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cclowell38

Best Movie Soprano Voice?

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"It's interesting that FOX would make a comment like that, yet they've released (or are in the process of releasing) elaborate box sets dedicated to Betty Grable and Alice Faye, two of their biggest musical stars, and have released many of the studio's best musicals (e.g., ALEXANDER'S RAGTIME BAND, DADDY LONG LEGS, CALL ME MADAM, etc.) on DVD.

 

...

 

Now, if only Universal would release more of Deanna Durbin's films...

 

I had heard that the Betty Grables set did not sell as well as Fox had hoped and I understand the Universal "Sweetheart Pack" of Deanna Durbin films also left them underwhelmed. They made it to my shelves, and I've been hoping for more Durbin, but prospects don't seem good... Has the Alice Faye set been released yet? I understand The Gang's All Here has been in production, but I don't believe it's been released yet...

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I hadn't heard anything about the sales of the Grable set. I did read on this site a few months ago a comment by a poster that the Durbin "Sweetheart Pack" hadn't sold as well as hoped.

 

It's interesting that when I bought my copy (the day the set was released), the store clerk told me they'd had several calls about the set from interested consumers and had placed several copies on reserve for them and were going to order more. Some other Durbin fans have told me they had a similar experience when they purchased their copies, so it does seem that there was genuine interest in getting Deanna's films on DVD. One problem with sales of the set may have been due to the fact that several stores put it among their Comedy films rather than in the Musical films section.

 

In both cases, I think the general lack of availabilty of Grable and Durbin films on television may also have posed a problem. While several of Grable's films have recently popped up on the FOX Movie Channel, I don't recall them being shown often through the years as, for example, the MGM musical ouvre has been for several years on TCM and on "late show" screenings for several decades before. TCM does seem genuinely interested in showing whatever Durbin films MCA/UNIVERSAL makes available for broadcast, but the company seems pretty parsimonious in giving the films up to TCM or anyone other broadcasting venues.

 

Given the soft sales of the Grable set (assuming this was the case), the release of a set devoted to Alice Faye (whose films are probably shown even less than Grable's on television) is even more puzzling, though I'm certainly delighted to see some of Alice's films make it to DVD. I don't think the set is supposed to be released until late Februrary or early March, but it is supposed to include THE GANG'S ALL HERE. I must say, while the "Lady in the Tuti Fruity Hat" number is fascinating from a camp perspective, I'm not really a fan of this film, and I can understand why some film historians have implied that Alice was so badly made up in it as to suggest an effort by Darryl Zanuck to sabotage her career.

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I think that one of the reasons the Grable set did not sell as well as hoped was that it was a bit overpriced compared to some of the other box sets of classics out there.

 

Also, it didn't seem like there was much publicity for the Durbin set. I found it while browsing the shelves at my local Borders--and, yes, it was shelved with the comedies. I hadn't even heard that it had been released, or was even in existence! I had only seen one Durbin film--Three Smart Girls--on AMC years ago. But for $23.99, it was worth it to get 6 films!

 

Sandy K

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"I think that one of the reasons the Grable set did not sell as well as hoped was that it was a bit overpriced compared to some of the other box sets of classics out there.

 

Also, it didn't seem like there was much publicity for the Durbin set. I found it while browsing the shelves at my local Borders--and, yes, it was shelved with the comedies. I hadn't even heard that it had been released, or was even in existence! I had only seen one Durbin film--Three Smart Girls--on AMC years ago. But for $23.99, it was worth it to get 6 films!"

 

I didn't buy the first Grable collection because there were no extra features. I think I only bought of the films because it was the only one that had supplemental material.

 

I had no idea about the Durbin Sweetheart set either. I was thrilled to stumble upon it at the Virgin Records at Union Square in Manhattan. When I came out to the west coast, I looked for another copy at Tower. It took quite a search as it turned out it was filed under "Deanna"! No wonder they went out of business.

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I think that one of the reasons the Grable set did not sell as well as hoped was that it was a bit overpriced compared to some of the other box sets of classics out there.

 

I did think the Grable set was a little pricey, but I'm not sure it was any more expensive than the contemporaneous ASTAIRE & ROGERS and MGM MUSICALS sets, to cite two examples, at least not at my local BEST BUY.

