In last months Tip, I discussed the challenges of singing a wide variety of repertoire, with the only voice you have, with the suggestion that you-as the artist-have the responsibility to "allow the voice to assume the characteristics of the given repertoire." While the main body of my singing was in Grand Opera and Musical Theater, the singing for TV talk shows and the occasional Night Club, Cruise Ship, my approach sometimes required a little "re-gearing/tweaking" of my sound to satisfy the unique demands of ... oh, I dunno ... maybe Bigalow Tea commercials one and two. Their sales went up 7% with the first one as well as Bigalow putting six-foot cutout of me at all of the "places of purchase," in my Figaro costume.
The song, on Johnny Brown’s first entrance in “Molly Brown,” has to set the tone for the ‘outdoorsy-ness’ of the comedy/drama that follows; “Colorado My Home”, does it with good humor, energy and excitement! Johnny’s Soliloquy does the same thing, just to the left miss-marked as Carousel!
In “Richard Fredricks In Concert,” my having just sung three big arias in a row-“Avant de quitter” has three high G’s-followed by the “rouser,” “Where is the Life that Late I Led,” it was a bit tough to gear it down for Johnny Green’s great, soft and tender arrangement of “Easy to remember,” but fun! (Imagine my singing that in the dark Hollywood Bowl, with only a pink spotlight! PINK? Yeah, it was, go figure! However, had I worn my tutu …
One of the most challenging roles I’ve sung has the four bass-characters in “Tales of Hoffmann,” at the Met, which ran vocal gamut, ending with the Dappertutto’s, "Scintille diamant," in the original key, with the high G sharps! (I had never sung that aria, but decided, I’m either a good technician or not, sooo why not sing it for the first time at the Met?)
The three songs from Annie Get Your Gun-that I sang with Florence Henderson-were neat from, “The Girl that I Marry,” “Falling in Love is Wonderful,” both of which are tender and lovely songs and then the full-out, brash and fun, “My Defenses are Down,” which show a typical range in Music Theater. Hey, for a little break, here’s a great Showbiz, story!
I had left Los Angeles in the chorus of the National Company of Music Man, starring the great, great Forrest Tucker. (You may remember him in “F Troop!” or in the movie “Auntie Mame” as Beauregard, who backs off a cliff, while taking pictures on their honeymoon, all 6’ 5’ of him. By watching his graceful manner, his generosity, his appreciation of his cast and gentle/ raucous good humor, I learned much about how one should carry the mantle of being a leading singer. Thanks, Tuck!)
I returned to L. A. three years later, as a Leading Baritone with the New York City Opera. Literally, the first call I made was to say hello to Jay Rubinoff. (Jay was Edwin Lester’s great pianist and Music Director, who had taken a “shine” to me during my audition for the L A Civic Light Opera.) I was told he was no longer at LACLO, but I could reach him at the Hollywood Bowl and she gave me his private number. A fella answered and went to find him. “Dick, where are you?” “Just got in and called you!” “Write this down, 903 N. Bedford Drive, Beverly Hills! Can you still get through Maria?” ‘I’ll give it a try. For whom will I be singing, kind a fella?” “Johnny Green! Call me later!”
OH my gawd, the great Johnny Green! Johnny met me at the door, white jacket, red carnation, Harvard grad in Economics, past Music Director of MGM Motion Pictures, ran around with George Gershwin as kids in Tin Pan Alley. After a few minutes of small talk, he sat down at the piano and I sang, “They Call the Wind Maria!” He handed the Bowl copy with the dialogue and off we went. At the end, he stood up and offered me his hand saying, “Yer my Bariton!” I took a beat, then asked, “Where will I be singing?” “At the Hollywood Bowl, the Lerner and Loewe Night, next Saturday!” My first major Symphony date and with such a great conductor! He set the standard, from which I never wavered. That was the first Bowl of twelve ...
And, they paid me $300, a good fee back then …
With Johnny’s wonderful arrangements, the the L.%L. concert is a joy and presents some unique challenges. Here are some of my selections, with the Cleveland Symphony conducted by Franz Allers, L.&L.’s favorite Broadway conductor.
