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My Passion Is The Great Movie Opera Singers of 1930-1940

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My Passion Is The Great Movie Opera Singers of 1930-1940

Postby Uncle Stevie » April 22nd, 2010, 11:15 pm

I am a bit disappointed in my brief observation of the interests from this board. I think there are no greater stars than Deanna Durbin, Grace Moore, Jeanette MacDonald, Evelyn Laye, Kathryn Grayson, Jane Powell, and any other movie stars with great opera voices.

I collect their movies and currently my collection of movies is:

Deanna Durbin - all 21 made

Grace Moore - 6 so far

Jeanette MacDonald - 6 so far

Kathryn Grayson - 9 so far

Evelyn Laye - 1

Jane Powell - 13

As you can see I love those old unpretentious musicals that sport talent beyond words. Deanna Durbin had one of the finest voices ever to hit the screen. She quit public life at age 28 and is still around in Paris at age 88. Grace Moore was a Metropolita Opera singer who loved to make movies and her smile and voice was truly infectious. Kathryn Grayson had one of the finest lyrical opera voices around. Jane Powell was a bright young talent that lit up the screen in every one of her movies.

I love those old musicals and watch 2-3 every night to relax. I watch other movies also and own 144 movies and play them on a bank of four DVD players storing 17 DVDs for viewing.

Does anyone else on this board share my enthusiasm?

Uncle Stevie
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Re: My Passion Is The Great Movie Opera Singers of 1930-1940

Postby jdb1 » April 23rd, 2010, 9:12 am

Nope. Sorry we dissapoint you Uncle Stevie, but glad to meet you. I don't think most of those you've mentioned have "great opera voices," at least not on film.

I especially don't like the female singers in the older movies because the sound quality is so poor, so that their voices are distorted and unnatural sounding. Also, so many of these singers, especially the younger ones, sang music inappropriate to their voices. The idea was to impress, not to make good music. The artificial over-sweetness of their screen personas is also pretty hard to take. I'll take Ethel Merman every time. I wonder how some of these women sounded in person. Better, probably, but stil not necessarily great.

I think the male singers were somewhat better served in the older movies, probably because the sound recording equipment was better suited to voices of a lower pitch. To my ear, Melchoir and Tibbet sounded a lot better than MacDonald or Moore. Those female singers in the mezzo range and lower also sound a lot better to me than those singing in the soprano range. To my mind, a great opera voice on film belongs to Mario Lanza. He had a voice of truly verismo quality, and the benefit of better cinematic recording techniques. His female co-stars disappear into the background in comparison.
Last edited by jdb1 on April 23rd, 2010, 11:00 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: My Passion Is The Great Movie Opera Singers of 1930-1940

Postby moira finnie » April 23rd, 2010, 10:17 am

Hi Stevie,
I noticed that Lily Pons is not on your list. Could you please share your opinion of her films? Thanks for sharing your interest here.

Several of us do enjoy musicals, operettas and anything with a musical theme. Some of us especially enjoy Deanna Durbin's acting and singing very much, as you can see here, Stevie.

I like the nearly forgotten films of Lawrence Tibbett, especially The Cuban Love Song (1931) and Metropolitan (1935). Even though he didn't have "movie star" looks, he had some quirky charm and a beautiful voice:
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CSzXoVWjEbo[/youtube]

I'm a sucker for any media spotlighting Feodor Chaliapin, and his acting seems to have been almost as good as his singing, as glimpsed in his lone film, G.W. Pabst's Don Quixote (1933), seen here in its entirety and in this clip with Chaliapin singing one of the songs composed by Jacques Ibert for this film:
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kf0xORW0K3c&feature=related[/youtube]

Though Ezio Pinza came to the movies too late in unfortunate vehicles such as Mr. Imperium (1951), (which you can see here), Ezio Pinza is another great operatic voice I've enjoyed, blending power, considerable charm and acting ability in his singing, at least to my untrained ear.:
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9QvHXxX9UU&feature=related[/youtube]
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Re: My Passion Is The Great Movie Opera Singers of 1930-1940

