’s absolutely no pressure on my abdomen in this dress, and it is more than flexible enough for celloing. The color definitely suits me too, and would lend itself to delicate jewels or pearls.

Here’s dress number two:

Pink Ballgown

It’s a vintage Gunnie Sax formal in pink taffeta, probably from the mid 1980s. Yep, those are fabric roses on each shoulder. I adore this dress and wore it to my thirteenth birthday party (my indulgent parents dressed up like a French maid and butler and threw a “murder-mystery” sleep over with my hamster, Edward Bringhurst IV, as the hapless “victim”). It’s a perfect waltz gown, and also comfortable enough for singing and playing. I’d pair it with some vintage rhinestone jewelry and a large hair-do. The downsides include a skirt that screams for crinoline (which I haven’t got), shoulders that insist on slipping at awkward moments, a rather scanty neckline, and a color that washes me out.

What do you think? Help me choose!

Trying to project Elisabeth Schwarzkopf…

Waltzing Widow

April 22nd, 2012

Our town is given to amateur theatrics, as many were back in the day (and too few are now). In a couple of weeks my sweetheart and I will take part in a musical revue featuring songs from the turn of the 20th century. He — a professional musician — is going to sing “In the Good Ol’ Summertime” accompanied by his own guitar. I — who usually refrain from singing publicly out of respect for the rest of humanity — decided to be grandiose and volunteered to sing “The Merry Widow Waltz.”

This lilting waltz is the grande finale of an operetta by Austro-Hungarian composer Franz Lehár called “The Merry Widow,” or “Die lustige Witwe.” Based on a mid-19th century play about a rich widow being wooed for her bank roll, the production made its Vienna debut in 1905. In 1934 it became a Hollywood musical under the direction of Ernst Lubitsch with new English lyrics by Tin Pan Alley’s own Lorenz Hart. Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier starred.

Merry Widow Sheet Music

Believe it or not, I’d already decided to sing the song when I came across this sheet music in one of my moving boxes. It belonged to my grandmother, who dated it 1935 in the upper right corner; presumably the year she purchased it. She also had three other lead sheets from “The Merry Widow” — more than she owned for any other musical. What does that say about genetics? Of course I immediately discarded my old arrangement and opted to use this one, along with the new lyrics (I’d been using a 1930 arrangement and translation published in the Maxwell House Showboat music book).

Luckily, a supremely talented friend who is accompanying the rest of the revue has offered to play my music as well. I was trying to both sing and play, but kept forgetting to breathe. Which will be especially important since I’m going to do all this in an outfit that requires a Grecian-Bend corset…