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Gian Carlo Menotti: Steal me, sweet thief

from Christine Taylor Price:

“Steal me, sweet thief” has been one of my favorite arias since I heard it about 2 years ago. I only started singing it recently because my usual English aria, “No Word from Tom” from Stravinsky’s opera The Rakes Progress (another must-listen), wasn’t quite doing it for me anymore. “Steal me” is one of the only well known arias by Menotti. From his opera, The Old Maid and the Thief, written for radio in 1939, it was extremely well-recieved by the American audience which, made it easy for Menotti to start paving his own way as an opera composer in America.

Laetitia is the character who sings “Steal me”. She is Miss Todd’s housekeeper and is a young, beautiful, sparky girl who just wants to be loved, so when Bob shows up looking for a place to stay, Laetitia convinces Miss Todd to give him the guest room. They soon realize that Bob is a thief so, of course, Miss Todd wants to get rid of him but Laetitia has been falling in love with him and again convinces her to let him stay. Day-dreaming, Laetita sings steal me, sweet thief, wishing her life would start before she grows old and gray.

Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman: Simply Second Nature

from Alex Rosen: 

I struggled for a bit, trying to find an appropriate song for today’s post, but eventually settled on one that was very important to me when I discovered it, and still remains one of my favorite songs from the modern musical theater repertory.

The song is “Simply Second Nature” from the 2013 musical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. I heard it for the first time as an undergraduate student, when I was just  beginning to delve into the world of musicals. As a classical musician since childhood, I found that I really didn’t know much at all about Broadway. And recently, I’d started to try my own amateur hand at some composition, so I needed all the guidance I could get.

I listened my way through the decades, through the Rodgers and Hammersteins, through the Sondheims, through the Schwartzes, and then was recommended a new show from the West End. It was ‘Charlie’. Interesting, I thought, and dangerous. The music of the film was iconic, and the film reboot had already tried its hand at reimagining the classic Roald Dahl. But here it was, a new musical. So I listened. And it was nothing like I imagined it would be. There were synthesized instruments, story elements had been 21st century-ized. I don’t like it, I thought. Too glitzy, too glammy. But I kept listening. And then came “Simply Second Nature”. I was hooked.

The introduction begins with a sparse orchestration, just strings and vibraphone. Immediately my mind goes to Gene Wilder singing ‘Pure Imagination’. And as the song unfolds, this Willy Wonka bears his soul in a way that can only be done with a song, with clever rhymes and jagged melodies that seem to fit him perfectly. Punctuated by a huge palette of orchestral colors, he tells us that it is simply second nature for him to build a fantastical candy forest, that he “wouldn’t have it any other way”.

The song became a sort of anthem for me. I make my art because I wouldn’t have it any other way. I listened obsessively, absorbing the sound world, studying the rhymes, and basking in the beauty of the sentiment. And still, it stays with me, inspiring me, and keeping me focused. And as it was passed to me by a dear friend, I pass it on to you, NYFOS blog readers. Please, enjoy!

The Chieftains: The Foggy Dew

From Miles Mykkanen:

Before coming to Orient for NYFOS@North Fork I spent two months in Europe. My adventures began with a week in Ireland. It was my second time visiting the Emerald Isle but this time around I really fell in love with the country and became fascinated with its compelling history. After a week in the Irish moors and probably enough pints for a year, I trekked off to Vienna for the Franz Schubert Institut where, lo and behold, I met an Irishman and we became fast friends! Between our escapades into the German Lied, my new friend Seán Boylan would introduce me to his favorite Irish bands and singers.

I’ll never forget the night Seán played me The Chieftains’ recording of “The Foggy Dew.” It was a cool, rainy night in Vienna—perfect weather to be celebrating Irish artists. The song narrates the Easter Uprising of 1916 where Irishmen marched into the heart of Dublin and attempted to overtake major buildings—most notably the General Post Office—which were housing British officers. The rebels were annihilated by the British. The Uprising’s leaders, James Connolly and Patrick Pearse, were executed without a trial which lit a necessary fire under the Irish rebellion. Even though the actual Uprising was a major blow for the Irish cause, it was the catalyst that eventually led to Ireland’s independence from the English Crown.