Postby jdb1 » April 23rd, 2010, 11:13 am

Moira, all those you mention are wonderful, but they started out in the opera, and then made movies. Most of the Hollywood singers were groomed by the studios to mimic opera voices, but didn't actually have them. A singer trained to project to the balcony on a grand opera stage is bound to have more vocal power, and probably more artistry, than a thin-voiced little girl on a movie set. I am not saying that any of the singers mentioned by Stevie are bad; I'm saying that I personally don't think that the majority of them possessed "opera" voices. They were just singers of classical songs, and I get a bit annoyed at their being lumped in with people who really could sing in that genre. I prefer to listen to the real thing. If the young Deanna Durbin remade her movies just acting, and not singing at all, or at least singing in a more contemporary and less affected style, I'd probably like them a lot better.

But then again I'm just as happy to listen to Jimmy Durante or Betty Boop sing. They were what they were, and didn't pretend to be anything else.

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Re: My Passion Is The Great Movie Opera Singers of 1930-1940

Postby moira finnie » April 23rd, 2010, 11:32 am

I definitely see your point, Judith.

I sure don't like all the singers in movies of the studio period--operatic or popular--and I don't have extensive musical training, so I'm listening to them from a relatively uninformed viewpoint. We all have different tastes to share, but it interests me how popular movies once highlighted classical music, though now this music is almost never featured in movies, (except as a part of a soundtrack).

I just hope that Stevie will share more about why he particularly likes those whose films he has collected.
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Re: My Passion Is The Great Movie Opera Singers of 1930-1940

Postby Uncle Stevie » April 23rd, 2010, 1:28 pm

Hi everyone and thanks for welcoming me into your group. I am a sucker for female singing stars. I do not think any male singer, no matter how good, carried a movie. I can take my singers I love the most and describe my passion for them:

Deanna Durbin - She had a marvelous unwaving voice with power on big notes that was hard to beat. She had a natural and compelling charm that made her a movie success in her day. Much of her Opera arias were individually taught and not up to Opera standings but delivered in a pleasant manner. It was her passion to do the Met but never followed through. I think she was absolutely beautiful and epidomized the Hollywood Glamour Girl. She was known for her thousands of photograhs taken and as many gowns and outfits worn. To see everything you may want to know about Deanna Durbin visit one of her "Fan Sites". http://www.deannadurbindevotees.com/forum.htm

Grace Moore - Grace was indeed a trained Opera Star and did sing at the Met and other venues in the world. In movies Grace Moore had a magnetic attraction that made me a fan. She had a great and powerful voice. She had a smile that could mow down an army. She was unique in her mannerisms and would wave her arms when she sang. In other words she was alive. Her acting was crude but pleasant. She came from a poor Tenesee town but dragged herself to become a multilingual Opera Star. She was a little rough around the edges but made her way in grand style. She died young in a plane crash.


Kathryn Grayson - Kathryn was a favorite of mine. She was indeed classically trained to do Opera but chose to make her fortune in the movies instead. She had a marvelous voice with few rivals. She was very pretty and was never an impish singer like Jane Powell. Kathryn assumed adult roles from the beginning and was a lover to many brand name male leads. I think most movies she was in received success because of her and not the male. Her high "C" was magnificent.

Jeanette MacDonald - Jeanette was more of a silent film star and her recorded was indeed of poor quality. As she grew up she gained more of a "movie personality". I actually like Jeannette more from her later films than the first ones. Three Daring Daughters with a 16 year old Jane Powell was a good example of Jeanette in maturity having appeal for everyone. I liked Jeanette but not as much as the others above.

