If I'm not pure, at least my jewels are!
November 7, 2007 1:28 PM   Subscribe

Glitter-and-Be-Gay-filter: Chenoweth, Anderson, Dessay, Damrau, Gruberova, Sumi Jo, Leigh, Young Dessay, Chenoweth again.

Cunegonda's comic coloratura number, "Glitter and be Gay"is the centerpiece of Candide--Leonard Bernstein's brilliant non-American-non-musical, anti-operatic non-operetta, un-stageable and terminally unsuccessful Broadway show.

"Among the most fiendishly challenging coloratura soprano arias," the difficult musical demands of "Glitter and Be Gay" combine with elements of comedy, parody, farce, and elaborate staging. It's the quintessential example of a work that requires an opera singer who can really act, or an actor who can really sing operatically. Can anyone really do both?

More Glitter: score, lyrics

More Candide: guide, 1956 libretto, 1956 original cast recording, 1973 libretto, 1989 Bernstein recording, 1997 update, 1999 update, place in history?
posted by flug (36 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
I want to have Kristin Chenoweth's babies. Yes. I am aware how painful that might be.
posted by tkchrist at 1:37 PM on November 7, 2007

What, no Barbara Cook?! And who wouldn't enjoy hearing Madeline Kahn tackle "Glitter" (as she did at Bernstein's 50th birthday celebration in 1968). Links to either, anyone?
posted by rob511 at 1:49 PM on November 7, 2007

I saw this at Atlanta's Alliance Theater about 20 years ago. Or maybe it was a dream. Surely nothing this beautiful ever really happened.

Anyway, I don't remember who played Cunegonde but I do remember that my every expectation of "G&BG" was surpassed.
posted by bovious at 2:04 PM on November 7, 2007

Just for the record, I'll point out that Chenoweth is supposed to have been the (or one of the)inspiration for the character Harriet Hayes on Aaron Sorkin's Studio 60. According to the scripts, the character was an extremely talented dancer and singer who ultimately found herself doing comedy.
posted by Clay201 at 2:04 PM on November 7, 2007

Oh Kristen Chenowith... I watched Bewitched for you. Why has Hollywood delegated you to a quirky, spunky best friend role? Come back to New York! Come baaaack, we love you.
posted by spec80 at 2:11 PM on November 7, 2007

And if you're been missing Chenowith in Pushing Daisies, don't.
posted by nicwolff at 2:12 PM on November 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

One more Candide.
posted by Guy Smiley at 2:15 PM on November 7, 2007

Natalie Dessay's face during the haha's is incredible. Chenoweth is a fucking goddess.
posted by arcticwoman at 2:17 PM on November 7, 2007

That's what Chenowith can do? Jebus, I had absolutely no idea, having never seen her in anything with any substance. thank you so much for educating me!
posted by nax at 2:37 PM on November 7, 2007

What, no Barbara Cook?!

You can hear a 30-second excerpt (windows media) of Cook's G&BG on Amazon's original cast album page, and another 30-second bit from Barnes & Noble here.

Otherwise my google-fu fails me . . . (but there is a nice profile of Cook here.)
posted by flug at 3:03 PM on November 7, 2007

No Erie Mills? Darn! That production (and recording) is my favorite.
posted by tzikeh at 3:03 PM on November 7, 2007

Although flug included a link, poet Richard Wilbur's wonderfully erudite lyrics really deserve to be printed out:
Glitter and be gay,
That's the part I play;
Here I am in Paris, France,
Forced to bend my soul
To a sordid role,
Victimized by bitter, bitter circumstance.
Alas for me! Had I remained
Beside my lady mother,
My virtue had remained unstained
Until my maiden hand was gained
By some Grand Duke or other.

Ah, 'twas not to be;
Harsh necessity
Brought me to this gilded cage.
Born to higher things,
Here I droop my wings,
Ah! Singing of a sorrow nothing can assuage.

And yet of course I rather like to revel, Ha ha!
I have no strong objection to champagne, Ha ha!
My wardrobe is expensive as the devil, Ha ha!
Perhaps it is ignoble to complain...
Enough, enough
Of being basely tearful!
I'll show my noble stuff
By being bright and cheerful!
Ha ha ha ha ha! Ha!

Pearls and ruby rings...
Ah, how can worldly things
Take the place of honor lost?
Can they compensate
For my fallen state,
Purchased as they were at such an awful cost?

Can they dry my tears?
Can they blind my eyes to shame?
Can the brightest brooch
Shield me from reproach?
Can the purest diamond purify my name?

