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cclowell38

Best Movie Soprano Voice?

139 posts in this topic

No, Jack, that's not it. Jane sings a piece - an aria - to impress Lauritz Melchior in her ajoining state room on the ship. But as luck would have it, Lauritz steps out for a glass of lager before hearing the young Miss do her thing. Her friend, Polly is present and gives her a standing ovation at the end. Powell does the number with only a few piano bars to accompany her. It's riveting and memorable. You should see the film again!

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...only a few piano bars to accompany her.

I'd love to have accompanied her to a few piano bars! (Sorry, I just had to......)

 

My DVD is at my mother's, or I would check the number she's singing.

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Up until I read your post, I was neglecting Kathryn Grayson... She sang an aria Mi Chiaro Mimi from La Boheme - a really lousy guess at the title - in THIS IS LOVE. An okay film biography about Grace Moore. I am by no means an opera expert - although I do admire the concentration that goes into the work - but, her interpretation is lovely. I'm generally not a big fan of coloratura soprano - a little chirpy for me (and sometimes I lose the lyrics when they are sung high, high, high) - but, listening to Ms. Grayson's interpretation of that aria is probably up there with the best of them. Beautiful, bell-like tones, wonderful diction - and a lovely woman. Thanks for reminding me!

 

And a special thank you to those who filled me in on Eileen Farrell and her career!

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I respect your preference for Kathryn and Jane, but to be fair to Deanna Durbin I think from any obejective overview of her work it's fairly clear that she possessed considerable charm. She also, by a considerable margin, is generally the most admired singer/actress of all the Teen Sopranos. (See, e.g., Charles Affron ("Durbin's sweet voice and sound musical instincts take on particular value when compared to her 1940s counterparts, the "legit" sopranos Jane Powell and Kathryn Grayson") or Ethan Morrden ("Durbin's opera has a confidence that one finds lacking in the work of the coeval Jane Powell and Kathryn Grayson, and her 'pop' is pleasureable.") or David Shipman ("In her private life she was extremely self-assured and there are touches of wit and acerbity in her performances which place her easily in the forefront of those girls who have made a career out of playing Cinderella. She was liked everywhere and was a critic's pet. The qualities they praised in her: charm, spontaneity, naturalness her artlessness and her singing voice-were more highly then than they are now, but she was probably the most agreeable child who ever starred in moves.")

 

A notable exception was an alleged 'salute' to Deanna written for OPERA NEWS by Eric Myers some years back. Myers was completely dismissive of Durbin's talent, finding both her voice and her abilities as a singer/actress to be negligible and non-descript. However, even Myers acknowledged Durbin's uniquely potent personal charm as a key element of her enormous success. ("Durbin's fans watched her mature from a charismatic, gifted fourteen-year-old into a voluptuous leading lady who eventually became the highest-paid woman in the nation. The little girl with the voice of a grown woman instantly captured the public's fancy, and she remains so beloved that the fan clubs, websites and newsletters devoted to her are too numerous to count. -- It was really the ordinary attractive girlishness she projected which won hearts all around. That quality even won her a special Academy Award in 1938 for bringing to the screen 'the spirit and personfication of youth.' As Durbin matured, the attractiveness became something more. With her full lips, voluptuous physique and caressing, dreamy way of focusing on her male co-stars, she projected an eroticism that is rarely acknowledged by her fans.")

 

Anyway, while I obviously don't agree with Myers' dismissive opinion of Deanna, in the same issue it was nice to see Brian Kellow's admiring appraisal of the too-often overlooked Jane Powell. ("From the beginning, she was an uncommonly bright young singer: bright eyes, bright smile, bright personality, with a bright, sunny lyric soprano. She sang with tremendous energy, rhythmic crispness and deep feeling; her vocalism is distinguished by a gleaming sincerity.")

 

Still, as in every other source one consults on moviedom's Teen Sopranos (including the recollectoins of the ladies themselves), Kellow readily acknowledged that studio interest in Powell, et. al. was generated by Deanna's remarkable and enduring success. ("When Powell arrived at MGM, Louis B. Mayer was still smarting over a blunder that had occurred years earlier, when he had failed to sign up Deanna Durbin, only to have her go to Universal and make millions for them. He was always searching for another Durbin, and he believed he had found one in Powell.")