In honor of the Easter Uprising’s centennial, I give you a chilling rendition of “The Foggy Dew” performed by The Chieftains featuring Sinéad O’Connor as the soloist.

As down the glen one Easter morn to a city fair rode I
There Armed lines of marching men in squadrons passed me by
No pipe did hum, no battle drum did sound its loud tattoo
But the Angelus Bell o’er the Liffey’s swells rang out in the foggy dew.

Right proudly high in Dublin Town hung they out the flag of war
‘Twas better to die ‘neath an Irish sky than at Suvla or Sud-El-Bar
And from the plains of Royal Meath strong men came hurrying through
While Britannia’s Huns, with their long range guns sailed in through the foggy dew.

Oh the bravest fell, and the Requiem bell rang mournfully and clear
For those who died that Eastertide in the springing of the year
While the world did gaze, in deep amaze, at those fearless men, but few, Who bore the fight that freedom’s light might shine through the foggy dew.

As back through the glen I rode again and my heart with grief was sore For I parted then with valiant men whom I never shall see more
But to and fro in my dreams I go and I kneel and pray for you,
For slavery fled, O glorious dead, when you fell in the foggy dew.

NYFOS@North Fork: Days 5 & 6

The last few days before a concert are always a little tricky to handle. I want to build confidence. I want to fix the little errors—notes, words, rhythms, dynamics—that seem to be repeat offenders. I also want to keep the cast reaching for the heights of expression from depths of their souls—while keeping their work simple, direct, and open. No navel-gazing allowed. As a result, I have to pick my shots: should I mention this incorrect lyric, which I have now heard five times but which isn’t important, or this other one, which I’ve heard twice and is important?

Friday we had a thorough work-through, and Saturday a dress rehearsal. We didn’t stop, except when one song went off the rails and needed to be restarted…and restarted again. I would have been happy to try and keep going, but the singer (whose identity I shall protect) said the fatal words “Oh, shit.” For me, that is like yelling “Fire” in a crowded theater, a clear signal of impending disaster. The third time was the charm and the song was a success, and (as I always say) it is better to have a colossal memory slip in rehearsal than in performance.

Miles Mykkanen and Alex Rosen

Miles Mykkanen and Alex Rosen

Everyone wore the shoes they were going to use in the show—a good idea for a concert where there is a bit of movement. It did give Alex a slightly bizarre look: he had on beige cargo shorts, patent leather shoes, and black dress socks. His exposed shins seemed to be in shock, naked in between his beachy clothes and his fancy feet.

We had some important visitors: Andy Smith, and Barbara and Lily Sacharow. They are people I have come to love. Andy is the son of the late Jane Smith, who used to produce these concerts—and indeed most of the musical events in Orient. Barbara and her daughter Lily were among Jane’s most intimate friends, practically family. Jane was also very dear to me, and her death last April after a long bout with cancer was a deep loss. She had fought her illness so hard and so long that I was able to persuade myself she would last forever. Andy’s sad email four and a half months ago hit me hard.

Andy Smith and Steven Blier

Andy Smith and Steven Blier

The program for “Killer B’s” had taken on an especially elegiac quality fifteen years ago when I did it in San Francisco a few months after my own mother’s death. In memory of Jane, I retained many of those songs for this edition: Bolcom’s “Never More Will the Wind,” Bowles’ “Once a Lady Was Here,” Bernstein’s “Spring Will Come Again,” and especially Burleigh’s beautiful ballad, “Jean.” I felt that the community here would appreciate a tribute to someone who had ornamented it for so many years. Above all, I was thinking about Jane’s family and the Sacharows when I put the program together.

My plan to serenade the Smiths and Sacharows got waylaid. It turned out that a high school up-island planned some kind of tribute to Jane at the exact same time as our performance, and they needed the three Smiths and the two Sacharows in attendance. They also asked Barbara to speak at the ceremony. Thus I lost the guests of honor for my show. But I still wanted them to hear the concert, and invited them to the dress rehearsal. Linda and Steve, the sister and older brother, couldn’t make it, but Andy, Barbara, and Lily were there.

