For the love of the song

I have a compilation by one of my favorite artists ever, the great Austrian baritone Hermann Prey. It’s fairly typical of such “greatest-hits”-type albums: opera and operetta arias (some in hilarious translations– anyone ever heard of “Auf In Dem Kampf, Torero” from Carmen?), lieder, and a few snippets of a Bach cantata. What makes this particular disc stand out for me, are tracks 7 and 8 on disc 2. Two classic showtunes: “So In Love” from Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate, and “On The Street Where You Live” from Lerner & Loewe’s My Fair Lady, which may just be my two favorite tunes from my two favorite musicals. And Prey’s may be my favorite renditions of all.
I realize that I may be putting my musical-comedy credibility in jeopardy here. What is so wonderful about these and how can they outdo the more famous renditions by non-operatic types? And I must admit it is amusing at first to hear Prey’s distinctively Teutonic tongue roll over some of the most famous syllables in popular song:
I haff offfen valked down zis schtreet beforr
But ze payfment alvays stayed benees my feet beforr.
All at vunce am I, seffral stories high
Knowing I’m on ze schtreet ver you liff…

But once you get over the accent, you realize that not only does Prey know this song inside and out, he loves it. Truly loves it. That’s not common among Europeans in relation to American songs. Prey’s understanding of the song and lyrics, and obvious joy at being able to sing it, oozes through the speakers and frequently leaves me grinning like a fool at how he manages to get across his infectious enthusiasm.
A wise music teacher once said,” You cannot merely sing. You must also speak.” I dare you to find anyone who speaks to you in this music more than the late and horribly lamented Hermann Prey.

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