And yet of course these trinkets are endearing, Ha ha!
I'm oh, so glad my sapphire is a star, Ha ha!
I rather like a twenty-carat earring, Ha ha!
If I'm not pure, at least my jewels are!

Enough! Enough!
I'll take their diamond necklace
And show my noble stuff
By being gay and reckless!
Ha ha ha ha ha! Ha!

Observe how bravely I conceal
The dreadful, dreadful shame I feel.
Ha ha ha ha!

posted by rob511 at 3:45 PM on November 7, 2007

WOW. First Chenoweth ftw.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 4:55 PM on November 7, 2007

Candide is a wonderful wonderful opera or musical or whatever you want to call it.
posted by pombe at 5:07 PM on November 7, 2007

Thanks, rob511—I was about to fume noisily about the neglect of Wilbur, who's been one of America's best poets for sixty years now. (He's not even mentioned on the linked lyrics site.)

Great post, and yes, Chenoweth is fucking amazing.
posted by languagehat at 5:17 PM on November 7, 2007


But what's driving me nuts is the "ha ha" part. It's either quoting another well-known piece, or this part of the song was lifted for some tv show's theme. Help me, hivemind!
posted by maudlin at 5:23 PM on November 7, 2007

WOW. First Chenoweth ftw.

Fixed that for you.
No, I'm not Sorkin.
posted by WolfDaddy at 5:33 PM on November 7, 2007

The most recent Pushing Daisies may have been written just to please me, having featured Chenoweth prominently. I must go off now, and make a little birdhouse in my soul.
posted by thanotopsis at 5:36 PM on November 7, 2007

Why has Hollywood delegated you to a quirky, spunky best friend role?

A few years ago, she had her very own very-short-lived sitcom on NBC that left a bad taste in Hollywood's mouth.

Now that "Wicked" has made her a bigger star, maybe she'll get a second chance at a series.
posted by briank at 5:48 PM on November 7, 2007

Maudlin: it's not "quoting another well-known piece." It is the well-known piece.

Also, you may possibly have been exposed to Bernstein's exquisite "Overture" to Candide, which features the "ha ha" theme prominently.

The entire score is just wonderful, if you've never heard it all grab the cast album. Some of the songs will take a little "assimilation" but it soon enough it soaks into your soul. Delight.
posted by russh at 5:51 PM on November 7, 2007

Ah. Thanks, russh. The cast album is not on eMusic, but I'll check iTunes.

Then it must be the overture to Candide that was being used for the tv show theme. (Victory Garden? Something else homey and British on PBS? Still can't place it -- GAH!)
posted by maudlin at 6:03 PM on November 7, 2007

Maudlin -- it was The Dick Cavett Show
posted by briank at 6:20 PM on November 7, 2007

Thanks briank! I have a vague memory of that show. I don't think anything on the network level would suit her. I think something more daring and experimental on HBO would work to her advantage. What? I don't know, but the network level can't handle/properly utilize Chenowith's talents.
posted by spec80 at 6:32 PM on November 7, 2007

Thanks, briank! I think yet another show that is still being broadcast used it as well (Cavett's arrangement is a very brassy and percussive variation, while the version I hear oin my head is more of a sweet and bouncy string and woodwinds version), but I'll shut up about it.

However, Googling to find a snippet of Cavett's theme did turn up this clip, and also let me find out that Cavett is now blogging.
posted by maudlin at 7:09 PM on November 7, 2007

Oh Kristen Chenowith... I watched Bewitched for you. Why has Hollywood delegated you to a quirky, spunky best friend role? Come back to New York! Come baaaack, we love you.

I strongly agree. I don't know why she's pursuing the Hollywood/television track as she appears to be - not that she's a bad comic actress, but she's so, so talented both as a singer and dancer too... I don't know. Seems a waste.

On the other hand, her last Broadway stint (The Apple Tree) got a lukewarm reaction at best (which evidentally had as much to do with the structure of the show itself as it did with her), and there are plenty of Cheno-haters in the Broadway fan community, so, maybe she keeps picking up TV shows and movies because she's tired of hearing the NYC theater scene crap.