 

Also, it didn't seem like there was much publicity for the Durbin set. I found it while browsing the shelves at my local Borders--and, yes, it was shelved with the comedies. I hadn't even heard that it had been released, or was even in existence! I had only seen one Durbin film--Three Smart Girls--on AMC years ago. But for $23.99, it was worth it to get 6 films!

 

I agree that the Durbin set wasn't well publicized, but then, MCA/UNIVERSAL doesn't seem to bother to publicize any of their classic film releases. For example, the recently released sets devoted to Cary Grant and Bing Crosby (which includes If I Had My Way, co-starring Deanna's "successor," Gloria Jean) haven't received any publicity of which I'm aware. Ditto the previously released sets devoted to Mae West and Carole Lombard.

 

Apparently promoting their classic films isn't a priority with MCA/UNIVERSAL, but I agree that the 6 films sets for under $30 are a terrific bargain!

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True, perhaps the Grable set was not super-overpriced, but the Astaire and Rogers set did have several special features, so that made it worth it for me--AND I am a huge Astaire fan, so I probably would be willing to fork out a little more.

 

The MGM musicals set was about 50 bucks for 5 films, so that boils down to about 10 bucks a movie--pretty good deal!

 

 

Sandy K

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Ditto the previously released sets devoted to Mae West and Carole Lombard.

 

This is the first I heard of either of those sets. Yikes! I've got to get busy on eBay and see who has them. On the other hand, I've got the MCA laserdisc set of 4 of Mae's movies, so I need to check for contents. Plus, I've finally found all of them on VHS (that I didn't have on laserdisc) - including "Sextette," but I can't find my tape lately of it! The Lombards I may or may not have from tv, so.... But publicity is obviously NOT Universal's thing.

Bill

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Hi Bill:

 

Well, I'm glad my post alerted you to the existence of the Lombard and West film sets. I imagine you can find them on Ebay. They may also still be available at some retail outlets like Best Buy or Walmart. It is a shame that MCA/UNIVERSAL doesn't do more to promote its' classic film collections, but it's small wonder if the sets don't sell well if the company does little or nothing to advertise them.

 

I do think it's a little odd that Warners hasn't released any of the MacDonald/Eddy MGM vehicles or Kathryn Grayson's and Jane Powell's films. These films turn up fairly regularly on TCM (and did on Late Show screenings before cable came along), so one would think there would be audience for them on DVD.

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As for the "castrati" - wasn't that usually done before puberty, and if so, wouldn't it possibly be considered cruel or inhumane now, even if it was done with the boy's parents' consent?

 

Not usually, always - no use to do it afterwards! (I can't do smilies, etc.)

 

Often, in Italy, it was the parents who "sold" (make that "offered") their boys to the church for the choirs. Many boys suffered "accidents" on the farm, etc., rendering them alto/soprano for life; those with the best voices got training and positions in the Vatican choirs, with pensions and/or other jobs (training singers, etc.) after their singing days ended. Women were allowed to sing in RC churches generally by, say, the 1700s; but not the Vatican/St Peter's. Just think how powerfully a man's physique could project those notes; it took 24 (or so) boy sopranos to replace a couple of good male sopranos!

 

One of those things a lot of people would like to forget ever happened. Before it ended, lots of operatic roles had been written in soprano (or alto) range for men; until the new breed of countertenor (all non-altered, we're pretty sure!) went into training, all those roles had to be sung by women.

 

The soundtrack to Farinelli is a composite: From my laserdisc:

"The musical team decided to combine the voices of American counter-tenor Derek Lee Ragin and Polish soprano Ewa Mallas Godlweska to achieve the castrato's three and a half octave vocal range. [Farinelli was spectacular in his day - hardly any were that vocally endowed.] Sound engineer Jean-Claude Gaberel digitally fused the voices, at times note by note. This process took ten months and involved over three thousand edits." (And I thought "Camelot" - see below - was fakery at its highest! Duh...) CGI for voices!

 

Anyway; yes, it was (always) cruel, and yes, it was fairly common 200 years ago. The last castrato lived to make solo records: (Professor) Alessandro Moreschi, around 1904. Nobody ever claimed he was the best, but he's the one we hear. A couple of his buddies can be (dimly) heard in the choir behind him on a couple of discs; they never recorded solos.

