What becomes a diva most?
Without question it is the opportunity to originate a great role on the stage. In the 19th century divas emerged from the world of drama, notably Elanora Duse and Sarah Bernhardt, and in the opera house as well. Although their names are largely forgotten except by opera cognoscenti, sopranos Teresa Stolz, Cesira Ferrani, and Hariclea Darclee premiered the great roles created by Verdi, Donizetti, and Puccini. The Australian soprano Nellie Melba was such a superstar that the great French chef Escoffier created Melba toast and Peach Melba in her honor. Her occasional rival Luisa Tetrazzini became the namesake of a turkey entree.
In the 20th century stage divas emerged from musical theatre, their names becoming synonymous with the character and the hit songs into which they breathed life and belted to the rafters. Who could think of South Pacific without Mary Martin? Hello, Dolly! without Carol Channing? Evita without Patti LuPone? Sunday in the Park with George without Bernadette Peters? None of them have become food yet, though all have been delectable performers.
And where, pray tell, would Anything Goes, Annie Get Your Gun, or Gypsy be without Ethel Merman as, respectively, Reno Sweeney, Annie Oakley, and Madame Rose? From "You're the Top" to "There's No Business Like Show Business" to "Everything's Coming Up Roses" Merman's clarion voice brought the brass to one showstopper after the next. Tonight, as you listen to the National Symphony perform selections from Jule Styne's score to Gypsy just try to imagine someone else in the role. Impossible! Styne was also the diva-maker who turned a little-known night club singer named Barbra Streisand into a household name with his score to Funny Girl, with its classics "Don't Rain on My Parade" and "People."
"Don't you wanna land the role of a lifetime?" goes the lyric to "Life of the Party" from Andrew Lippa's musical Wild Party, a song originated off-Broadway by tonight's diva, Idina Menzel. Menzel would go on to create the role of Maureen in RENT and, most famously, Elphaba in Wicked. Tonight she shares with us songs from these shows as well as several lesser known but equally enchanting favorites.
"Someday we'll be together?" Gee, that has a familiar ring to it. Today's divas reign in the world of popular song. They come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and genres, from Cher to Bette Midler, from Aretha Franklin to Madonna, from Beyonce to Charice. But few have risen as high in the firmament as Miss Diana Ross. First with The Supremes and later with her solo career, Ross created a persona so unique and indelible that it became a hallmark for all those who would follow: the moves, the clothes, the energy, but mostly the voice. With classics such as "Stop in the Name of Love," "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "Touch Me in the Morning," and "Someday We'll Be Together," she defined the Motown verve. Tonight we celebrate her artistry with a unique arrangement created by our pops music director, Steven Reineke.
Of course, to be a diva you have to have a following- as all those above have- and there is no question that Menzel has captured the hearts of the devout. I can vividly recall walking onto the lawn at Wolf Trap several years ago for Menzel's first performance with the NSO@Wolf Trap and feeling the excitement of the packed-to-capacity crowd. Marvin Hamlisch was her opening act, and at the downbeat of the overture to Gypsy the audience went wild. Menzel held the audience in her hands much in the same way that all divas have done in their day. Tonight is another night to treasure, and we only hope that Menzel will be back to delight us once more during another terrific season of NSO@Wolf Trap.
She may be able to defy gravity, but we hope she will not defy us.
An Evening with Idina Menzel
Friday, August 3, 2012
Celebration Fanfare - Steven Reineke
Selections for Orchestra from Gypsy - Jule Styne
I Hear a Symphony: The Symphonic Sounds of Diana Ross - Various Composers
Idina Menzel's program to be announced from the stage.