White Shirt Monday: All The Colors Of The Rainbow

[Kansas girls among themselves: Joyce DiDonato channeling gay icon Dorothy at Saturday’s Last Night of the Proms with Arlen’s “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”.]

I know, there’s no shirt and there are no cufflinks, and a glittery dress might just be the anti-thesis, but DiDonato has put on the revered trouser role pants plenty of times and continues to do so, so forgive me if today, I take off my hat to a classy ally while she’s wearing skirts instead.

With dedicating her very public Saturday performance of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” to the brutally challenged Russian LGBTQ* community (a longer blog post on the issue of equality by the mezzo herself can be found at her website), DiDonato has taken a stand many others haven’t.

We can argue that such gestures don’t change much, but they do. They may not directly save a life today that would direly need saving, but this world works via symbols, and an encouraging, public greeting may at least point the attention where it is needed and perhaps, for a minute, put a bit more spring in the step of a person who has to carry the unfair burden of undemocratic laws. The latest suggested made (though it is unlikely to pass, but they said the same thing about the so-called propaganda law)

The Russian LGBTQ* community is not caught between a rock and a hard place at the moment. Instead, it’s chained to a hard place and getting rocks thrown at it in addition. If there is to be change, it will take time and persistence, and much will have to happen within the Russian society. The issue is is complex, there is no clear strategy (Boycott the Olympics? Don’t boycott the Olympics?) and people are suffering. But offering our ears, our support and our couches simply cannot be wrong. Just like dedicating our songs.

12 thoughts on “White Shirt Monday: All The Colors Of The Rainbow”

  1. Its posts like this that encourage us to not be shaken by all the bad news that swirls around us these days. Russia’s brutal treatment of its gays is enough to make one cry in rage and sorrow. On top of that the Met thinks it might have to cancel next year’s season due to lack of funds. Thank goodness for places like this blog where we can drop in to reassure ourselves that our little communities continue to persist in good times and bad.


  2. The community of opera and classical music and ballet is important to Russia’s idea of itself; proposed boycotts and other actions can remind
    Russians how important tolerance is to civilization, and how much the country’s culture depends on the people it marginalizes.
    Sports even more so. Anyone who doubts the effectiveness or appropriateness of such actions should look at South Africa’s history, and the role of the athletics boycott in changing that. ÉCRASEZ L’INFÂME!


    1. South Africa is a good counter example, and Berlin 1936 is a perfect example of what I am afraid of: giving the unjust a stage (I have similar issues with many sports events, but this one, being particularly anti-LGBT in a country that has already seen more freedom in that regard, hits very close to home). I don’t want to ignore the voices of the community activists who say they direly need the public attention that the Olympics will draw to their causes and their country, but I also really, really don’t want to offer stage, representation and recognition to a regime who should be denied these very things under the Olympic rules.
      Then again, especially in light of Mr. Bach’s (unfortunately, not Johann Sebastian) appointment to IOC president, what can be expected from an organization that is mainly interested in money?


  3. While I appreciate the gesture, I don’t think her voice suits the song at all. It’s such a big, mature voice that she has to hold back and control a lot, instead it should be a much younger, lighter voice blasting out the song with abandon. But then I have a hard time with crossover in all shapes and forms, including Connolly singing jazz or Ernman singing Weill (and oh, belters attempting operatic coloratura as well, like Chenoweth’s Glitter and be Gay, to be fair). It’s not that I’m a purist by principle – I’m a big fan of unexpected covers – it’s just that I find certain voices (or perhaps rather singing styles or techniques) singing certain types of songs very hard to listen to. There are exceptions of course, some songs can be sung either way (Pirates of Penzance and West Side Story comes to mind). How about you, do you like all kinds of music sung in the “operatic” fashion or are there limits?


    1. A difficult question (as always, when it comes to likes and dislikes!)

      Of course, in my personal taste, there are “crossovers” that I enjoy more, or less. But apart from that, I am always very of judging with my opinion.

      I enjoyed DiDonato’s performance here and it meant a lot to me in light of the message. Whether a voice is right or wrong for something (If that can even be said so absolutely outisde of matters of perosnal taste) so often depends on iconized previous interpretations (like in this case Judy Garland), as can be seen in the bitter recent controversy about Bartoli’s “Norma”. Why does one way have to be right, and another one wrong?
      Some operas and songs have seen countless interpretations – I am of the “the more, the merrier” faction in this case. What I personally find important in classical crossover is to not sneer at opera singers for sounding like opera singers when they sing other repertory. It’s like classically educated dancers doing modern repertory: the training always shows. But for me, that doesn’t necessarily devalue an interpretation.
      I enjoy Ernman’s Weill, I dearly love von Otter’s Weill and Costello, and I still have a sentimental fondness for Te Kanawa’s operative take on Gershwin, which was was an important album for me in my teenage years.

      What personally aggravates me are non-classical (or half-classical) singers with insufficient training for opera and a microphone who sing “à la classique” with technical idiosyncracies (portamento, e.g.) that, from a belcanto point of view, are flaws. But again, who am I to judge? If these interpretations can mean the world (often, the “grand”, classical world) to someone who is not moving inside opera or belcanto training, that’s great.
      I used to sneer at Bocelli or Il Divo or Brightman or Jenkins a lot, but I’ve taken to only doing that in private anymore after having had a very interesting discussion on elitist “valuing” of music as part of Bourdieu-ian habitus. I find the line between taste and habitus to be very, very blurry and I will need to think about that some more. Meanwhile, I just believe that it’s not my place to harp in on someone else’s pleasure, even if I find things technically “wrong” from my viewpoint. After all, it’s only my viewpoint.


      1. “If it sounds good, it is good.” (Ellington) Agreed. I notice that my own customary failure to enjoy classically trained voices performing popular music is usually due to their athletic strength. Cabaret and show tunes often express self-doubt, anxiety, fragility. (OK, Ethel Merman; anyone for Bartoli in Annie Get Your Gun?) Good as von Otter is in Todsünden, I find Marianne Faithful’s version closer to the work as I understand it.


        1. a very good point, FF – I never looked at it from that angle- Perhaps the classically trained voice codes for “broken” (Re: why is there so much coloratura in belcanto?) are simply different ones than those at the base of the “popular” songwriting we’re talking about here?
          Faithfull v. von Otter is a striking example.


        2. Then again, how I would love to hear di Donato sing Das Lila Lied. But as Lemper says, even she saved that for her downtown gigs. So perhaps not for the Proms.


    2. And yet — Harold Arlen had been agonizing over the song for weeks. When the melody finally came to him, he called librettist Yip Harburg to hurry over — it was midnight, but that’s standard for songwriting hours — and Arlen “played it,” Yip later recalled, “with such symphonic sweep and bravura that my first reaction was, ‘Oh, no, not for little Dorothy!’ “


  4. Thank you for your long and thoughtful answer and the interesting discussion following it. I can only speak from my personal taste of course, that’s why I’m interested in hearing different opinions. Since I started listening to opera I’m sure I’ve moved towards accepting a lot more “operatic” takes on various songs – and perhaps vice versa as well, no longer accepting “semi-classical” performances of classical songs. It’s a good thing to keep in mind that tastes change and that what sounds “right” isn’t “natural” or written in stone. Still, I think a lot of songs were written with a certain type of voice in mind, and that if you want to make a different interpretation (which of course you’re free to do!) you have to think hard about why and how (or if not think then feel – really feel that a different take is right too).


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