The “Heather on the Hill” is one of the closest to the Pop style, followed by the powerful, full-out musical theater piece, “They Call the Wind Maria” with Western dialect. (I place a personal note here that, when I began singing, there were no mikes on professional stages throughout the country, so everyone had to PROJECT!)
Then, there is the Concert’s wonderful first half closer “Gigi,” which was John’s personal favorite arrangement for baritone, chorus and orchestra. (Here’s a giggle! During my first rehearsal at UCLA, with the famous Roger Wagner Chorale, as I finished the first full chorus with “Oh what miracle has made you the way you are," the Chorale began a four- bar, chord building crescendo to a magnificent “GIGI,” that was sooo powerful and gorgeous ... I was unable to sing! Johnny, who was at the piano, did a “schtick” by laughing ... as he fell off the piano bench! Everyone broke up!
Then Johnny told me (in front of all assembled) “that was my true test! Both Earl Wrightson-who was the first to sing the concert and Robert Merrill, had done the same thing, when first they first heard it!
Play it! The Chorus in Cleveland wasn’t quite as smooth as Roger’s group, but you will be swept-up with their singing of the following four “Gigi’s in this magnificent song, orchestrated by the man who won five Academy Awards-should have been six with Raintree County-and fourteen Nominations! Familiar with “Body and Soul” and “I Cover the
Waterfront,” are you??? John’s songs!
Then I had the pleasure of singing the song Maurice Chevalier made famous in Gigi, “Thank Heaven for Little Girls.” This piece is a gem! Listen to how little voice I use, spinning the tone really forward in the “honk,” with a slight French accent. Remember now, that’s the same voice that does the big dramatic roles of Rigoletto and Tosca. Same technique, just less used! (You may see and hear these two operas, if you will, on this site; the video of the live performance of Tosca, from Taipei, is at the top of my home page. Turn up your speakers; it’s one of my Signature roles, and Rigoletto is another of them!) Go to the top of the Video, just after the Odd Couple Show, there are six scenes. The first scene is really dark, as it was only lighted for the dress rehearsal, really good sound!
My guest-star appearance on The Odd Couple Show was one of my greatest thrills, meeting Tony Randall and Jack Klugman, both of whom became great friend friends! Jack saw his first opera, after our show, “Tosca!” He burst into my dressing room after my death scene at the end of Act 2 and raved about the sets, the music, the acting, etc and the he asked, “How long has this been goin’ on?” I told him, “Ooooh, about 300 years!”
“I’m Gettin’ Married in the Morning” Cockney, “Rain in Spain”, “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Your Face” and “I Could have Danced All Night” with a touch of the English/British.
Now, for a bit of vocal contrast, you might enjoy scrolling down to
“Live Performance Met and N Y City Opera” for what I think are two my best Bel Canto performances; Verdi, “Eri tu ...” from Un Ballo in Maschera and Bellini, “Ah, per sempre ...” from I Puritani. I think these two arias probably best demonstrate the technique I teach, as well as anything I do ...
Now ... for the capper, three pieces from my “In Concert;” Johnny gave me his arrangement of Ol’ Man River, a tone higher, for the baritone voice (I also sing it in the original key ... but this is so much more exciting in D!), “Begin the Beguine, Cole Porter’s original arrangement, with a high G thrown in at the end and “The Soliloquy,” from Carousel, which was Richard Rodgers favorite, of the myriad of baritone songs he wrote. I believe I was the last one to sing this, for Mr. Rodgers, for whom I hadn’t sung since he had picked me for 10 weeks, as Lt. Cable in South Pacific, at Jones Beach, years before. He was suffering from throat cancer, but took the time to tell the two Vice Presidents of Columbia Artists-my managers-who could barely contain themselves when they told me he had said, “Since I wrote it, that’s the best I’ve ever heard it sung!” That is on my Concert is pretty good, as well! And then ... the great man passed about five months later! RIP, RR!
P.S. As an after-thought, Perhaps you might enjoy these two songs I sang for the Merv Griffin Christmas show from Jerusalem ...