 

So she must have had something...

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Hi filmflub:

 

The aria is called "Mi chiamano Mimi" as in "They call me 'Mimi' (but my name is Lucia)." It's a beautiful aria, isn't it?

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NZ, the aria snippet you're thinking of is from Jules Massenet's opera MANON. I think it's known informally as The Marching Song (perhaps Markus or Jack Burley has the real lowdown). Jane Powell's other numbers in LUXURY LINER are two versions of "Spring Came Back to Vienna" (the finale, a duet with Melchior), "Alouette", and "The Peanut Vendor".

 

Incidently, HER name in the movie is Polly; her older friend was "Laura" (Francis Gifford).

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So she must have had something...

 

Well said, Markus:

 

I love Kathryn Grayson especially, and my admiration and affection for Jane Powell has grown with my recent review of some of her performances, but I think it's indisputable that Deanna Durbin was more relaxed and confident onscreen and in the recording studio than any of the others.

 

I've been reading Jane's autobiography and several times she mentions how nervous she was behind the scenes during the production of her films. I agree with you and Charlie that she was very impressive overall, but she does, to me, have an arch, forced quality to her work in her early films that Deanna doesn't have. I've read some conflicting accounts of Deanna's behind-the-scenes demeanor, such as her crediting Charles Laughton with teaching her to relax on the set for the first time during production of IT STARTED WITH EVE (her tenth film), but I agree with David Shipman that whatever nerves she may have had off camera aren't evident from the confidence she displays onscreen.

 

I think Deanna's performances of arias like "One Fine Day" from MADAME BUTTERFLY and the "Nessun Dorma" aria from TURANDOT are stunning. It's normally a baritone aria, but I recently saw FOR THE LOVE OF MARY and thought Deanna's performance of the "Figaro" aria from THE BARBER OF SEVILLE was brilliant, capped off by a first-class pratfall into a reflecting pool that demonstrated her flair for physical comedy.

 

In LUXURY LINER I particularly liked Jane's spirited performance of "Alouette" with the ship's crew. It's not from LUXURY LINER, but I think Jane's recording of Edvard Grieg's "Springtide" is lovely and demonstrates a lot of the qualities Brian Kellow mentioned in his appraisal of her talent.

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"I think Deanna's performances of arias like 'One Fine Day' ['Un Bel Di'] from MADAME BUTTERFLY and the 'Nessun Dorma' aria from TURANDOT are stunning."

 

For the curious, Deanna Durbin sings "Un Bel Di" (in an English translation) in the charming Cinderella retelling, First Love. I had to look up when she sang [the seemingly odd choice of] the tenor's aria* from Turandot, and discovered it was in Frank Borzage's His Butler's Sister. I'd never heard of this one, and am curious to hear more about it.

_________

 

* Lanza also sang this in Serenade from 1956.

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JackBurley - I think that you have found a new assignment, Mister. You mentioned the GHOST VOICES....I think you that you now have a responsibility to this community [tongue in cheek] to start a new thread. Particularly since you mentioned the oft-overlooked work of Marilyn Horne "vocalling" for Dorothy Dandridge - and ADMIRABLE job!! Think of it - Marni Nixon, Marilyn Horne, Martha Mears, Nan Wynn, Trudi Erwin....the Lisa Kirk debacle in GYPSY...yes, you've got a lot of material to work with....

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I think Deanna's performances of arias like "One Fine Day" from MADAME BUTTERFLY and the "Nessun Dorma" aria from TURANDOT are stunning. It's normally a baritone aria, but I recently saw FOR THE LOVE OF MARY and thought Deanna's performance of the "Figaro" aria from THE BARBER OF SEVILLE was brilliant, capped off by a first-class pratfall into a reflecting pool that demonstrated her flair for physical comedy.

