Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Patricia Racette: Diva on Detour

I've been listening to this live album for some months now and it has, predictably, become one of my favorite discs - and possibly my favorite crossover disc of all time.

I think of all the music I've heard Racette in, from coloratura flights of fancy of Gounod, Rossini and Handel, through the heartache of Janacek, Puccini, Verdi . . . and how this gal grabbed my heart immediately as Tobias Picker's tragic
"Emmeline." And now this.

I'd always read about her down-to-earth New England upbringing, how her earliest musical career was singing in pubs and
clubs and impromptu basement jazz sessions with old jazz men . . . of her not knowing a lick of opera and how her influences were not Sills, Callas or Steber, but Ella, Shirley and Carmen.

All of this propelled her southward to study jazz at North Texas State University. That journey led her to the world of opera and her life took off in an entirely different, unknown direction.

Racette covers that history both through song and her easy, delightful banter which is as enjoyable as her no-nonsense delivery of these songs. Early on she expresses her mom's displeasure that she chose opera over jazz:

(Imagine a heavy New England accent): "Patty, sing in ya chest voice. Patty, why dontcha go on Stah Seauch" (Star Search).

The banter is fun, sometimes a tad bawdy (barely) and has that instant intimacy one expects from Judy or Sarah (or Rosyln Kind) in a cabaret act. Her attention to lyrics is never less than impressive, and several times, I found
she even brought a newness to some old, familiar songs. The ease of her ability to combine a whispered hush, to full out belting, deep, almost baritonal tones with a touch of operatic elegance and clarity is mighty and I can think of
no other opera singer today capable of doing this same "trick" - except as you listen on, you realize this is no "trick," it's the real deal.

Equally impressive is her pianist, Craig Terry, who - with a single instrument - makes Pat sound like she's got a one man orchestra . . . and she does.

The set list provides Racette with an almost operatic journey that embraces comic, sad and tragic with an intimacy that borders on the listener feeling a bit voyeuristic.

Certain songs jumped out at me (and continue to do so upon repeated hearings), and though I always loved Elaine Stritch's "To Keep My Love Alive" I never laughed nearly as much as I did with Pat's rendition of this classic.

She states: "I love singing sad songs. Thank goodness my operatic repertoire provides me with this cathartic journey" before launching into a medley of tunes ending with Porter's "So In Love" offering the final line: "So taunt me and hurt me . . . deceive me, desert me, I'm your's til I die ..." with a delivery both incendiary and still with a tear in the voice that catches the heart.

Of all the material in this concert, my favorites (currently, anyway) are the Piaf songs where Racette transforms herself through decades, continents and language into something quite extraordinary, a real cabaret chanteuse.
Likewise, the final song, "Not a Day Goes By" (from the flop "Merrily We Roll Along"), provides her a powerhouse anthem, imbuing Sondheim's lyrics with all the joy and terror and heartbreak of love. A magnificent finale to an evening of great fun.

Lord, how I love this woman!