Suddenly I was in a dilemma. I had been near tears every time I rehearsed the “Jane songs,” and I was afraid they might hit the family even harder. With no audience to serve as a buffer, the message of grief—so pure and piercing in the songs and in the cast’s performance of them—suddenly seemed like an emotional sledgehammer. Would it be cathartic, or just depressing?

In the end, I think all of them were grateful for the honest tribute to Jane. I believe they were moved by the songs, and the program has so many other colors—humor, brashness, romance, good cheer—that it places grief in the larger continuum of life. You mourn, you move on, you mourn some more, you confront another life issue….

“Killer B’s” doesn’t end with a snappy number, but with a eulogy and a gentle song of hope. We got done, and our little audience applauded us. Then Barbara said, through tears, “You…do have…an encore?” Well, of course we do. And it’s the silliest song of the afternoon, complete with the cast doing the pony. Never has Motown seemed more welcome.

NYFOS@North Fork: Day 4

I have always had a complex relationship with the piano. But I have an especially complex relationship with the piano I am playing this week at Poquatuck Hall. Oysterponds Community Activities, the hall’s parent organization, proudly bought the piano several years ago, and it was a major upgrade from the weather-beaten wreck it replaced.

But when I first sat down to play it, I had the oddest sensation of déjà-vu. In fact, I felt as if I were seeing a ghost.

This turned out not to be one of those quirks of brain chemistry, the effect of some errant gas in a cerebral nerve ending. You see, this faded, once-black Mason and Hamlin baby grand was the same instrument I grew up playing. The giveaway was the music-rack: square corners, matte finish, unmistakable. Same vintage, same size, and same timbre. I played it, and suddenly I was five years old again.

Our Mason and Hamlin had belonged to my grandparents. Like the one in Poquatuck, its wood had gotten bleached out by being placed in the sun. Ours had another quirk: the key slip, the piece of wood on the front lip where the white keys descend, was loose and had a habit of edging forward and adhering to them as I played. Being a child, I adapted. I became adept at pulling the key-slip back quickly to unstick the keys while rattling through Schumann’s “The Merry Farmer” or Mozart’s “Ronda alla Turca.” The vagaries of my childhood piano set the course for a lifetime of bizarre technical quirks.

Coming back to the same make and model I played as a kid is a very strange homecoming. Due to some strange acoustical property of the room, I can’t quite hear myself when I am playing—until I biff a note or spazz out on a phrase or lose control of a transposition. Those I hear in Technicolor vividness. The hammers have seen better days and don’t like being played too forcefully. The action of the piano is decent until you get down to very soft dynamics, at which point the notes don’t always sound. This can make an easy song into a mine-field of clunks and unwanted silences.

Like women after the rigors of childbirth, I tend to repress the memories of my struggle with this Mason and Hamlin the minute I am done with the annual concert. But this week I am going through the psychodrama of confronting the instrument that got me hooked on playing the piano. It feels like meeting the guy who gave you the gateway drug, sealing your fate as an addict for life.

Things took a turn for the better yesterday. Unlike the singers, who can practice all morning, run lines while floating in the bay, and review choreography on the beach, I don’t really have a way to put a bandage on the inevitable spots that come undone during a rehearsal week. I literally awaken in the middle of the night going over the knotty measures in my sleep—“fingering my passages in bed,” as the old joke goes. So I have resorted to a kind of Zen technique, getting hold of the task at hand in my mind before I go to rehearsal, picturing a calm connection between my aural concept and my hands, and inducing a spiritual acceptance of the piano’s limitations. I must say that I played a lot better at our work-through yesterday. Yeah, there were some accidents, but no five-car pileups. Nicks and scratches, everything covered by insurance.

unnamed-5As for the cast, “the weather still continues charming,” to quote The Important of Being Earnest. Miles showed his teeth in a way I had not seen before (wonderful), Kelsey’s emotional command continues to detonate, Alex’s warmth and humanity shine through like a beacon (though I occasionally have to ask for them), and Christine—who said she wasn’t feeling too well—blazed through her songs with radiance and power. We had a few visitors and heard our first applause. A mother brought her four-year old son in just as we were launching into Bernstein’s raucous “A Julia de Burgos.” Christine hit a high C for the ages—but mother and toddler were gone by then. I am sure they could hear her a block away.

