Thursday, December 27, 2012

Birthday Girl: A Glorious Voice

An embarrassment of birthday riches today, taking in everyone from Louis Pasteur to Oscar Levant, and from Marlene Dietrich to Cokie Roberts.  Here, however, we have a great lady who can hold her own with them and more, that inimitable practitioner of the gentle (and very nearly lost) art of musical satire, Miss Anna Russell.

If you know Miss Russell, there is is really no need to indulge in further superlatives; if not, it may at this rather distant remove from her heyday be difficult exactly to convey the impact she had on the occasionally rather solemn world of music when she burst upon the scene, as improbable a figure in her thirties as she remained for the rest of her long life.  Suffice it to say that rarely has anyone so deftly, thoroughly, and hilariously eviscerated the pretensions of High Art as she, wielding a combination of genuine authority on the subjects on which she discoursed and a mastery of broad comedy rarely equaled  - as a mistress of the double-take she is a peer of such immortals as Marie Dressler and Beatrice Lillie.

The summit of her art is unquestionably her dissection of Wagner's Ring Cycle, although her comprehensive guide to the writing of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta certainly has its partisans as well.  Personally, I feel lucky to have been introduced to her work at a dangerously early age, and I'm happy to confess that at various times in my life, back in the days when I was making an exiguous living on the fringes of the music business in New York and elsewhere, I have relied on what I gleaned from her recordings to seem a great deal more learned than ever I actually was. 

Here she introduces us to the basic necessities required for undertaking a career as a singer, and as a veteran of more than one encounter with that most fearsome of creatures, the Metropolitan Opera Soprano, I can attest that the description that closes this clip is as accurate a one as you ever will find.


  1. Oh! My dear - you have absolutely made my day with that clip! I adore Miss Russell, and often play her when I need a bit of a lift... Jx

  2. That clip is absolutely wonderful! Made my day too.