Jane Powell - Here was a singer without a trained Operatic voice. She was taught some special arias but did not have the ability of a Deanna Durbin or Kathryn Grayson. Jane Powell was, however, the better actress, the better dancer, and the cutest of them all. Jane's success, and failures, were determined by the roles she was cast in. Jane was a nice sweet performer who had trouble assuming the roles of a mature adult in the movies. She later on met success as singing in musical show both traveling and Broadway. She was suited best for that.

I never followed Ann Blythe or any other singer but do have some movies with Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Debbie Reynolds, and Marilyn Monroe. As I said I am a female singer/movie star fan. I can warm up to Ginger Rodgers faster that John Wayne.

There you have my quick synopsis. I hope I did not bore anyone.

Uncle Stevie
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Re: My Passion Is The Great Movie Opera Singers of 1930-1940

Postby jdb1 » April 23rd, 2010, 2:53 pm

Moira opens a good point in saying that movie musicals are now the exception rather than the rule. I wonder why that is. With the immense popularity of music videos, you would think that the sight of people spontaneously bursting into song onscreen would not be hard to accept.

Perhaps part of the problem there is that there aren't so many multi-talented performers out there any more that Hollywood is willing to take a chance on. In the days of the big studios, just about every performer, no matter what his or her specialty, was given singing and dancing lessons. Now the "whole package" performers are much more likely to be on Broadway than in Hollywood. I haven't liked any of the more recent movie musicals I've seen. They are more like television commericals than movies, which is a bit strange since they are, for the most part, filmings of Broadway shows.

Too bad the Broadway musicals aren't better than they are. Audiences simply aren't all that demanding any more. If it's loud, it's good is all they seem to know.

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Re: My Passion Is The Great Movie Opera Singers of 1930-1940

Postby moira finnie » April 23rd, 2010, 5:47 pm

Uncle Stevie wrote:Hi everyone and thanks for welcoming me into your group. I am a sucker for female singing stars. I do not think any male singer, no matter how good, carried a movie. I can take my singers I love the most and describe my passion for them:

That's an interesting point. I think for box office and entertainment, it was usually necessary to have a girl somewhere in a picture. I haven't really thought too much about that, but didn't Mario Lanza carry his movies or do you think he needed the framework of the MGM style movie to present him?

Uncle Stevie wrote:Deanna Durbin - She had a marvelous unwaving voice with power on big notes that was hard to beat. She had a natural and compelling charm that made her a movie success in her day. Much of her Opera arias were individually taught and not up to Opera standings but delivered in a pleasant manner. It was her passion to do the Met but never followed through.

I didn't know she longed to play the Met, but I always found her voice quite lovely, and it was the combination of that with her effervescent high spirits and comic playing that I've only discovered in recent years when her movies started to be available on DVD.

Uncle Stevie wrote:Grace Moore - Grace was indeed a trained Opera Star and did sing at the Met and other venues in the world. In movies Grace Moore had a magnetic attraction that made me a fan. She had a great and powerful voice. She had a smile that could mow down an army. She was unique in her mannerisms and would wave her arms when she sang. In other words she was alive. Her acting was crude but pleasant. She came from a poor Tenesee town but dragged herself to become a multilingual Opera Star. She was a little rough around the edges but made her way in grand style. She died young in a plane crash.

Since many of her movies are rarely shown and are not often available on DVD or VHS, I haven't had a chance to see her much, except in snippets on youtube and her a few recordings. I haven't even seen the Kathryn Grayson biopic, So This Is Love (1953). Is there a particular movie of Moore's that you would recommend for a newbie?

Uncle Stevie wrote:Jeanette MacDonald - Jeanette was more of a silent film star and her recorded was indeed of poor quality. As she grew up she gained more of a "movie personality". I actually like Jeannette more from her later films than the first ones. Three Daring Daughters with a 16 year old Jane Powell was a good example of Jeanette in maturity having appeal for everyone. I liked Jeanette but not as much as the others above.

I like her much more in her early movies, especially Love Me Tonight, though I can certainly enjoy Rose Marie and Maytime occasionally.