 

Agreed, CC:

 

And you aren't alone in considering the performances "stunning":

 

Several years ago, while taking a break from studying for exams, I was listening to the end of the Harvard University Radio station's "Sunday Night at the Opera" broadcast. The opera was a relatively short one, and had ended about 45 minutes early, and to fill the remaining time, the host was playing some recordings of "Opera in the Movies." Just before going to a commercial break, he announced: "When we return, we'll be playing some recordings featuring one of the finest soprano voices of the 1940s, regrettably confined almost exclusively to move soundtrack performances." The first recording was Deanna's 1939 performance of "One Fine Day," and after it concluded the host commented: "The remarkable, and vastly underrated 'American Sweetheart of Song', Deanna Durbin, in a stunning performance of the "Un bel di" aria from Puccini's MADAMA BUTTERFLY, sung in English and recorded when she was in her early 20s." (Deanna was actually 17 when she made the recording.)

 

In his best-selling Movie and Video Guide, film critic Leonard Maltin, described Deanna's performance of the "Nessun Dorma" aria from Turandot as both a "moving" finale to the film and a "stunning" performance by her. Although he didn't care much for the film itself, giving it only 2 stars and opining it as "a tired Durbin vehicle," he clearly loved the finale.

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For the curious, Deanna Durbin sings "Un Bel Di" (in an English translation) in the charming Cinderella retelling, First Love. I had to look up when she sang [the seemingly odd choice of] the tenor's aria* from Turandot, and discovered it was in Frank Borzage's His Butler's Sister. I'd never heard of this one, and am curious to hear more about it.

 

Hi Jack:

 

**SPOILER ALERT**

 

The staging of Deanna's performance of "Nessun Dorma" in HBS could almost be called First Love, Redux. As in the earlier film, Deanna sings at someone else's urging (in this case, older half-brother Pat O'Brien who wants agent Walter Catlett to hear her), at a Butler's Ball after Deanna's romance with Broadway composer Franchot Tone has (seemingly) gone South, largely due to O'Brien's interference.

 

Unknown to Deanna, Tone has been trying to crash the Butler's Ball in hopes of patching things up with Deanna but has been prevented from entering by O'Brien and Catlett, who claim not to know him. Tone does manage to enter the hall just as Deanna's name and the piece of music she is to sing are announced.

 

Deanna enters (beautifully gowned in a black dress designed by Adrian) and begins the aria and Tone soon realizes that this is the remarkable voice he's heard on a couple of prior occasions without being able to discover the identity of the vocalist. As Deanna sings, Tone squares things with O'Brien and begins to move closer to the stage. Deanna spots him in the crowd about half-way through her song and, as she concludes the number (with tears of joy streaming down her face) she literally runs the gauntlet of thunderously applauding admirers right into Tone's arms. The film concludes with a shot of Deanna's rapturously happy face as the two embrace.

 

I know how all of this sounds, but it is, I think, a tremendous credit to Deanna's singularly powerful charm, and presence, and considerable talent as a singer/actress that she DOES manage to make the performance a moving and memorable one. I think it's one of the most memorable musical performances she ever committed to film.

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I can't resist my 2 cent's. I have mixed feelings about this film (HBS). I'm indifferent to the plot and the character motivation is hardly inspiring but Deanna is truly "Radiant" she sparkles like perhaps in no other of her films. I'm certain this is the directors plan but it is one thing for the director to have plans it is quite another for the actor and crew to pull it off. Her singing performances may be as consistently good as she ever produced. And though the overall plot doesn't really grab me some of the individual scenes are wonderful. The performances of both "The Russian Medley" and "Nessun Dorma" deserve finer praise than I can manage.

 

Markus is dead on as usual the finale of HBS is incredibly moving and though the spectacular singing plays a role it's Deanna's evolving emotional reactions throughout the scene that make it work. I understand your reaction Markus it is almost embarrassing to think something so sentimental is so good, but I do.

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Deanna is truly "Radiant" she sparkles like perhaps in no other of her films. I'm certain this is the directors plan but it is one thing for the director to have plans it is quite another for the actor and crew to pull it off.

 

Well said, Nuor:

 

I love this movie. I'm not sure why, because I think you're right that the plot could stand a little improvement in spots, though I do like the plot hook of the devoted cadre of "gentlemen's gentlemen" competing for her favors. I think she was always a beautiful girl/woman, and she always had great star quality, but she really looks breathtaking in this film: a good thing, since it's a quality essential to it's plot.

