SATURDEE OPRY LINKS 47:
Patrick's Day Edition 2
"After all, what's in
a song? A message people can understand. Melody, first, set to text that conveys
something to heart and mind. One of the difficult tasks of my profession, and as
important as the actual singing, is the choice of material for my programmes,
and its arrangement.... First, I give my audiences the songs I love. Second, I
give them the songs they ought to like, and will like when they hear them often
enough. Third, I give them the folksongs of my native land, which I hold to be
the most beautiful of any music of this kind.... Fourth, I give my audiences
songs they want to hear, for such songs they have every right to expect."---John
Saturdee Opry Links Overture!
"Di Ballo," by Arthur Sullivan. (Sullivan was the son of an Irish musician who
became bandmaster at the Royal Military College; his mother was of Italian
To open Saturdee Opry Links' St. Patrick's Day Edition with anything but John
McCormack is sacriledgious, but we do things that way here. Here is honorary
Irish tenor Jacob Pincus "Pinky" Perelmuth, also known as Jan Peerce, with a
rather thrilling rendition of "Macushla." Lyrics are found below this very
peculiar and rather endearing video.
EXTRA: What, Exactly, is an 'Irish Tenor?'
Perhaps this discussion offers the answer.
John McCormack is to Irish tenors what Luciano Pavarotti was to tenors in
general. Though a light, lyric tenor known best for the great Irish ballads,
McCormack had an extensive operatic career in some of the greatest opera houses
of the U.S., England, Italy, and yes, Ireland. Aside from sweetness of tone,
McCormack was famed for extraordinary breath control. He could sing 64 notes on
one breath in Mozart's "Il mio tesoro" from Don Giovanni, and his Handel
singing was just as impressive in this regard. Here he is with "Il Mio Tesoro."
(You will know the melody.)
Role: Don Ottavio, Donna Anna's fiance
Setting: A cemetary
Synopsis: Sure that Don Giovanni was the person who killed his fiancee's father,
Don Ottavio swears that he will make sure Donna Anna gets her revenge on Don
In 1924, McCormack recorded his remarkable performance of Handel's "Care Selve,"
from the opera, "Atalanta"---rewritten (by someone) as "Come My Beloved." It
almost sounds like an old Irish song, rather than something written by the great
German composer. The high notes here are things of delicacy and the sublime.
Small wonder his singing of Handel and baroque period arias was revered.
Care selve, ombre beate,
vengo in traccia del mio cor!
Beloved forests, joyous shadows:
I come in search of my heart.
Toward the end of her life, my (real) mother remarked that the only thing she
could listen to were the recordings of John McCormack singing Irish songs. Given
her Irish roots, this seems entirely understandable. To hear McCormack singing
Irish songs is to wonder why anyone else bothers. Here is the first of several
in this morning's SOL: the glorious "Where the River Shannon Flows."
McCormack didn't---couldn’t---sing opera heroically, but rather in such fashion
that suited his voice and temperament. He does hit an impressive high note here
(just below C, as the whole aria is tranposed down a half-note, for
his convenience), but this performance is marked by tenderness. For comparison, I am
also posting a version by Jussi Bjorling (below), with a high C that will remove
your socks. This is the poignant "Salut, demeure, chaste et pure," from "Faust,"
by Gounod. "I greet you, chaste and pure home." (McCormack appeared in the opera
in Dublin in 1907.)
Synopsis: Faust, an old man turned young by Mèphistophélès, is in the garden of
his beloved, Marguerite, in a German city, 16th century. He is struck by the
purity of the Marguerite's home, and the innocence of Marguerite inside. He
thanks Nature for creating the beautiful, angelic creature that is Marguerite.
As seems to happen to everyone of some fame---and too many of no fame, and
infame---McCormack wound up in Hollywood in 1930. He was as bad an actor as he
was a great singer, and did only one major film, "Song of My Heart." He took the
paycheck and bought an estate, Runyon Canyon," building a mansion there that he
dubbed (surprise!) "San Patrizio." McCormack, who became a naturalized U.S.
citizen, lived there until 1938, when he returned to England. During his stay in
L.A., he became pals with, among others, Will Rogers, John Barrymore, Basil
Rathbone, Errol Flynn. Here he sings "The Rose of Tralee" in a clip from “Song
of My Heart.”
And from the 1937 color British film, "Wings of the Morning," here is The Count
(he was a Papal Count) singing "Believe Me, if All Those Endearing Young Charms,"
by the Irish poet, Thomas Moore, and "Killarney," by Donal O'Shaughnessy. Apologies for Henry Fonda's unforgivable interruption.
Back to McCormack in his operatic prime, with the noble aria, "Tu che a Dio
spiegasti l'ali," from "Lucia di Lammermoor," by Donizetti, recorded a hundred
and eight years ago! Although, as I said, he did not have a heroic tenor voice,
he sings this aria heroically, in his way. Listen and see if hear that quality
in the interpretation. Or go have a green beer, if you prefer. "You who have
spread your wings to God."
Synopsis: Edgardo, lord and master of Ravenswood, is in the cemetery after
learning that his beloved Lucia has died. Grief-stricken, he sings to Lucia that
he will soon be with her in heaven---then stabs himself and dies beside her.
Here, for contrast, is tenor Piotr Beczala, singing the same aria on stage.
Don't listen to your parents, kids! If McCormack's dad has his way, John would
have become a priest, or a scientist. Thankfully, McCormack had no interest in
the priesthood, and failed to qualify for any of the 20 slots available at the
Dublin College of Science. His parents then pushed him into civil service, gasp,
and a clerkship in the post office. So ill-fitting and perhaps painful was the
job that McCormack left after only a few weeks, following an offer to sing in in
a Dublin Cathedral Choir. The choir director, one Vincent O' Brian, presently
told John that his voice was too big for a choir, and the rest is you-know-what.
Here is The Count with the heart-rending Tosti song about a lost love, "Ideale,"
from a recording in 1909---six years after he first joined that choir.
How McCormack was recognized as a great singer is pure storybook, straight out
of a movie. The choir director, O’ Brian, prevailed upon young McCormack to
enter the Irish National Music Festival of 1903---on the basis that he would
continue teaching him to sing. A reluctant McCormack entered, joining thirteen
other aspiring tenors in singing “Tell Fair Irene” by Handel (an adaptation),
and a ballad, “The Snowy Breasted Pearl.” After the thirteen others finished
singing, McCormarck audaciously asked the accompanies to use a slower tempo, and
began singing. When he finished, there was tremendous and prolonged
applause----expressly forbidden in the competition---followed by the judge’s
announcement: "You have shown by your applause that you have made my decision
for me, and you are quite right. The winner is the young man whom you have just
Here, incredibly enough, is a recording of “The Snowy Breasted Pearl” from 1904,
just one year after the competition:
And here is a better performance from 1910:
Here is McCormack singing the tune on which “Danny Boy” was later written---the
original “Londonderry Air,” about as lyrical and touching a song as ever to be
written. Lyrics are below the video.
About the music:
Saturdee Opry Links St. Paddy’s Day ENCORE!
Handkerchiefs are very advisable here. Rather hits home.
“Down By the Sally Gardens.”
Saturdee Opry Links St. Paddy’s Day 2nd ENCORE!
“The Wearin’ O’ the Green.” Lyrics are below the video.
Back to Opera Links
Back to Home Page