From the archives, the contestant here is Matthew Johnson from Chattanooga, Tennessee. This Puzzler is a bit of an oddity -- since I got the composer style, but not the song, and it's usually the other way around. And I felt annoyed at that, because it was clear where the hidden song was and sensed I should know it. I did at least guess it when played the second time around, though I'm not sure if composer Bruce Adolphe might have highlighted things a bit. It's defiitely a well-known song, but not a wildly-known one.
This is a wonderful video. The text throughout the video explains it, though since your attention will likely want to be on the performance, it can be a little distracting. Also, with the limitations of Twitter, I think it can use a bit more clarification.
Lisette Oropressa is an acclaimed Cuban-American soprano who has performed around the world as such houses as the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, Vienna State Opera, Opera National de Paris, Royal Covent Garden and more. She was giving a solo recital at the Verdi Festival in Parma, Italy in early December, a month ago when she sang her fourth encore at the end of the concert, an aria called “Sempe libera” (Always Free), sung by the character ‘Violetta’ from Verdi’s La Traviata. It’s a somewhat odd selection to sing at a solo recital because as wonderful a piece as it is for a soprano, it’s not a pure aria since there is a male tenor part in the middle of it. And because there is a tenor part, but there was no tenor on stage – or anyone else on stage for that matter to help out – there was a silence during that part of the number. However, an Chinese opera student Liu Jianwei studying in Italy was in the audience and recognized how awkward this was and filled in.
What’s so good about this video is not just him quickly joining in, is Ms. Oropressa being totally shocked when he does so unexpectedly and then, rather than offended by him singing the missing part, has a clearly appreciative reaction throughout.
One note: her initial “ohhhh” is actually written into Verdi’s score – so while she’s not reacting to the young man right there, she is singing with him. Everything else is clearly pure reaction.
As the video notes, the young man went backstage afterwards to apologize, but she was so gracious she took a picture with him and gave him her autograph. The video shows the photo, so there’s no need to post it here.
(More properly, from the very little research I did about this, it is a “cabaletta,” which is a two-part musical form, though used as an aria since the bulk of the selection is for one performer.)
My only “complaint” is that the video cuts off before the end, so we don’t get to hear the full piece or audience reaction. But what we do get is a joyful experience.
Afterwards, when the video of this went viral, Li posted publicly about it, explaining in his own video that “I stood up to sing because Lisette Oropesa is a musician I love very much and I happened to have learned this opera before.” He added, though, that “It is definitely not something worthy of pride, nor something worthy of being advocated. Please don’t interrupt singers when they are singing on stage. It’s impolite behavior. Don’t imitate me and I will never do this again in the future.”
But once was pretty darn good. And most definitely good enough.
As a bonus, for those who do want to hear the whole thing, here is Lisette Oropressa again singing this same Violetta’s cabaletta, “Sempre libera,” at Madrid's Teatro Real in July, 2020. So, as you can see, she’s the real deal – making her reaction above all the more endearing. The portion shown in the solo recital video starts here around the 1:50. You’ll hear the tenor part sung off-stage as she listens to the distant voice and then sings with it – including her “Ohhhh.” And we do get the audience roars here, so you can only imagine what they were during that “joint performance.”
From the archives, this week's contestant is Alex Strong from Bloomington, Indiana. This is one of the more unlikely songs I've heard Bruce Adolphe hide in a classical style. Somewhat as a result of that it's a pretty easy song to guess, I think, but that nonetheless makes it quite fun to listen to. The composer style is definitely gettable, too, although it's from a period that most people probably have a difficult time differentiating between several of the better known composers of the era.
On this week’s ‘Not My Job’ segment of the NPR quiz show Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!, the guest is Chance the Rapper, a most-appropriate guest as the show finally returns to its Chicago theater with an actual audience after 20 months away…and a guest from Chicago. His interview with host Peter Sagal is very charming and self-effacing, most especially (and humorously) when talking about plans for his upcoming or perhaps (by the time this is posted) recent 10-year high school reunion, as well as his affection celebrating the Chicago Sky who had just won the WNBA championship.
This the full Wait, Wait… broadcast, but you can jump directly to the “Not My Job” segment, it starts around the 18:30 mark.