Uncle Stevie wrote:There you have my quick synopsis. I hope I did not bore anyone.

Not at all. I appreciate your sharing your interest in these singers!

jdb1 wrote:Moira opens a good point in saying that movie musicals are now the exception rather than the rule. I wonder why that is. With the immense popularity of music videos, you would think that the sight of people spontaneously bursting into song onscreen would not be hard to accept

I think that musicals are too nihilistic now to be truly popular, even though they often have exceptional actors singing the roles and are written by highly sophisticated composers. I really meant that I find it rather sad that what is often categorized as classical music was once a regular part of movies (and television and radio). While there are always those venues where you can find it, this type of music is sort of ghettoized in pop culture today and seen as pretentious, old-fashioned or not comprehensible to the average person. It wasn't always so. In my lifetime it certainly has contracted from view in the media, though some of my earliest memories are seeing Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts and music is one of the first programs to be cut from school budgets---so how will people keep an open mind about it?

Thanks to both of you for making me think more about how singing and classical music was once presented on film.
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Re: My Passion Is The Great Movie Opera Singers of 1930-1940

Postby mrsl » April 23rd, 2010, 6:04 pm

.
Welcome Uncle Stevie:

I always loved musicals, and I have a copy in some form, either video or DVD of most of the really big ones offered, in the fashion of Oklahoma, My Fair Lady, etc. Going by your list:

Deanna Durbin: Just never seemed real to me. A 12 year old alto Judy Garland singing Over the Rainbow sounded more like real singing, than Deanna at 16 doing opera. Can't put my finger on why.

Grace Moore: The only Moore I know is Colleen and her dollhouse in the Museum of Science and Industry in Chi town. Just kidding, but really, I never did hear of her, so it wouldn't be fair to judge.

Kathryn Grayson: Now for all I know about operatic singing, she does a fine job, for my ears. She sounds like a bell, and when she sings in English, her words are distinct.

Jeanette MacDonald: What I said above about Kathryn goes double for Jeanette.

You kept your comments to the 30's and 40's so Julie Andrews is not in the pack, but to me she was the best of all. We've had some strong discussions about Julie here and at the old TCM site, and it seems Julie is a love her or hate her singer. Also, one I would add for later would be Marni Nixon who was the voice for so many, like Natalie Wood, and Audrey Hepburn, to name a couple.

jdb1:

If you recall, when I saw Moulin Rouge (Nicole Kidman), a couple of years ago, I said "if this is what's coming, we're in trouble for musicals". That's not to say the pictures aren't pretty, and the costumes aren't colorful, but today's musical just doesn't have the oomph of the old ones. Even in black and white, I'll take Top Hat, or Swing Time over Moulin Rouge. But, although I didn't care that much for Chicago, I will give credit to Catherine Zeta Jones, and Renee Zellwegger for their energetic singing and dancing. Even Mamma Mia that I waited so long for turned out to be a disappointment.

But I'm pretty sure it's because I'm so used to the very professional offerings of Astaire, D. Powell, and Ruby Keeler that today's musicals seem so bland in contrast.

.
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Re: My Passion Is The Great Movie Opera Singers of 1930-1940

Postby Uncle Stevie » April 23rd, 2010, 7:57 pm

You all are great in your comments. I enjoy hearing about your likes and dislikes and just as we are all different - so goes the Nation. We all have opinions and might disagree but we all like entertainment and that is the key.

Many spoke of big big stars I have not mentioned and I surely do own DVDs of Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly Doris Day, Debbie Reynolds, and others who crowned the now forgotten musical era. I am just in love with that Golden Age of movie music people. That is my passion.