NYFOS@North Fork: Day 3

Wednesday is always the last play-day. People are still giggling over their memory slips, I calmly look the other way when I play a wrong note (which means I am looking the other way quite often), and a certain amount of experimentation remains the order of the day. Sunday’s performance seems centuries away. Everything changes tomorrow, when the glass is definitely half-empty. But today we were in the song-sandbox all afternoon, with the glass safely half-full.

I hustled hard to get to the hall on time and almost made it, speeding down the main road at full speed on my wheelchair, braving oncoming traffic, checking my watch every 40 seconds. I streaked in through the back door, feeling semi-triumphant, only to find the cast completely absorbed in the task of eating their lunch. The room had the deep, meditative quality of a yoga class. Kelsey emerged from the Bikram-haze to offer me a bag of Caesar Snapea Crisps (really good), and I realized that no one was in much a hurry. I reverted to Orient Mode (“We have all afternoon”) and set my nervous system to “Chill.”

It is fascinating to watch this cast sink into the poetry and music. Their first readings had been very good—it was clear everyone already made a real investment in the program. But as my friend Alvin Epstein once said about a young woman working on a scene from Blitzstein’s “Regina,” “It takes years to make a bitch like Regina.” The leap from understanding a song intellectually to living a song as if you’d written it…well, that too can take years. But you can go pretty far in a week if you are in an environment where that is clearly the artistic goal. And a week is what we have.

I’ve been keeping my eye on Kelsey, who has a couple of big acting songs, as well as two that are more lyrical. She is the baby of the group and I feel protective of her. Not that she needs coddling—she’s a strong, self-starting young woman with a keen eye and the soul of an artist. On Monday and Tuesday she’d given very nice, very intelligent readings of Bill Bolcom’s “Toothbrush Time.” But today, something shifted. We talked it over yesterday, located the song in a physical way, filled in some backstory and details. Specifics, like “Where are you? What’s to your left, your right? How long have you been there? What are you wearing? Whom are you talking to—in your mind—a girlfriend? Your shrink?” All of a sudden the piece was happening in real time, and the character’s frustration and compulsiveness were bubbling under every line. Personally, I am a little tired of this song—I first played it in 1979 and it has that not-so-fresh feeling they used to talk about in TV ads. But working with Kelsey today, it rose again, Lazarus-like, and I almost felt as if I were hearing it for the first time.

unnamed-4I am working with four very nice people—decent, sweet, generous colleagues, real boy- and girl-scouts. What is hardest for them is to play characters who are not so nice, not so idealistic, not so saintly. In a group number, supported by one another, they can match Don Rickles for insult humor. We end Act I with “Outside of That, I Love You,” and they practically have a food fight onstage. But that’s comic anger. Real anger, bloody-mindedness, selfishness: these take some real work when they crop up in solo material. I think back to Alvin’s words about Regina—“it takes years to make a bitch.” Can we condense that down to four days?

NYFOS@NorthFork: Day 2

Today we welcomed our fourth singer, Alex Rosen, who arrived a day late after finishing up his residency at Ravinia. He traveled in from Chicago this morning, successfully boarded the notoriously unreliable jitney at the airport station, and waltzed into rehearsal at 3 PM looking fresher than he had any right to look. Alex is a fascinating combination platter. He is kind and generous, emotionally open, but also unflappable and objective. Like a Baked Alaska, he combines sweet, hot, and cool in a way you cannot ignore. Young basses are almost always works-in-progress. It’s a voice type that tends to mature later than tenors and sopranos, and usually goes through a long, awkward adolescence all the way through the singer’s twenties. While the Full Monty of Alex’s voice may only reveal itself in the future, it is astounding how much he is able to do right now. Today he took a good-but-not-great song by Eubie Blake and found its volcanic center, slipping into an easy rapport with its Harlem Renaissance charm. Not many young singers would know what to do with that number—Alex nailed it and made it sound like a masterpiece.

