You, me, the music, and me.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

ANNA RUSSELL The Anna Russell Album?

CBS Masterworks MG 31199 (1972)

The voice of Anna Russell is a voice that comes to us once in a century, or possibly never at all. Anyway, it's very rare.

- from the liner notes by Charles Burr

Anna Russell is the Victor Borge of singers. A classically trained lyric soprano who has sung with many of the world's most respected symphony orchestras, her special talent is the ability to lovingly lampoon the various cliches and idiosyncracies of opera and classical music with which she is so familiar. Anyone who has taken a voice lesson or attended a master class will immediately recognize the subjects of her satire.

The Anna Russell Album? is a double LP set compiling two of her earlier releases, Anna Russell Sings? and Anna Russell Sings! Again? The first record is a tutorial for singers in which Ms. Russell advises aspiring vocalists on choosing repertoire best suited to their limitations. While introducing "Ah, Lover! from the operetta 'The Prince of Philadelphia'" she states: "The next example is for the singer who can't count and who has one or two loud notes at either end of the voice and nothing much in the middle." According to her, the piece is perfect for singers who have "resonance where (their) brains ought to be". "Schlumph" and "Je n'ai pas la plume de ma tante" are perfect parodies of, respectively, the German lied and the French art song, and are recommended to "singers with tremendous artistry but no voice".

On the second record, Russell attempts an analysis of "The Ring of the Nibelungs", Richard Wagner's massive opera cycle. Russell's aim is to condense the twenty-plus hours of Wagner's epic into a more manageable twenty or so minutes to give frightened concertgoers the general gist of the story. Hence, the Rhine maidens are referred to as "a sort of aquatic Andrews Sisters" and Siegfried is "a regular Li'l Abner type". Finally, in "How to Write Your Own Gilbert and Sullivan Opera", she provides a point-by-point procedure for writing your very own light operetta in the style of the famed British duo, exposing every cliche of British musical theater in the process ("This character always does a little dance and an encore whether you want him to or not.").

Even if you're not a musicologist, Anna Russell will probably make you laugh with her send-ups of the foibles and pretensions of classical music. As the liner notes state; "... you can know nothing about Wagner and still understand the beauty of the take-off (or is it put-on?). She lets you know that SHE knows, even if you don't. And that's great art."


At 8:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not crazy about the typography, but that's a _great_ cover. k

At 10:44 AM, Blogger Peter MacDonald said...

The design was by John Berg, the drawing by Edward Sorel, and Morris Greenberg did the lettering.


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