To answer a few comments. Deanna Durbin absolutely was unreal as a 16 year old singing opera. Her singing voice was so mature for her age that it cost her work. She tried out for The Wizzard Of Oz but was rejected because she did not sound like a young teenager. Deanna faired better in the movies she did because they placed in maturing roles. Deanna Durbin was the highest paid female celebrity of her day and at age 19 was earning about $400,000 per year. By the time she was 18 her income was $250,000 a year. Her voice was often described as "natural and beautiful" and her version of "One Fine Day" from Madame Butterfly, with Leopold Stokowski conducting the orchestra, became a classic. Deanna was a Hollywood star in every way. There were Deanna Durbin dolls and dresses. An engineering firm named its so-called dream home in her honor. Her first screen kiss was described in a headline story across the continent. What makes Deanna Durbin's story different is that she was never comfortable with adulation. When she was at the top of her career as Hollywood's leading actress and singer, she turned her back on that world for a life of seclusion. Her first two marriages had failed and she married her third husband and retired to France with two children and never appeared in public again. She was 28 when she did that.

Grace Moore was a star and to start out with her best movies I suggest firstly "When You're In Love" with Cary Grant. My next choice would be "The King Steps Out" with Franchot Tone. Both of those movies represent her in a good way that captivate her marvelous smile and humor not to mention some great singing experiences. I also liked "I'll Take Romance with Melvyn Douglas. As you can see she did costar with some big name male leads and she enjoyed every movie she made. She just loved to perform.

There was another singer who, to me, seemed like a twin sister of early Jeannette MacDonald. Evelyn Laye was an English born performer who also appeared in movies, stage plays, and even Broadway. She was lesser known but lasted the longest as an actress in the movies and recently died at age 95. She performed until she was 92. She also did TV work.
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Re: My Passion Is The Great Movie Opera Singers of 1930-1940

Postby feaito » April 24th, 2010, 6:48 pm

It is uncanny to have found this thread because today I've just watched for the "nth" time my favorite all-time movie musical "Love Me Tonight" (1932) in my building's projection room (I introduced a friend to it and he liked it a lot). After the film we commented about the soundtrack, Chevalier, Jeanette, lovely Myrna Loy, the great cast, the risqué dialogue and situations; the witty and sophisticated exchanges between the characters; censorship issues; Jeanette's reported jealousy over Mamoulian's favoring of Myrna, etc. We had a wonderful evening. And my friend got stuck with "Isn't it Romantic" in his head. :D

Stevie, my two favorite musicals feature two of your faves, the aforementioned LMT (Jeanette) and "Kiss Me Kate" (1953) with lovely Kathryn Grayson... Is there any greater love song than Cole Porter's awesome "So In Love"?

I haven't yet seen any film featuring Grace Moore, Lily Pons or Gladys Swarthout, although I have somewhere "That Girl from Paris" on Tape.

Another favorite actress singer in the operetta style of mine is lovely Irene Dunne, who's superb singing in The Folk who Live on the Hill in "High, Wide and Handsome" and other great standards such as You Couldn't Be Cuter, Lovely To Look at, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes et al in other films.

And although you said your favorites are the female operatic singers I recommend you to check Mamoulian's "The Gay Desperado" with Opera singer Nino Martini and a very young Ida Lupino. It is a delightful musical. Welcome to the Boards. :D

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Re: My Passion Is The Great Movie Opera Singers of 1930-1940

Postby moira finnie » April 25th, 2010, 10:21 am

Thanks for the response to my queries, Stevie & Fernando.

Good news!

A five-film boxed set of Deanna Durbin movies will be issued on June 9, 2010. These will include That Certain Age (1938), Mad About Music (1938), Three Smart Girls Grow Up (1939), Because of Him (1946), and For the Love of Mary (1948). You can read more about these new to DVD movies here.

I will look for copies of those Grace Moore movies you mentioned, Stevie. I did find a few clips of her singing on youtube.