 

Aack, while I was typing all this (and hunting my laserdisc) I should have been stopping the disc between the two Dick Tracy's - oh, well, at least I didn't lose any of it!

 

Bill

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So Bill, did you actually answer the question on who you think had the best soprano voice in the movies?

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Irving Thalberg signed Miliza Korjus to a long-term contract. She was slated to follow up The Great Waltz with a movie version of Sandor Rozsa, but the project had to be cancelled when she was in a terrible automobile accident that crushed her leg. She didn't return to the United States until 1944, when she performed at Carnegie Hall.

 

Hi Jack:

 

Yes, I knew about Korjus's auto accident, but I recall reading somewhere (a TIME magazine article on her 1944 Carnegie Hall concert, I think), that she recovered from the accident within a year, but chose to go to Mexico or someplace because she'd fallen in love.

 

After a time, Korjus apparently fell out of love and divorced the former object of her affection. She made it clear in the article that she didn't like performing in opera, so she chose to go on the concert stage, leading to her Carnegie Hall performance.

 

I suspect that, despite her Academy Award nomination for THE GREAT WALTZ, with Thalberg's death, interest in promoting Korjus at MGM ceased, much as was reportedly the case with Grace Moore (who reportedly was initially sought by Thalberg for the leads in both NAUGHTY MARIETTA and ROSE MARIE)

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How would you classify Dinah Shore?

 

Hi Johnm:

 

I would classify Dinah Shore as an alto. She may have shared some of Martin's middle/lower notes, but the timbre of her voice definitely strikes me as alto rather than soprano.

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Wouldn't surprise me a bit if Thalberg's death had contributed to it. He and L.B. Mayer didn't see eye to eye on a lot of issues.

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Hi Bill:

 

I thoroughly enjoyed your thoughtful and thought-provoking commentary on the "decline" in interest in classically trained film vocalists.

 

Again, some would know sociological bases better than I, but many things changed after WWII and attitudes toward "good music" metamorphosed along with many others. There is still a niche for operetta, etc., but classical music recordings sales (and jazz, for that matter) have been well under 5% for many years. The big change probably started with the big band/swing era and the use of microphones. Think Rudy Vallee vs Bing or Russ Columbo; the crooner made the singers of the late '30s turn to other professions. Once operetta went its way (in the movies, anyway), our songbirds were let out of their cages. There was no work for Jane and Kathryn anymore in Hollywood; just a long reign in theatre and reminiscence-land, with recordings and movies for their fans to treasure.

 

But I'm not so sure that interest in classical singing declined in the years immediately following World War II. Indeed, there seems to be a good deal of evidence to indicate the operetta/classical singing enjoyed something of a cinematic renaissance in the postwar years.

 

For example, many commentators have noted that Kathryn Grayson, whose screen appearances for roughly the first decade of her tenure at MGM was confined largely to prominent supporting roles in films like Anchors Aweigh and It Happened in Brooklyn, received her best screen opportunities in the late 1940s/early 1950s, first through her pairings with Mario Lanza and then in leading roles in 50s musicals like Show Boat, Lovely To Look At and Kiss Me Kate

 

It's true that Jane Powell first came to prominence in the "postwar" years in MGM vehicles like Holiday in Mexico and A Date With Judy, but given that during this period other studios were also earnestly attempting to develop young soprano stars along the lines of the (apparently) inimitable Deanna Durbin such as Lois Butler, Mary Hatcher, and, at Paramount, Anna Maria Alberghetti, I wouldn't consider Jane a "dinosaur" by any means.

 

Indeed, Powell and Grayson's earstwhile competitor, Ann Blyth, frustrated at Universal-International's lack of interest in developing musical vehicles for her, left that studio and signed with MGM in the early 1950s, reportedly with the proviso that they would give her ample opportunities to display her lovely lyric soprano onscreen. As a consequence, during her Metro years, Blyth was given the best musical opportunities of her career in such films as The Great Caruso, the remakes of venerable oprettas Rose Marie and The Student Prince, and in the film adaptation of Wright/Forest and Borodin's Kismet.