unnamed-3I met Alex three years ago at Wolf Trap. I blush to admit that I was quite late for our 45-minute coaching—I remember I had some hotel accident that ate up the morning. He sang beautifully and I felt I was in the presence of a true artist. Abashed, I swore to him I’d make up the time, but in spite of my best efforts that never came to pass. Still, I always felt guilty about the twenty minutes I owed Alex. This week-long Orient residency seemed like a good payback—20 minutes plus three years of accrued interest.

The music is pouring out of everyone—heartbreak from Kelsey, brio from Christine, panache from Miles. I feel as if I am driving a very fast chariot à la Ben-Hur, hoping to emerge victorious like Charlton Heston.

Tomorrow we are working out our “’ography”—nothing as complex as real choreography, just movement and blocking and (I guess) a few dance steps for the songs that need them. This is a kinetic cast. Should be fun.

NYFOS@North Fork: Day 1

The first day of a residency has a particular energetic charge. We all try to act low-key and normal, just swinging into an ordinary day’s work. But each of us is carefully monitoring everything that is going on. I am hoping that all of my hours of practice will hang in there when I have to focus on the singers and think about something besides my own hands and feet. The singers hope their interpretations are in the ballpark, and that they can have the concert memorized in time for the show. I worry about the way I have divided up the group numbers, they worry about learning incorrect harmonies from my chicken-scrawl handwritten arrangements. I hope I have chosen good material for everyone. And I hope they have studied it.

unnamed-2Today was first day of school, and it went extremely well. All of us were tired, and some of us actually had good reason: Kelsey came to Long Island directly after moving apartments in Manhattan. Christine and Miles had flown in from Europe Saturday night, and were probably quite jet-lagged. You wouldn’t know it from the clarion sounds they were making, or from the positive energy they brought into Poquatuck Hall. But Miles was a bit loopy today. He had a fabulous malapropism in “A Miracle Would Happen,” when he mispronounced “exacerbates” and “exasturbates”—a word that really should exist.

It’s interesting to see which English expressions and witticisms need explanation. In a duet from Bolcom’s “A Wedding,” the character sings, “I was married twice, first a red then a Republican….” Christine said, “Red? Like, Native American?” “Um, no. Red, like Commie.” “Oh…” The line goes on to say, “And neither one knew where the trash is.” “You get that, Chrissie?” “Yes. Well, no. Not really.” “Well,” I search for words, “trash, like, junk, you know…?” “Ohhhhh. So she’s saying that…” “She had two husbands, one radical left wing and one conservative, and they were both lousy in bed.”

That whole song is full of double-entendres, and a lot of them come from old slang expressions. “Neither one knew where the trash is” rhymes with “someone to haul the ashes.” I mentioned it was a phrase you might see in a classic blues song. By this time Christine pulled out her phone to look it up online. “It says: ‘to have sexual intercourse.’ Wait, here’s Urban Dictionary: ‘to have sex, homo or hetero, usually casual, but wild, hot, monkey sex.’” “OK, well, then, you get the picture?” She did.

The afternoon wasn’t all Masters and Johnson. We actually worked through the whole program except for the three pieces that belong to our bass, Alex Rosen, who arrives tomorrow from Ravinia. For the final forty-five minutes all of us were running on fumes, which made our not very difficult encore by—well, I don’t want to give it away, but it’s a classic pop tune first recorded by Dionne Warwick in 1963—seem as if we were trying to sing the final fugue from Falstaff.

An encouraging day’s work, egged on by sensational weather. The world is a very chaotic place right now. The peace of Orient, the stimulation of 20 great songs, and the privilege of being together couldn’t be more welcome.

A lovely way to celebrate my mother’s 102nd birthday. She would have been proud, though she could not have explained about “hauling the ashes.”

