I grew up hearing the songs of Richard Rodgers: my parents sang in concert party shows after the war and there were always rehearsals going on downstairs when I was sent to bed. I loved Mozart and Schubert and Handel and felt that their music was more suited to my voice and personality, but gradually over the years I have become a little more daring! I gave a lot of song recitals in France and would frequently end with some lighter repertoire- I think the foreign language helped. I could be somebody quite different when I donned my French voice. More recently, I’ve added Noel Coward songs at the end of English song recitals, and in duet concerts with Sir Thomas Allen we have included chunks of Carousel and South Pacific. But meeting pianist Jason Carr has opened up a whole new world of wonderful repertoire!
An alternative title for my Carousel Waltz recital at the Howard Assembly Room this Saturday is ‘Lovers, Mothers, Wives and Others’. Love makes the world go round so it is no surprise that a song entitled ‘Lover’ tops the bill. This is from Love Me Tonight and was sung by Jeanette MacDonald in the Rodgers and Hart film.
The collaboration between Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II produced the greatest musicals: Carousel, Oklahoma!, The King and I, South Pacific, all of them with a strong story line and beautiful, memorable songs. I remember being bowled over by the film South Pacific when I was still a teenager, living at home in Cheltenham. This was a whole new world of music and romance, exciting and exotic to someone who sang in the church and school choirs and occasionally came top in Latin. When I was at university, a boyfriend gave me an LP (remember those?) of Tony Bennett- I still have it, even though I played it to death. One of my favourite tracks was ‘My Funny Valentine’. I hear his voice in my mind’s ear and can’t compete but I have always loved the song.
The words of the songs and operas I sing have always been almost as important as - sometimes more important than- the music. I much admire the witty texts of Lorenz Hart; they don’t inspire Richard Rodgers to his greatest melodies, except perhaps in ‘My Funny Valentine’, but ‘To Keep My Love Alive’, ‘Bewitched’ and ‘Den of Iniquity’ have witty and clever words. The latter two, along with ‘Ten Cents A Dance’ come under our vague heading, ‘Others’: ladies who have slipped through society’s cracks. I’m so indebted to Jason for introducing me to these less well-known songs and for playing anything in any key.
There is such variety in these songs: so many styles and sentiments, such wit and emotion, humour and pathos. They make me laugh and they make me cry. I know I shouldn’t have had a career at all if I had tried singing this music when I was young- I have just remembered a disastrous occasion when I was the cabaret at the Regency Rout in Cheltenham aged about 21: ‘Lover Come Back To Me’ sung in the style of ‘How Beautiful Are The Feet’. I hope I have loosened up a bit since then and that you will enjoy our selection of music from these great shows, as an hors d’oeuvre for Opera North’s Carousel.
Dame Felicity Lott
Ahead of the opening of Opera North’s new production of Carousel, Dame Felicity Lott sings the music of Richard Rodgers in a very special recital in the Howard Assembly Room, accompanied by pianist Jason Carr. The Carousel Waltz takes place on Saturday 21 April at 7.30pm. More information can be found here.
Opera North’s new production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel opens at Leeds Grand Theatre on 2 May.
Photo: Dame Felicity Lott. Credit: Trevor Leighton