I've been lucky enough to see her live twice - once back in July 2004 on Broadway when she was still in Wicked, and once when she performed with the Cincinnati Pops - and there's no doubt that she is extraordinarily talented. Some of her off-the-stage stuff is kind of annoying, though. About half the time she tries to appeal to the Christian conservatives (released an album of redone hymns; did an interview with the Christian-based Guideposts magazine, etc.) and the other half of the time she goes completely to the other side (pulls the sex kitten card and poses on the cover of FHM magazine; speaks openly about supporting gay rights, etc.) A couple of years ago she really split a chunk of her fanbase - the conservative religious side mad that she was supporting gay people; the gay theater queens mad that she was doing interviews with Guideposts. She got invited to speak on the Christian-based Women of Faith tour; then they retracted their invitation when she came out in open support of homosexuality. It's like, for crying out loud, just stop trying to appeal to everyone before you appeal to no one.

Not that it really matters though, because despite all that she's still talented enough to have swarms of fans, and she probably always will. The theater geek in me still wishes she'd stick with Broadway, though.
posted by Quidam at 8:00 PM on November 7, 2007

A few odds & ends:

* The Candide Overture (conducted by Bernstein).

* Interesting NYTimes article about Barbara Cook, including how she landed the role of Cunegonde.

* Jewel Song from Gounod's Faust (Freni) - G&BG's much more serious-minded twin sister . . .
posted by flug at 9:31 PM on November 7, 2007

flug: this is one of the finest examples of a mefi post i've yet seen.

you've collected a wonderful set of clips, made fabulous use of "more inside", used just enough glamour to pique the interest, but didn't give too much away.

i knew nothing of any of this. and now i'm in love. so, i embrace you with my jazz hands, and offer my gratitude.

posted by CitizenD at 10:20 PM on November 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

I know that piece quite well and have always loved it. Thanks for posting so many versions of it.

Shamefully for a New Yorker and a theartre guy, I'd never seen Chenowith perform before watching this clip. I'd heard she was great, but she just hadn't been in any shows I'd wanted to see.

My first impression, upon watching her "Glitter and Be Gay" was WOW! I was blown away. While being blown away, I also kept -- intermittently -- getting irritated. It's odd to be blown away and irritated at the same time.

She's an amazing singer. That's what blew me away. She has the perfect voice for this song. God, those high notes!

The first time I got irritated was very close to the beginning, when she lampooned the word "France." I then got irritated each time she "winked" at the audience, mugged, perfomed a bit of shtick, and hammed it up. I'm sure these bits that irritated me were many other people's favorite parts.

I'll admit, I'm a much bigger fan of earnestness and emotional commitment than to irony, camp and detachment. But I have a special problem with camping up THIS piece.

It's a comic piece, and I'm not advocating turning it into a speech from "Macbeth". But it's a piece with real substance to it. Like most great monologues, it's a person working something out in front of you. The fun of it is getting to watch -- live -- the spinning cogs and wheels of human brains.

If the great speech in "Hamlet" is done right, you get to watch the Prince really ASK and really GRAPPLE with whether he should be or not be, right in front of you, in real time.

I find this asking and grappling just as compelling in comedy as in tragedy. To me, it's the core of theatre. As a director, my most common work with actors is to say, "Wait! Go back. Don't gloss over that question. Really think about it. Take a pause if you have to. I want to see you lost for the answer. Then I want to see you figure out the answer right in front of me!"

Grappling is compelling even if it's grappling with something mundane. It needn't be over life and death. Humans DO wrestle with petty things. The things may be petty; the wrestling isn't.

"Glitter and Be Gay" starts with a woman realizing -- and she should realize this IN the song, AS she's singing it (it's less interesting if she's already realized it before starting the song) -- that she's a bird in a gilded cage and that she's forced to be "on show." (She's basically a trophy mistress).

The music sounds sad at first, and rather than camping that up, it's so much more effective if the actress plays the TRUTH of that sadness. It makes what comes NEXT so much more fun and surprising -- to the audience and to her.

"Glitter and be gay, that's the part I play ... Forced to bend my soul to a sordid role, victimized by bitter, bitter circumstance. ...Here I droop my wings, ah! Singing of a sorrow nothing can assuage."

Then it occurs to her -- right NOW, in the moment of singing -- that her life isn't all bad ...

And YET of course I rather like to revel, Ha ha!
I have no strong objection to champagne, Ha ha!
My wardrobe is expensive as the devil, Ha ha!
Perhaps it is ignoble to complain...

These thoughts can be surprising and thrilling, popping into the middle of what seemed like a tragic song. But the actress needs to "earn" them by playing the beginning -- the sad part -- honestly.

Notice that the last line I quoted is a question -- a "perhaps." She hasn't worked it all out. She's noted that her position in life is a sad one (and she's complained about it). And now she's realized that her life has some good things in it. So, she wonders, should she stop complaining?

