Thursday, January 14, 2010

Mae West: Delilah Calling

Unafraid of a challenge, a culture clash, nor an opportunity, MAE WEST sang an abbreviated opera aria in her motion picture "Goin' to Town" [release date: 25 April 1935] costumed, hilariously, as the Biblical temptress Delilah. Portraying the star-crossed strongman Samson she serenades was none other than Mae's pesky in-law Vladimir Bykoff [billed as "the Tenor"]. Classical music buffs are either amused by Mae's spunkiness or astonished. A Camille Saint-Saens devotee, a man with time on his hands and the inability to use the adverb "hopefully" correctly, had this to say recently.
• • It’s been the mezzo-soprano’s national anthem for 130 years, Dalila’s samson-dalila seduction of Samson, complete with hair cut, in Act II of Camille Saint-Saens’s Samson and Delilah, or to use the French title, Samson et Dalila, explains Christopher Purdy. “Mon coeur s’ouvre a ta voix!” proclaims Dalia. My heart opens at your voice! Ah! reponds a ma tendresse! Verse-moi, verse-moi l’ivresse! Answer my tenderness! Fill me with ecstasy! . . .
• • Dalila’s Gallic sultriness has been sung by the greatest artists, among them Marian Anderson, Sigrid Onegin, Dame Clara Butt (I’m not making that up) and Maria Callas (recording only).
• • But there is one performance of this music different than all the rest. It was immortalized in a 1935 film called Goin’ To Town. Not only do we have a very special brand of music making, we also have the hysteria of backstage at the opera, on film. Saint-Saens meets his match long after his death when his music is, er, interpreted by… Mae West [ED: insert a YouTube video here :-D].
• • In her memoir Beverly the late Beverly Sills recalls meeting the very elderly Mae West in Hollywood. “I don’t think she knew who I was, but I certainly knew who she was.” When Sills asked Miss West if she ever sang, the old girl almost lost her false… eyelashes. “I got a fully trained operatic voice!” she crowed. Indeed. Not for nothing was Mae West the highest paid woman in America in the mid 1930s, outranking FDR and the head of General Motors at the height of the depression. . . .
• • It’s a great tune that obviously leaves room for more than one interpretation. Hopefully Shirley Verrett can appreciate Mae West, even if Mae West was truly unique.
— — Excerpt: — —
• • Article: "‘My Heart at Thy Sweet Voice’ — — an Unforgetable Performance…. Honey"
• • BY: Christopher Purdy | Commentator
• • Published by Classical eNotes | WOSU-FM 89.7 — —
• • Published on: 13 January 2010

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