Song of the Day: Aug 31

A final post from our 2015 NYFOS@NorthFork cast, then Song of the Day is on break until Labor Day. Here are some selections from baritone Dimitri Katotakis to enjoy in these last few weeks of summer!

When we were preparing the “Latin Lovers” concert, Steven and I stumbled upon a question that neither of us could answer. It came up in the song, “Abismo de sed” by Carlos Guastavino, set to a poem by Alma García. This is a powerful tune, the outcry of a soul in pain. The only thing that will assuage his torment: wine, and a woman. (Steve had featured the song in his Song-of-the-Day on June 19—right after he cast me in the show.) One possible reading was that this desire was purely epicurean, the selfishness of a sensualist. But we both felt that there was something more to the song, something that we were missing. One line, Steven thought, might hold the key. In the repeated chorus, the singer proclaims that he is from Tucumán, and we thought that this area might have had some sort of historical resonance for Argentineans. Perhaps he was a fugitive from a government purge in that province, and was on the run from the Fascist regime. We were excited to talk to Victor Torres about it—certainly he would know! But when we had the pleasure of Skyping with him in Argentina, he couldn’t explain it either. “Tucumán. Is a province.” “Yes, Victor, we know that…” “Ah…my father came from Tucumán…?” Interesting but not exactly useful.

But after the concert I did some research of my own and found a connection between Tucumán and a very intriguing part of the history of Latin American song: the musical/political movement called “Nueva canción.”

Nueva canción (“new song”) sprang up in the 1950s. It is a style of music that developed and spread across Latin America and the Caribbean combining folk music and other indigenous styles from the barrios. It used traditional instruments and had politicized and passionate lyrics. It was music of the people, spreading a message of justice and solidarity, seeking an end to prejudice, repression, and rampant imperialistic injustice. Nueva canción was popularized by singers like Pablo Milanes and Silvio Rodríguez, but I’d like to focus on one in particular, Mercedes Sosa (1935-2009).

Often referred to as ‘La Negra’ for her long, black hair, Sosa was an Argentinean singer who never defined herself as a political activist. But her songs delivered powerful messages of social justice and political struggle in metaphor and in tone. She had a dark, passionate contralto and she could command in her story-telling with a wide palette of colors, from insinuating sweetness to the powerful sobs and howls.

In ‘Canción con todos’ (“Song with everybody”), she sings “toda la sangue puede ser canción en el viento/canto conmigo, canta/ hermano americano,/libera tu esperanza con un grito en la voz…,” which translates to “All blood can be a song in the wind/ Sing with me, sing/ American brother/ Set free your hope with a cry in your voice,” a powerful call for others to join in the revolution.

Sosa became famous throughout Latin America for her rendition of “Gracias a la vida,” a song originally written by Violeta Parra, another pioneer of Nueva canción. It relays a message of a human experience that is universal across divides of class and race, implicitly political.

Though she never called herself an activist, Sosa was arrested and sent into exile in 1979, officially an enemy of the junta of Jorge Videla. This exile caused her great and lasting grief, but after Videla’s regime collapsed in 1982, she returned to give sold-out performances and her music was championed as the music of a new dream for Argentina.

What does this have to do with Tucumán, you might be thinking? Well, this political fighter, a champion to her people, was also from Tucumán, and many of her early albums are filled with songs of grief for her oppressed province and people. Maybe, the protagonist of Guastavino and García’s song experienced the oppression and opted to leave his home in search of a new life, rather than stay and fight.

It seems, at any rate, that Mercedes Sosa had other things to sing about than needing a stiff drink and a companion for the night, and if her music inspired change in the world, then we can all be glad for that too.

Below I’ve included links to some of my favorite Sosa recordings, as well as the songs referred to above.

