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I Wish it So / Dawn Upshaw

1 rating: 5.0
An album
1 review about I Wish it So / Dawn Upshaw

Excellent

  • Dec 18, 2006
Rating:
+5
Pros: Everything, particularly 2 previously unknown Sondheim songs.

Cons: Nothing

The Bottom Line: No special instructions. Insert, hit play, enjoy, repeat.

Dawn Upshaw is a regular lyric soprano for The Met and she is famous for being the soprano the David Zinman version of Henryk Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3: The Symphony of Sorrowful Songs which has sold more CDs than any other piece of classical music.

From time to time, Ms. Upshaw goes to the studio to sing something other than opera. I Wish It So is her interpretation of songs from musicals by Bernstein, Blitzstein, Sondheim, and Weill. What she does is something I haven’t heard from other well known sopranos or metsos: she holds back some of the classical training so that the songs she sings sound natural. Opera requires the diva to have a level of diction that tends to be vastly overstated for something less rarified like musical theater or folk songs. The person I use to illustrate this is Jessie Norman. Her voice is tremendous but only for opera; she doesn’t seem to have the ability to turn that off. Ms. Upshaw and Denise Graves are the only soprano or metsos who know how to loosen up the diction—at least that I am currently aware.

Her interpretation of comedic Berstein is particularly good. “The Saga of Jenny,” “Glitter and Be Gay,” and “I Feel Pretty” (music by Bernstein, lyrics by Sondheim) are fantastic; alone, they would be sufficient to buy the CD even if the remaining 11 songs were awful. Fortunately this isn’t the case.

All of the songs are done well and there is a level of intimacy with them that you can’t get with opera because opera seems so formal. While the Bernstein is fantastic, the true gems are the two Sondheim songs that were part of unproduced musicals: “What More Do I Need?” and “The Girls of Summer.” For Sondheim fans, these are required listening—“What More Do I Need?” is similar in humor and innuendo as “Worst Pies in London.”

Ms. Upshaw is in familiar territory with the music though because most of it is done with a standard orchestra, so this doesn’t have the quality of a recital—if all you have is a singer and a piano, it always seems like a recital to me and I can never quite get into it given the number of crappy recitals I’ve sat through.

The biggest selling point, though, is Ms. Upshaw’s voice. You don’t pick up a recording featuring a top tier opera singer and expect to focus on the accompaniment. I mention above that her voice is intimate; what I mean by this is that you are not required to know the first thing about symphonic or operatic music to enjoy it. Her voice puts the listener at ease for what can still be (thanks mainly to the coloratura in “Glitter and Be Gay”) nearly operatic quality. Though I’m not really fond of her, imagine Celine Dion toning down the power she exudes to sing children’s songs, but with a few vocal surprises that point to what else she is able to do.

If you like musical theater, this CD is great; if you like Gorecki’s Third (there is at least one other that doesn’t feature Ms. Upshaw as the soprano) this CD is also great. The only people I would imagine turning up their noses are those who don’t like musical theater or, for whatever reason, don’t like sopranos.

Recommended:
Yes

Great Music to Play While: Listening

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I Wish it So / Dawn Upshaw
Details
Label: Nonesuch Records (USA)
Release Date: June 01, 1994

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