 

And when a studio didn't have soprano stars of its' own, it wasn't above purging MGM's talent pool to share in the public's interest in this type of singing. Warners, for example, took advantage of Grayson's departure from MGM to sign her for two musical vehicles in which her coloratura was prominently displayed: the Grace Moore biopic So This Is Love and yet another remake of the venerable The Desert Song. Around the same time, the studio also snatched up Jane Powell for the starring role in Three Sailors and a Girl.

 

Undoubtedly inspired by Caruso's tremendous success, there were also several prominent biographies of classical vocalists, composers and even a promoter produced during this period, such as the Marjorie Lawrence biography Interrupted Melody, the Nellie Melba biography Melba (starring precocious Met lyric coloratura Patrice Munsel), the Sol Hurok biography Tonight We Sing and the Sigmund Romberg biography, Deep In My Heart (which gave a prominent screen role to another prominent Met alumna, Helen Traubel).

 

I think it's also worth noting in passing that, even into the late 1950s/early 1960s, the most prominent new stars of musical films of the period were classically-trained sopranos like Shirley Jones and Julie Andrews, in musical vehicles that were much closer to operetta than to "swing" in style and presentation. Even in instances where a film star had to be dubbed onscreen during this period as was the case with Eleanor Parker, Deborah Kerr, and Audrey Hepburn, the honors were invariably performed by a classically-trained soprano.

 

Rather than singling out the movie sopranos as a dying breed during the postwar years, I would say that the lack of interest shown by the studios in the musical talents of Powell, Grayson, et. al. was part 'n parcel of the general malaise and lack of interest in musical films in general. At the same time that Powell, Grayson and Blyth left MGM, such notable "pop" film stars as Debbie Reynolds, Ann Miller, Delores Gray and June Allyson also found themselves outside the studio gates and scurrying for work. The most popular female star of the period, Doris Day, owed her box office supremacy almost entirely to her non-musical turns in films like The Man Who Knew Too Much and Pillow Talk, while her efforts to recapture her musical movie glory days in film adaptations of The Pajama Game and Jumbo failed to make turnstyles click. Even the iconic Judy Garland, failed in her attempt to recapture her movie star clout with the perceived failure of the 1954 semi-musical remake of A Star is Born

 

Of course, there were exceptions, such as Debbie Reynolds' Oscar-nominated performance in the film version of The Unsinkable Molly Brown, but unless one is counting the "B" movie musicals with Annette Funicello and Connie Francis, I'd say that public demand for the movie soprano voice was at least as great as, if not greater than, it was for the "pop" singing voice.

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> Hi Bill:

>

> I thoroughly enjoyed your thoughtful and

> thought-provoking commentary on the "decline" in

> interest in classically trained film vocalists.

>

> Again, some would know sociological bases better

> than I, but many things changed after WWII and

> attitudes toward "good music" metamorphosed along

> with many others. There is still a niche for

> operetta, etc., but classical music recordings sales

> (and jazz, for that matter) have been well under 5%

> for many years. The big change probably started with

> the big band/swing era and the use of microphones.

> Think Rudy Vallee vs Bing or Russ Columbo; the

> crooner made the singers of the late '30s turn to

> other professions. Once operetta went its way (in the

> movies, anyway), our songbirds were let out of their

> cages. There was no work for Jane and Kathryn anymore

> in Hollywood; just a long reign in theatre and

> reminiscence-land, with recordings and movies for

> their fans to treasure.

>

> But I'm not so sure that interest in classical

> singing declined in the years immediately following

> World War II. Indeed, there seems to be a good deal

> of evidence to indicate the operetta/classical

> singing enjoyed something of a cinematic renaissance

> in the postwar years.

>

> For example, many commentators have noted that

> Kathryn Grayson, whose screen appearances for roughly

> the first decade of her tenure at MGM was confined

> largely to prominent supporting roles in films like

> Anchors Aweigh and It Happened in

> Brooklyn, received her best screen opportunities

> in the late 1940s/early 1950s, first through her

> pairings with Mario Lanza and then in leading roles

> in 50s musicals like Show Boat, Lovely To

> Look At and Kiss Me Kate

>

> It's true that Jane Powell first came to prominence

> in the "postwar" years in MGM vehicles like

> Holiday in Mexico and A Date With Judy,

> but given that during this period other studios were

> also earnestly attempting to develop young soprano

> stars along the lines of the (apparently) inimitable

> Deanna Durbin such as Lois Butler, Mary Hatcher, and,

> at Paramount, Anna Maria Alberghetti, I wouldn't

> consider Jane a "dinosaur" by any means.

