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Rusalka – a water nymph or mermaid

I realize that opera isn’t usually in this blog’s purview, but this morning I discovered that I made a slight (ahem) mistake about the exact month of a blogathon. But the mistake has left me without a subject for today. I’ve also been meaning to review a book, but I’ve been in a reading rut and have not finished anything in two weeks! But I have been listening to opera and it has a slight connection to literature.

I greatly enjoy the music of Czech composer Antonin Dvorak and recently I’ve been listening to his opera “Rusalka.” The libretto was written by Jaroslav Kvapil, who based it on the fairy tales of Czech writers Karel Jaromír Erben and Božena Němcová. A rusalka is a water nymph (or mermaid), but the story bears a lot of similarity to two other stories: Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” and Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué’s “Undine.” I’m actually planning to read these two stories this year and I understand that “The Little Mermaid” has a less happy ending than the Disney film, making it closer to the opera. In an NPR article on the opera, it compares the story of the opera to the romance between Arwen and Aragorn in the movie adaptation of The Lord of the Rings…if Aragorn had dumped Arwen after she gave up her immortality.

The opera’s most famous aria “Song to the Moon,” is so beautiful it almost makes me cry every time I hear it. The water nymph, Rusalka, is singing to the moon about her love for a human prince who periodically swims in the lake where she lives and she wants to be human, too, so she can embrace him. Of course, after her wish is granted, she loses her voice to the witch, Jezibaba, and then the prince proves unfaithful to her, but realizes his crime and sacrifices himself for her in death (though it doesn’t exactly save Rusalka).

This version of the song is sung by Leontyne Price.

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2016 in Music

 

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Why Are Songs About Spring So Sad?

Today is the first day of spring, a wonderful day of new life and new growth. So, I thought what could be better than to celebrate this day of new life and new growth than to find some songs about spring. I thought there would be some joyous songs, expressing new love or how lovely nature is or something similarly upbeat. What I found instead was an impressive barrage of downbeat songs about loneliness and heartbreak. Who knew that spring could bring out more misanthropes than Christmas?

Here is a song by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, called “Spring is Here,” which sounds like a nice sentiment, until you realize that they are writing about how spring may be here, but they don’t notice because they are all alone. I really like this version, sung by Frank Sinatra. I generally prefer his earlier stuff to his later work; he seems to get too slick in his performance later, but has a touching pathos early on.

And here is another lovely, lonely, heartbreaking song called “Spring Will Be A Little Late This Year,” by Frank Loesser (“Guys and Dolls,” “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”). It is sung by the great Sarah Vaughan. This song details how the singer has been left by their love, so now spring isn’t coming, or is coming more slowly.

Now this song is trying to have it both ways, though on the whole it is a more positive song. “April Showers,” made famous by Al Jolson, though sung here by Sinatra. Apparently, April sucks, but at least the second half of spring gets better. The rain and troubles bring flowers in May. I think it is significant that this song was written in 1921. There was a depression going during 1920-1921, to be followed by a relatively quick bounce back and the roaring twenties.

If you go to youtube and type in Ella Fitzgerald and spring, about a half dozen songs come up: “Spring Is Here,” “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most,” “I’ve Got the Spring Fever Blues.” I was wondering if “It Might as Well be Spring,” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s State Fair should count as a spring song. It’s not technically about spring. The singer is in love and all in a flutter and restless and that “it might as well be spring,” but it’s not actually spring, though at least the singer is in a relatively happy state and new love is being born, which is a sentiment consonant with new birth in spring.

Finally, I did manage to locate one genuine happy springtime song, meant to be sung specifically during spring (though it is not a Jazz standard or standard of The Great American Songbook). It is from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers: “Spring, Spring, Spring.” Six brothers and their girlfriends welcome the coming of spring after a very, very long winter in the mountains.

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2015 in Great American Songbook

 

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