Grace Moore with Lawrence Tibbett singing Wanting You from New Moon (1930):
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmP0KLI9P6I&feature=related[/youtube]


Here is The Old Refrain from The King Steps Out (1937):
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PyseEhzrd8w[/youtube]
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Re: My Passion Is The Great Movie Opera Singers of 1930-1940

Postby Uncle Stevie » April 25th, 2010, 4:25 pm

I know about the boxed set of Deanna Durbin Movies but what is still quetionable is whether those movies are re-mastered or not. TCM talked about the future re-mastering but when I wrote them they replied unsure. So no one knows if they will or not be upgraded. I pre-ordered the set but already own DVDs of those movies. I am investing, perhawps foolishly, into the prospect that they might actually be better than the ones I currently own. I am hoping for the best.

Deanna Durbin people have created a brand new CD called Spring Parade. It is reported to be all re-mastered songs (20 of them) and I am looking forward to receiving that. It is due out in May, 2010 and I have already ordered it.

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Re: My Passion Is The Great Movie Opera Singers of 1930-1940

Postby Birdy » April 26th, 2010, 10:27 am

Uncle Stevie,
I enjoyed reading your opinions and facts about your favorites. I will certainly look for Grace. While my favorite genre is 30s musicals, I prefer the clear, clean singing style of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. While Fred was not considered an outstanding singer (I've read that songs were written for his limited range), something about the whole package made those movies and stars lovable and thereby standing the test of time. I've always thought Ross Alexander had a nice, clear, strong singing voice as well as stood tall, dark and handsome) but, alas, was in the margins. It is always Maurice Chevalier who entrances me in all his movies and I find Jeannette a little hard to to stomache. We will look forward to hearing more about your interests and learning from you.
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Re: My Passion Is The Great Movie Opera Singers of 1930-1940

Postby Fossy » April 30th, 2010, 9:04 pm

Hello all! My interest is basically the same as Uncle Stevie. I perhaps would have given the thread a different name, say “My interest is in Film Sopranos of 1929 to 1959”. Obviously Uncle Stevie is keener than I.
I say 1929 because that is the year of my oldest movie “ The Love Parade” (Jeannette MacDonald), and 1959 because musicals featuring sopranos were made up to that time , or close to it.

I was sitting at my computer one day feeling a bit sorry for myself, when I discovered youtube and Deanna Durbin. Deanna`s name was among the first I can remember reading. ( The first was Hopalong Cassidy). The consequences of that meant that I would never forget her.

So I played her tunes and then started collecting her movies. I have all 21 plus the short MGM movie “Every Sunday”.

I will make a couple of observations.

Uncle Stevie said.
her version of "One Fine Day" from Madame Butterfly, with Leopold Stokowski conducting the orchestra, became a classic.

The version of “One Fine Day” That I have is from the movie “First Love” and does not feature Leopold Stokowski. The only songs that I have of Deanna singing with Stokowski are “Alleluja” and “Brindisi” (referred to in the movie “One Hundred Men And A Girl” as Traviata).

Mrsl said
A 12 year old alto Judy Garland singing Over the Rainbow sounded more like real singing, than Deanna at 16 doing opera. Can't put my finger on why.

The song was deleted from the film after a preview, because MGM chief executive Louis B. Mayer thought the song "slowed down the picture" and that "our star sings it in a barnyard". Harold Arlen, who was at the preview, and associate producer Arthur Freed lobbied successfully to get the song sequence reinstated.

Judy was born on 10 June 1922. “ Over The Rainbow “ was written by Harold Arlen with lyrics by E.Y.(Yip) Harburg especially for “The Wizard Of Oz” which premiered on 12 August 1939, a couple of months after her seventeenth birthday.It was pre-recorded for the movie on 7 Oct.1938,(Judy was 16, not 12)but was not released as a single until after the premiere. In my opinion it is one of the best songs of all time, and absolutely suited Judy`s voice.

The song is number one of the "Songs of the Century" list compiled by the Recording Industry Association of America and the National Endowment for the Arts. The American Film Institute also ranked Over the Rainbow the greatest movie song of all time on the list of "AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs". It was adopted (along with Irving Berlin's "White Christmas") by American troops in Europe in World War II as a symbol of the United States.


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