 

But what gets me is that she projects this natural sensual quality without having to work at it. She's not overtly "sexy" like a Marilyn Monroe or Lana Turner, she just projects this uniquely fresh-faced beauty that I don't recall seeing in any of her contemporaries, at least not in the same way. Her first scene in the film, when the camera tracks her from behind when she enters the train and goes to her seat, then turns around as she takes her seat, takes my breath away every time I watch it. Even though Universal was clearly giving her a "glamour treatment" in this film, for some reason, she makes the other women around her look sort of overdone.

 

Her singing is also marvelous in the film. I'm not sure if it's because she changed vocal coaches by this time or was just the natural development of her voice, but her singing has a richer and fuller quality than in her adolescent films which definitely contributes to her womanly appeal for me. I think her rendition of Victor Herbert's "When You're Away" is the most beautiful one I've ever heard, and, as Markus has said on other forums, she manages to project that innately sensual quality of hers even when she's wearing that fur dress while singing the "Russian Medley." I don't understand a word of Russian, but she makes it all seem pretty "hot" just the same. lol!

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Nice response, CC:

 

This raises an interesting question of other examples in which favorite movie sopranos were particularly "radiant."

 

One that comes to mind for me is Jane Powell's lovely performance of "Magic Is The Moonlight" in Nancy Goes To Rio. Jane looks particularly fetching in what I call her "Carribean Swiss Miss Look" (blonde braids, a simple and colorful native dress, etc.), but it's her deeply committed and understated performance of this lovely song that makes it for me. Interestingly, Jane's performance of the song in the film convinces the producers of the a forthcoming play that Jane has the singing and acting talent to play the lead (originally assigned to her screen Mom, Ann Sothern). Every time I watch this scene, Jane convinces me (and I'm sure many other viewers) as well. It's not usually mentioned as one of her best performances, but I think it is.

 

Anyone care to suggest any others?

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Speahing of radiant, Markus, a couple of transcendant Deanna moments that have always appealed to me: "My Own" from THAT CERTAIN AGE, with which DD luminously serenades discomforted older man Melvin Douglas; and "Beneath The Lights OF Home" from NICE GIRL?, which she sings in sad defiance of what she misreads as a mocking mob of fellow villagers. Both songs encapsulate Deanna's forte, which was always musically standing and delivering - singing feelingly and full-throatedly from the heart.

 

On a different note entirely, I was taking another look at THE JOLSON STORY last night. Any idea whether or not Scotty Beckett did his own singing as Asa Yolson? I've always been impressed with whoever did.

 

Charlie

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Excellent choices, Charlie:

 

Another Jane Powell moment I find particularly memorable is her heartfelt crooning of "When You're In Love" to clueless bridegroom Howard Keel in SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS. Long before the two have their inevitable "falling out" (over those kidnapped brides), Jane's delicate and genuine vocal makes viewers understand why her smart, resourceful and spirited "Milly" agreed to marry Keel's mountain man/trapper on first sight.

 

Another Deanna musical moment that I think is especially noteworthy (but doesn't get mentioned often) is her gorgeous rendition of the lovely ballad "It's Dreamtime" from I'LL BE YOURS. Sung to new boyfriend Tom Drake as the two enjoy a canoe ride on Central Park Lake, Deanna's potent yet subtle sensual quality is never better displayed than in the scene when Drake gently leans over to nuzzle her as she's singing, while her naturally effervescent candor is amply displayed in the close-ups in which she is singing directly to Drake of "those in love."

 

And since someone mentioned Kathryn Grayson earlier, two of Kathryn's musical moments that I find especially entertaining are her ebullient chirping of Strauss's "Voices of Spring" to cheer up worried screen Dad Ian Hunter as she packs his suitcase in her debut film, ANDY HARDY'S PRIVATE SECRETARY, and, from the same film, her crooning of Cole Porter's "I've Got My Eyes on You" to Mickey Rooney's mugging "Andy Hardy," to the increasing comic fury of Ann Rutherford, playing the perpetually put-out "Polly Benedict."

 

To answer you question, no, I don't think the otherwise talented Scotty Beckett did his own singing in THE JOLSON STORY. I can't recall the name of the performer who did, but I think it was something like "Rudy Wissler." I agree that his vocals as the young Jolson are very impressive. I've always enjoyed that part of the movie, and he was a good match for Beckett's speaking voice, too.

