Cher Public

Step by step

As all good musical theater queens know, on November 10, 1968, in (belated) celebration of the 50th birthday of Leonard Bernstein, a special concert performance of his operetta Candide was offered in what was then called Philharmonic Hall in Lincoln Center. In retrospect, one of the more notable aspects of this evening was the participation of a then little-known actress named Madeline Kahn who sang the role of Cunegonde.  

A pirate or pirates somehow managed to capture this gala on tape, including Ms. Kahn’s interpretation of “Glitter and Be Gay,” which has been widely disseminated. However, La Cieca believes the document of this aria generally heard does the budding diva an injustice.

Most masterings of taped pirate performances from the 1960s need pitch correction because battery-powered reel-to-reel machines available in that era were notoriously unreliable at maintaining an absolutely steady speed. So whoever transferred the original tape of this “Glitter and Be Gay” seems to have adjusted the pitch of the recording to match up to the score, with this result:

However, La Cieca thinks that doesn’t really sound all that much like Madeline Kahn, not even a very young Madeline Kahn. For comparison, this is what she sounded like only a couple of years later, in the musical Two by Two:

Was it possible, your doyenne wondered, that in 1968 La Kahn transposed the aria down a half-step, ending in G major instead of the original A-flat? Well, let’s hear what the above sound clip sounds like slowed down to that lower key.

I think this version matches the timbre of Kahn’s voice much more closely, and even the “screamed” high D is consistent with the Kahn we all know and love.

What do you think, cher public?

  • WindyCityOperaman

    Apparently Mel Brooks told her to “do a really bad Marlene Dietrich” . . .

    • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin

      “They quote Keats and Shelly then jump on your belly and bust your balloon” has got to be one of the greatest lyrics of the 20th century.

      • olliedawg

        Amen, JML.

  • Krunoslav

    William Madison’s very well-researched and convincing biography of Ms. Kahn was just issued. Highly recommended. He discusses CANDIDE, her one run as Musetta in Washington--Evelyn Mandac, as Mimi, got the reviews-- and various operatic projects she considered, like LA GRANDE DUCHESSE for Santa Fe.

    http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/madeline-kahn-william-v-madison/1120790786?ean=9781617037610

    Anyone who has any admiration for Danny Kaye will yield it up upon reading what a horror he was in TWO BY TWO.

    • armerjacquino

      Mandac was a lovely singer but that has to be her greatest achievement. Imagine coming out of a Madeleine Kahn Musetta and talking about *anyone* else!

      • Now, thats the curious thing. I’ve been reading a theater discussion board with comments from a number of people who saw the original production of On the Twentieth Century, and the opinions about Kahn’s performance in this show are extremely varied. Several people have mentioned that, at least on the night they saw the show, they found Kahn’s performance “small-scale” or “low energy,” so it seems that she did have on nights and off nights. Maybe the Boheme was a “small-scale” night, with Kahn being a little timid or reserved.

        • Orlando Furioso

          That makes sense to me. In 1970 I can imagine her feeling under an obligation to remain within classical vocal standards in a genuine operatic engagement like that one. Even after she achieved fame, when she chose to sing absolutely “straight” she could be a little dull — I’m thinking of her earnest “Lost in the Stars” on Saturday Night Live.

    • Hippolyte

      People like Danny Kaye?

      • Ilka Saro

        He was the Robin Williams of his day.

        • laurence olivier did …

          • Hippolyte

            Ick.

            • WindyCityOperaman

              Talking to some friends about Danny Kaye, and mentioned “I heard there were some rumors about Danny Kaye.” And the older and much wiser gentlemen in the room said “Oh, there were MORE than just rumors!”

    • Gualtier M

      Kahn did get a good review in Opera magazine:

      http://opera.archive.netcopy.co.uk/article/july-1970/35/our-critics-abroad

      “Madeline Kahn’s prodigious sense of comedy and timing in the middle acts lifted Musetta into the realm of the star turn. Maurice Peress conducted with constant attention to detail, but with tempos occasionally on the slow side.”

      Here is a picture of Kahn as Musetta (you need to be an Opera News subscriber to read the whole article)

      http://www.operanews.com/Opera_News_Magazine/2010/7/Features/Sweet_Mystery.html

  • DerLeiermann

    I think this is a great spoof of Kurt Weill’s songs.

    There’s also this video where Madeline Kahn and others are opera quizzed, she talks briefly on her experience singing opera and her performance in the Candide concert.

    • WindyCityOperaman

  • olliedawg

    Oh, man…Madeleine Kahn. In a flash I thought of several MK moments, including…

    “Hey, Tex, you in show business?”
    “No, ma’am”
    “Then get your friggin feet off da stage..”

    In the Lilly Von Shtup routine…her humming in the bridge in between the patter…totally off-key and proud of it.

    As Mehweena Deutchwin with the incomparable Gilda Radner as Baba Wawa:

  • mb

    What a coincidence – I’m going to see a staged performance here in Brisbane tomorrow night. David Hobson as Candide and Amelia Farrugia as Cunegonde, and the mighty Opera Queensland chorus. We’ve been to rehearsals and it’ll be a hoot.

  • mjmacmtenor

    An early Kahn appearance on Tonight Show back in the Johnny Carson days. Wish there were some good clips from her She Loves Me concer, but I can’t find any.