THEN, if done well, she makes a snap decision in front of us. She's "Hamlet" deciding -- right then and there -- to be instead of not to be...

Enough, enough
Of being basely tearful!
I'll show my noble stuff
By being bright and cheerful!

A decision! And this decision earns her the right to topple over into the most famous part of the song: the extended laughter. After which, a new sad thought occurs to her, and the whole thing repeats. If this is done right, you get to see someone go from being in the pits of despair to being on the greatest high, right in front of you, in just a few short minutes. What could be more exciting than that?

Yet Chenowith takes the easier, less interesting road and turns the song into something that could be a part of "What's Opera, Doc?" That spoofy stuff is fun, and it always gets a laugh, but it's a cheap laugh. It's the easiest laugh to get. It doesn't do justice to the material.

[I'm a firm believer that ALL reactions to art are subjective. I'm just giving mine. It's not better than yours, and I don't think it's better than yours. If you like the way Chenowith does it, that's great. It's better to enjoy than not to enjoy. I just wanted to try and give a coherent explanation of why someone might prefer the song to be sung differently, and in what way differently.]
posted by grumblebee at 4:47 AM on November 8, 2007 [4 favorites]

Man, this song is SO hard. I watched some of the other performers (I haven't seen them all yet), and I thought Natalie Dessay got closer to what I'm looking for. Yet ... she's not as much fun as Chenowith. I can imagine someone reading my rand, watching Dessay, assuming she's doing it the way I want, and then saying, "Feh! I'd rather see Chenowith."

The thing is, Chenowith is cute and has charisma. Much more so than Dessay. And that's important. But Chenowith's AWAYS going to be charismatic. That's who she is. So what I want to see is Chenowith -- but Chenowith playing the song truthfully. She just needs a director to tell her to cut out the BS and commit to it. (I'm sure, in reality, her director encouraged the BS, and it got laughs, so now all parties feel justified.)

By the way, I have problems with Dessay's interpretation. She's playing the sad part as sad, but it's all exposition -- and it shouldn't be. It's as if she's worked it all out ahead of time and is not just reporting on her sad situation (while making mournful expressions). NO! She should live the reality of each sentence IN the song and realize things in the moment she's singing about them.

It's a hard, hard, hard song. It will only work fully when a great singer/actress/comedienne fully commits to truth in it. Emma Thompson could play the truth and comedy of it, but she couldn't sing it. I'm not sure who has the chops to tackle it.
posted by grumblebee at 5:04 AM on November 8, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'd taped the Candide that features Chenoweth's performance and only watched the beginning. Time to dust that puppy off...

Thanks for a fantastic post.
posted by the sobsister at 6:45 AM on November 8, 2007

grumblebee: Great points! But maybe what we need to see is the whole show. The Chenowith and both Dessay clips are of them at a concert, maybe Chenowith would be more toned down and in character if she did the entire show. But at a concert, I think most of the performers want to be "The Showstopper" and she delivers in that clip.
posted by spec80 at 7:10 AM on November 8, 2007

I'm not sure the Chenoweth clip is from a concert - here's another clip of her in that dress doing a Candide song.
posted by arcticwoman at 7:36 AM on November 8, 2007

I think--though could be wrong--that the first Chenoweth clip is from a semi-staged concert performance with the NY Philharmonic, which was shown on PBS's Great Performances and is available on DVD here.
posted by flug at 8:13 AM on November 8, 2007

Poet Richard Wilbur: bio, poems, wikipedia, about Candide (see section "A Poet in the Theater"), and:
Shortly before arriving at Wellesley, Wilbur had been approached by Leonard Bernstein and Lillian Hellman, and asked to produce lyrics for the comic operetta they were working on, Candide. The collaboration, though fruitful, was not always easy. Bernstein evidently thought well of his own abilities as a writer, with the result that a sorely-tried Wilbur had once to tell Hellman, 'If you catch [Lenny] re-writing my lyrics, clip his piano wires.'
posted by flug at 8:34 AM on November 8, 2007

grumblebee's fabulously insightful comments made me think of another performance I forgot to link to: June Anderson as conducted by Bernstein (1989).

That performance seems to me more convincing than her performance linked in OP (with Zubin Mehta, 1990). And it's always interesting to watch Bernstein at work . . .
posted by flug at 8:58 AM on November 8, 2007

Wilbur is wonderful. If you haven't read them (or even if you have), pick up a copy of his Molier translations, especially "The Misanthrope" and "Tartuffe." It's like Dr. Seuss for grownups.
posted by grumblebee at 9:59 AM on November 8, 2007

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