Canción con todos:

Gracias a la vida (studio):

-with a large, cheering crowd, later in her career:

Balderrama (a personal favorite, translation included in the video):

Ay este azul:

(this whole concert is absolutely worth listening to)

Song of the Day: August 28

Under the wire, here is our Song of the Day for August 28th from NYFOS@North Fork Emerging Artist Amanda Lynn Bottoms:

When Steve asked me to join the Orient Point residency, my familiarity with Cuban, Brazilian, Argentinian and Latin music as a whole was…limited. So I did what any logical millennial would do and headed to Google to discover the Brazilian stars of yesteryear. I was led to a Spotify list spanning from Tim Maia to Elis Regina to Joao Gilberto. Topping the list was “Garota De Ipanema” by Vinicius de Moraes and Tom Jobim. The iconic song, better known to American audiences as “The Girl from Ipanema”, was praised throughout the post as THE definition of Brazil, an international calling card for a style of music that charmed the world — bossa nova. This served as an exciting introduction to what was in store this summer creating nostalgia for a time and place I never knew.

Rumor has it that the two musicians were sitting at a bar near Ipanema Beach in Rio and wrote this song down on a bar napkin when they saw the most beautiful woman walk by. Her name was Heloisa Eneida Menezes Pais Pinto, an eighteen-year-old Carioca—a native of Rio. Tall and tan, with emerald green eyes and long, dark wavy hair. Headed everywhere and nowhere at the same time with a style of strut that de Moraes could only call “sheer poetry.” That ease of life and love carries throughout not only this tune but all of the Brazilian works we presented in LATIN LOVERS – no need to be or do anything more than you are because you are born just right, effortlessly beautiful.

Sadly the rumors of “Ipanema” are not completely true but the spirit is present nonetheless. Jobim and de Moraes were working on a musical comedy called Blimp that involved a martian, Rio and the biggest night of Carnaval – sounds like a hit already. Needless to say they wanted a song to embody the beauty and excitement of our planet – a girl clad in a bikini was the most logical muse of course. Stalled two verses into “Menina que Passa” (“The Girl Who Passes By”) Jobim and de Morase conjured up their own longing for the girl on the shore to create the hit we all know and love.

While listening to the track in its native Portuguese, though I had no clue what they were saying without the translation, I could feel their playful appetite more than ever before. I was instantly pushed back to a moment in the car when I was eight-years and riding in the back seat through what seemed like endless miles of highway on the way to rural Virginia from Buffalo, NY. This song came on the radio, the iconic Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz rendition, and I did a bit of a hula dance mixed with a cross body disco point and the classic v-past the eyes motion. My dad was quick to notice my actions in the rear-view mirror and corrected my choreography with “What was that?! Ipanema would never do that! She’s the most beautiful girl in the world (besides your mother) and she doesn’t have to try to show it. Ease up kid.” My dad, the all knowing, glittering in gold jewelry, Greek-New Yorker was right and it would only take 15 years for me to realize it.

That au naturel wind in the hair, “born in a bikini” (as Steve would say) persona was a constant joy and struggle to find throughout rehearsals. We live in a world bombarded with the idea that bigger is better, louder is better, sexier is better – check out any female starring Superbowl ad from the past five years and you’ll get a highly commercialized but scarily close idea of what the American sense of “beautiful and sexy” is. Brazil is not that. Brazil is marveling at your gorgeous body and letting it all hang out if that feels good to you. Brazil is not needing everyone to validate your presence or being showy about your looks; you walk into a room and everyone gravitates to you because you’re the most genuine thing on two legs there. Throw in some whispered conversation over the shoulder and maybe you’ll be the next “Garota De Ipanema.” I still have a long way to go until I can confidently strut around in the famously cheeky bathing suits that Brazilian women are known to rock but for now I can tackle their music with simplicity, elegance and a portamento or two so Steve doesn’t internally combust.

And anytime I feel the foolish temptation to put in a ritzy, Wagnerian level display of just how Brazilian I can be I’ll take a breath, slip on my turquoise colored sarong and whisper to myself “ease up kid.”

Enjoy these colorful recordings!
Astrud Gilberto With Stan Getz – Girl From Ipanema (1964)

Joao Gilberto – Garota de Ipanema (junto a Tom Jobim)

New York Festival of Song • One Penn Plaza • #6108 • New York, NY 10119 • 646-230-8380 • info@nyfos.org