>

> Indeed, Powell and Grayson's earstwhile competitor,

> Ann Blyth, frustrated at Universal-International's

> lack of interest in developing musical vehicles for

> her, left that studio and signed with MGM in the

> early 1950s, reportedly with the proviso that they

> would give her ample opportunities to display her

> lovely lyric soprano onscreen. As a consequence,

> during her Metro years, Blyth was given the best

> musical opportunities of her career in such films as

> The Great Caruso, the remakes of venerable

> oprettas Rose Marie and The Student

> Prince, and in the film adaptation of

> Wright/Forest and Borodin's Kismet.

>

> And when a studio didn't have soprano stars of its'

> own, it wasn't above purging MGM's talent pool to

> share in the public's interest in this type of

> singing. Warners, for example, took advantage of

> Grayson's departure from MGM to sign her for two

> musical vehicles in which her coloratura was

> prominently displayed: the Grace Moore biopic So

> This Is Love and yet another remake of the

> venerable The Desert Song. Around the same

> time, the studio also snatched up Jane Powell for the

> starring role in Three Sailors and a Girl.

>

> Undoubtedly inspired by Caruso's tremendous

> success, there were also several prominent

> biographies of classical vocalists, composers and

> even a promoter produced during this period, such as

> the Marjorie Lawrence biography Interrupted

> Melody, the Nellie Melba biography Melba

> (starring precocious Met lyric coloratura Patrice

> Munsel), the Sol Hurok biography Tonight We

> Sing and the Sigmund Romberg biography, Deep

> In My Heart (which gave a prominent screen role

> to another prominent Met alumna, Helen Traubel).

>

> I think it's also worth noting in passing that, even

> into the late 1950s/early 1960s, the most prominent

> new stars of musical films of the period were

> classically-trained sopranos like Shirley Jones and

> Julie Andrews, in musical vehicles that were much

> closer to operetta than to "swing" in style and

> presentation. Even in instances where a film star had

> to be dubbed onscreen during this period as was the

> case with Eleanor Parker, Deborah Kerr, and Audrey

> Hepburn, the honors were invariably performed by a

> classically-trained soprano.

>

> Rather than singling out the movie sopranos as a

> dying breed during the postwar years, I would say

> that the lack of interest shown by the studios in the

> musical talents of Powell, Grayson, et. al. was part

> 'n parcel of the general malaise and lack of interest

> in musical films in general. At the same time that

> Powell, Grayson and Blyth left MGM, such notable

> "pop" film stars as Debbie Reynolds, Ann Miller,

> Delores Gray and June Allyson also found themselves

> outside the studio gates and scurrying for work. The

> most popular female star of the period, Doris Day,

> owed her box office supremacy almost entirely to her

> non-musical turns in films like The Man Who Knew

> Too Much and Pillow Talk, while her

> efforts to recapture her musical movie glory days in

> film adaptations of The Pajama Game and

> Jumbo failed to make turnstyles click. Even

> the iconic Judy Garland, failed in her attempt to

> recapture her movie star clout with the perceived

> failure of the 1954 semi-musical remake of A Star

> is Born

>

> Of course, there were exceptions, such as Debbie

> Reynolds' Oscar-nominated performance in the film

> version of The Unsinkable Molly Brown, but

> unless one is counting the "B" movie musicals with

> Annette Funicello and Connie Francis, I'd say that

> public demand for the movie soprano voice was at

> least as great as, if not greater than, it was for

> the "pop" singing voice.

 

 

You make some good points, but at the same time I think it is the emphasis on this kind of music which might have led to a growing gap between movie musicals and the interests of younger generations.

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You make some good points, but at the same time I think it is the emphasis on this kind of music which might have led to a growing gap between movie musicals and the interests of younger generations.