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I don't think the otherwise talented Scotty Beckett did his own singing in THE JOLSON STORY. I can't recall the name of the performer who did, but I think it was something like "Rudy Wissler."

 

Good thinking - from the "Classic Images" article link that was given a couple of days ago, on voice doubling (the most comprehensive I've EVER seen):

Rudy Wissler:

The Jolson Story (Columbia, 1946) Scotty Beckett

-- and that's his only credit. Guess the inevitable happened shortly thereafter!

Bill

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Thanks for backing me up, Bill:

 

Good thinking - from the "Classic Images" article link that was given a couple of days ago, on voice doubling (the most comprehensive I've EVER seen)

 

It is an excellent article, though the author is mistaken that Eileen Farrell received no credit for her dubbing of Eleanor Parker in Interrupted Melody. The album was one of the best selling LPs of the 1950s and Farrell's name was listed on the album as the vocalist. It was a major boost to her career.

 

Rudy Wissler:

The Jolson Story (Columbia, 1946) Scotty Beckett

-- and that's his only credit. Guess the inevitable happened shortly thereafter!

 

Well, that was his only "dubbing" credit, but who knows if he did some other work in films that weren't as noteworthy as The Jolson Story? I think you may be right, however, that a subsequent voice change put an end to his singing career.

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"It is an excellent article, though the author is mistaken that Eileen Farrell received no credit for her dubbing of Eleanor Parker in Interrupted Melody. The album was one of the best selling LPs of the 1950s and Farrell's name was listed on the album as the vocalist. It was a major boost to her career."

 

It was an enjoyable read, alright; but I noticed some misinformation too. For instance, the article discusses Betty Royce's dubbing for Debbie Reynolds in Singin' in the Rain, but it was Betty Noyes who did the work...

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An interesting bit of trivia concerning INTERRUPTED MELODY (which probably belongs on the "Ghost Voices" thread).:

 

In an early scene in the film, Eleanor Parker, as Marjorie Lawrence, arrives in Paris to begin her vocal studies with Mme. Cecile Gilly. Unable to get past Mme. Gilly's secretary, Lawrence starts to leave when she hears one of Mme. Gilly's students unable to reach the climactic note on the Puccini aria, "Visi d'arte." Standing defiantly under Mme. Gilly's window, Parker, as Lawrence, lets fly with the climactic phrase and note on the spot and is immediately summoned in by Mme. Gilly and her studies begin...

 

The student unable to reach the climactic high note in the first place, is played by Eileen Farrell in an uncredited cameo, thus, in another slightly bizzare twist that could only happen in the movies, we have Farrell "competing" with herself to get her voice teacher's attention.

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Markus, a "crooning" Deanna moment that parallels "When You're In Love" would be her exquisitely limpid "More And More" moonlight serenade of Robert Paige in CAN'T HELP SINGING - not to mention her buoyant multiple renditions of the title song in what may be my all-around favorite DD flick.

 

As for JP, my own personal epiphany that "opened my eyes", as it were, was the moment she and F. Astaire emerged through the ship's ballroom doors in ROYAL WEDDING and she twirled away on her own to launch into her song. My instant reaction could most eloquently be summed up as "Wow!"

 

Thanks for the Rudy Wissler info. I knew that encyclopedic horde of movie musical knowledge you possess encompassed it somewhere. Wish I could say the name meant something to me. Sadly, the kid didn't have a future.

 

Charlie

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This is great stuff, Charlie and Markus, and I agree with all of it:

 

I recently watched THREE DARING DAUGHTERS, and Jane's duet with Jeanette MacDonald was a definite highlight for me. I had read in Professor Turk's biography of Jeanette that this duet between the two could be viewed as something of a "passing of the torch" between movie sopranos of different generations, and I can see his point.

 

A defining Durbin moment for me is her opening scene in THREE SMART GIRLS, joyously carolling "My Heart Is Singing" as she sails on a Swiss lake with her sisters. With her eager baby face, radiant smile and unaffected delivery, it's easy to understand why movie critics and audiences unanimously took "Universal's New Discovery" to their collective hearts.

 

By the way, for anyone who's interested, TCM is showing Three Smart Girls tonight (Sunday) at 10:15 p.m. EST

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