Thursday, October 02, 2014

Mercoledi Musicale

Better late than never here's yesterday's Mercoledi Musicale.

My daily visit to a popular, if often irritating, opera website/blog led me to a faintly bizarre excerpt from Derek Jarman's film version of The Tempest. In one of the campiest sequences ever committed to celluloid the nuptials of Miranda and Ferdinand are celebrated by Watteau shepherds and shepherdesses who out-Rococo Rococo, a crew of sailors from a dockside gay bar and at the centre of it the magnificent Elisabeth Welch all tricked out like an Erté golden goddess singing - perhaps as a warning to poor Miranda the way Ferdinand is eying a few of the sailors - Harold Arlen's Stormy Weather.

This led me to several other entries on YouTube that reveal the talents of Elisabeth Welch including this one of her singing her signature tune:  Stormy Weather.  The clip, put together by a poster who goes by the name of StashPuppets, starts with an early film version from 1934-35 segues into the Jarman (1979) and ends with a cabaret performance that Elizabeth Welch gave sometime around 1989-90.  

In the 1920s and 30s were was a migration of black entertainers from the USA to Europe; in the vanguard was Ada "Bricktop" Smith who ran one of the most famous nightclubs in Paris and introduced many performers to Cafe Society.  Others like Alberta Hunter had found their way to Europe after World War I when American Jazz became all the rage. Many others crossed the Atlantic under the banner of Lew Leslie who exported shows with titles like Blackbirds, Shuffle Along or Chocolate Dandies to Europe along with performers such as Josephine Baker and Florence Mills.  Some returned back to the USA but many others stayed and based their careers in a more race-friendly Europe.

Elisabeth Welch arrived in Paris in the late 20s and then moved to London which was to be her home until her death at the age of 99 in 2003.  She first returned to the US in 1931 as a replacement in The New Yorkers, a Jimmy Durante vehicle with music by Cole Porter.   Banned from radio play because of it's risque lyrics Love for Sale was original sang Kathryn Crawford, a white performer, as a prostitute plying her trade on Madison Avenue.  In this clip from a concert Miss Welch recounts how she came to take over the song during the run of the show and make it her own.

Nymph Errant is an strange show - part musical, part revue - it traces the adventures of a proper young lady on a round-the-world attempt to lose her virginity.  Though it premiered in London in 1933 it did not reach North America until the 1980s.  I recall a version at the Shaw Festival that was amusingly staged and rather fun.  Cole Porter often said that it was his favourite show though only two standards came out of it:  Experiment and Solomon, the song he wrote for Elisabeth Welch.

I only wish I could find the complete version of the cabaret performance this was taken from - what little I've seen confirms that she was a charming and witty raconteur and a consummate performer.

*I notice that her name is spelt either Elisabeth or Elizabeth - I believe the first spelling is the correct one.

October 1: 1939 - After a one-month Siege of Warsaw, hostile Nazi forces enter the city.


David said...

I feel very lucky to be able to namedrop here. In my first year in London I was taken by the opera editor of the magazine I then worked for, Music and Musicians, to a tribute to Roy Plomley of Desert Island Discs fame at the Savage Club. There I saw Elisabeth Welch sing - I think - both 'Stormy Weather' and 'Love for Sale', Frankie Howerd making us laugh til we cried and Joan Greenwood reciting some old melodramatic tosh to a piano part by Liszt. Quite a roster of bygones... Of course I was thrilled by the link to two films: Jarman's The Tempest, and Kind Hearts and Coronets.

Willym said...

Name drop away - I envy you that experience. Three entertainers that I adore - was there ever a voice as distinctive as Miss Greenwood? Just remembering her purring as Sibella all downcast eyes and fluttering lashes makes me smile to myself.

David said...

Even better was Frankie's one-man show at the Lyric Hammersmith: a two-hour masterclass in how to raise the audience to a pitch of hysterical mirth and bring it gently back down again. No-ooo missus, ooh, look at er.

Otherwise, you've seen infinitely more Great Names than I have.