 

Good point, Cinemascope:

 

You may be right. But I suspect the overall banality of '50s pop in general (e.g., "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?," "Love is a Many Splendored Thing," "Que Sera, Sera" etc.), compared to that of the 1930s and 40s, may have provided an even greater impetus for younger generations to develop "their own" music/style.

 

At least the majority of music the movie sopranos sang during this period was quality music.

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> You make some good points, but at the same time I

> think it is the emphasis on this kind of music which

> might have led to a growing gap between movie

> musicals and the interests of younger

> generations.

>

> Good point, Cinemascope:

>

> You may be right. But I suspect the overall banality

> of '50s pop in general (e.g., "How Much Is That

> Doggie in the Window?," "Love is a Many Splendored

> Thing," "Que Sera, Sera" etc.), compared to that of

> the 1930s and 40s, may have provided an even greater

> impetus for younger generations to develop "their

> own" music/style.

>

> At least the majority of music the movie sopranos

> sang during this period was quality music.

 

Well maybe it was just a natural progression that older music styles would eventually be replaced by rock, and that new generations would be eager for music like Elvis and the Beatles. :)

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...given that during this period other studios were also earnestly attempting to develop young soprano stars along the lines of the (apparently) inimitable Deanna Durbin such as Lois Butler, Mary Hatcher, and, at Paramount, Anna Maria Alberghetti, I wouldn't consider Jane a "dinosaur" by any means.

 

I was kinda "running on empty" by the time I was finishing up the other night - part of that caused me to be writing "postwar" when I was really thinking more like "post-KOREAN-war." Except for the final R&H musicals, it was pretty much over by 1953-54; "The Girl Most Likely" was about the last thing I can think of, big studio type (and not MGM!) until Julie Andrews and Marni Nixon(!) came along on occasion in the '60s. I have Lois Butler 78s, LPs of AMA (and I've seen several movies), but at the moment I can't even recall Mary Hatcher....

 

No, the yearly 2-3-4 big musicals of the '40s were gone, mostly, by the mid-'50s and the people who (would have) starred in them found concert work, Vegas, travelling shows, etc. but not the movies. TV (read: Ed Sullivan) always had a (small) spot for "real" singing; I remember the last years of Bell Telephone Hour and Voice of Firestone on TV, but movies: no. Once the corporations stopped footing the bill for culture (or the networks, like NBC for Toscanini and the NBC Opera and CBS for Bernstein) that was it there, too, till PBS. A&E stepped in for awhile, with commercials; Bravo had some marvellous things but went commercial (and non-cultural). I read as recently as a year ago (Opera News) that the Met had 5-6 things in the can, but PBS wouldn't give them a slot - just WOULDN'T show them, apparently, no matter.... And as I mentioned, for years the disc sales figures for jazz have been even worse. Opera productions and attendance are apparently at their highest levels in years (even while orchestras fold), and FINALLY there has been a (for-how-long?) deal made to show the Met on HDTV through PBS, sort-of-monthly it seems. Maybe things are changing.

 

But no; for the country as a whole, it became "keep it in the comfortable range" by the mid-'50s. The crooners and torch singers and such won out, at least till rock ruined even most of their careers. Hip-hop: don't even want to go there!

 

All we can do is cherish the Olivers, My Fair Ladys, etc., that occasionally show(ed) up and keep hoping for better times, "musical"-ly.

 

Bill

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So Bill, did you actually answer the question on who you think had the best soprano voice in the movies?

 

I doubt if I did. I like songbirds - JM, JP, KG, DD, MK, others - but I guess I'd better choose Yma Sumac as my favorite "exotic" songbird and leave it at that! (Since Florence Foster Jenkins apparently made no movies.) I don't think that can be argued with.

 

Bill

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But no; for the country as a whole, it became "keep it in the comfortable range" by the mid-'50s. The crooners and torch singers and such won out, at least till rock ruined even most of their careers. Hip-hop: don't even want to go there!

 

All we can do is cherish the Olivers, My Fair Ladys, etc., that occasionally show(ed) up and keep hoping for better times, "musical"-ly.

 

I'm not hoping for better times, just enough to treasure the past, don't think we'll ever see anything like that again! :(

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at Paramount, Anna Maria Alberghetti

 

She had a pure, glorious soprano voice. Just perfection. But, my impression of her was formed watching her on stage, not in film.

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