We actually have a new one this week. The guest contestant for this week’s Piano Puzzler is Zachary Simpson from Orlando, Florida. I got the hidden song pretty quickly – I could hear the tune right off but it was hidden well-enough that I couldn’t identify it, but it kicked in soon enough. As for the composer style, I had a guess, and it sounded close but I didn’t feel comfortable that I was right – and in fact, it was the contestant’s guess, too, to which composer Bruce Adolph said, “VERY close.” And it was close – but wrong.
A couple years back, I was trying to think of a New Year song, and I'm sure there's one out there or several, but none quickly came to mind. The best I could come up with for a new year is this song from British songwriter/entertainers Michael Flanders and Donald Swann -- who I've often noted here I dearly love -- in their stage revue (or as they called it, an after-dinner farrago...) At the Drop of a Hat. This is "A Song of the Weather."
That's the bearded Michael Flanders who's the lyricist and lead singer, with composer Donald Swann at the piano and singing backup.
This is a charming and exceedingly low-key video that Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt made, singing "What are You Doing New Year’s Eve?" Not-shockingly, I figured that it was reasonably appropriate tonight. How low-key are the production values? At the end, Ms. Deschanel leans over to click off the camera.
On the site, she also posts the following explanation --
"I have known Joe Gordon-Levitt for going on 12 years. We first met in the summer of 2000 while doing a tiny movie called Manic, where we bonded over a mutual appreciation for Harry Nilsson and Nina Simone and I have been lucky enough to call him one of my dearest friends ever since. When we did 500 Days of Summer 8 years later, we spent every lunch hour dancing to Marvin Gaye in the hair and make up trailer; we had loads of fun. I hope to do a thousand more movies with him because he's simply the best. But in the meantime, we made a little New Year's duet for all of you! The original by Nancy Wilson. ENJOY!"
For the sake of accuracy, she's wrong about a couple of things. For starters, it is not "by" Nancy Wilson. Yes, I know she (like many singers) is referring to who recorded it, but who a song is "by" is personal bugaboo of mine. And it's especially notable here because this particular song was written by the great Broadway composer Frank Loesser (who wrote Guys & Dolls and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, among others), though it wasn't for any show or movie, just a standalone song.
She's also wrong that the original was recorded by Nancy Wilson, missing by almost two decades. The original recording was performed by Margaret Whiting in 1947. (Wilson didn't record it until 1965, though she had a big hit with it, reaching #17 on the Billboard charts.)
But those are details. The performance itself is the lovely point of it all --
I initially posted this a few years back after my dad passed away, but I realized that after the past several dismal years it seemed like a really good way to end what's over and head into a New Year.
This is the Phil Och's song, "When I'm Gone." It's not his version, though, but an absolutely exquisite cover by two groups, Kim & Reggie Harris and Magpie. I first heard it years ago when the long-running Saturday night show, The Midnight Special on WMFT in Chicago played it as their closing song each week. They used it for a great many years, and as far as I know they still may be. I just haven't heard the ending of the broadcast in about five years. But they were still using it then.
My folks absolutely loved the song. Loved it. They enjoyed The Midnight Special, a great deal although they liked it more in its earlier years and not the selections as much in its (and their) later years. But they always listened and, if not always all the way through, they always made sure to listen to the ending, just to be sure to hear The Song.
The song is about all the things to do in life now, because this is your chance to see them through.
Since the Kennedy Center Honors were just presented the other day, I thought that would be a good time to go back for the show honoring one of my favorite Broadway composers Jule Styne. He wrote the music to such musicals as Gypsy, Funny Girl, Bells are Ringing, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, songs from Peter Pan and many more, as well as having 10 Best Song Oscar nominations, winning for Three Coins in the Fountain, along with pop hits, like "Time After Time" and "Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" Not to mention my fave (as readers of these pages know), Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, the first -- and I think still the best -- animated TV musical.
Not surprisingly, the 1990 presentation has an excellent entertainment section with great songs overlapping one another -- but also the film bio is filled with his songs. Jerome Robbins hosts the segment, having been involved with Styne on six shows as director or choreographer, including Peter Pan.
From the archives. The guest contestant for this week’s Piano Puzzler is Tim Rogers from Austin, Texas. As weird as the music is, I'd be shocked if one doesn't get the hidden song. As for the composer style, this is one of those who (for me) is always a toss-up between a few people. I took a guess on who struck me as closest -- and was wrong. Still, it's fun to hear arranger Bruce Adolphe describe his choices for what made it this composer.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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