"Stripsody" is NOT what you think, you dirty old mefite
July 28, 2010 12:07 PM   Subscribe

Cathy Berberian (warning: auto opera audio!) was not your usual mezzo-soprano. Her vocal range was only exceeded by her range of musical interest (multi-YouTubage follows)

Going from opera to contemporary to avant garde, she performed Monteverdi (Lasciatemi morire), Stravinsky (Elegy for JFK) (Trois Histoires pour enfants), Cage (The wonderful Widow of eighteen springs) (A Flower), Gershwin (Summertime), Villa-Lobos (Xango), Weill (Song of Sexual Slavery), and Joyce(?!?) (Sirens from Ulysses). Her musical collaboration with Luciano Berio (Avendo gran disio) (Azerbaijan Love Song) continued for 20 years after their marriage ended.

But she was most famous for two musical oddities:

(1) A collection of Beatles songs arranged in a rather over-the-top Operatic style (Beatles fans thought she was mocking them; she insisted she was not): Ticket to Ride, I Wanna Hold Your Hand

(2) "Stripsody", a performance piece she wrote made up of onomatopoetic sound effects from comic strips, with an appropriately comic-y written score (not YouTubish). It's still performed today (and not just by mezzo-sopranos).

From the documentary "Music Is the Air I Breathe" part 1, part 2.
And here she is "talking | rehearsing | singing | laughing | explaining" part 1, part 2.
(Disclaimer: post written by an operatic illiterate who stumbled over "Stripsody" and fell down Berberian's musical rabbit hole... she was a big fan of Alice in Wonderland too)
posted by oneswellfoop (6 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
"Even Cathy Berberian knows there's one roulade she can't sing" Your Gold Teeth - Steely Dan
posted by timsteil at 12:13 PM on July 28, 2010 [8 favorites]

Don't forget Berio's Sequenza III, which exploded vocal practice and was written for Berberian.

I wish I could find a recording online of Henri Pousseur's "Phonemes pour Cathy," but alas.

Nice post!
posted by invitapriore at 12:15 PM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I knew I'd forgotten something... the Steely Dan connection!!!
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:35 PM on July 28, 2010

This is great! I'd only had her version of "Ticket to Ride" previously; I really thought it was fantastic. I now "hear" her singing in overlay whenever I listen to the Beatles' original.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 1:56 PM on July 28, 2010

Don't forget Berio's Sequenza III , which exploded vocal practice and was written for Berberian.

Great post, and thanks for this link!

Way back when I was a freshman music major, I became transfixed with a recording of Cathy Berberian performing this piece. It was one of my first mind-opening introductions to contemporary "classical" music.

I used to listen in the school library, following along with the score (which the school library, miraculously, also had a copy of -- this was a small-town state "party" college after all) at least once a week. The score is really, really fun to follow and, if I recall correctly, parts of it are "gestural" -- there aren't always notes, sometimes just smatterings of dots and lines and other markings that the performer has to interpret on her own.
posted by treepour at 7:07 PM on July 28, 2010

Cathy Berberian is awesome.

A friend and fellow-mezzo once confided to me that the secret to performing Stripsody is to have a large gin beforehand.
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:16 AM on July 29, 2010

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