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Reviews from other months
Anna Russell Encore? Anna Russell - Comedienne, Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano; Tenor; Baritone; Pianist; Guitarist, Autriculatrix Extraordinary. Jimmy Carroll and his Miserable Five, José Rodriguez Lopez (piano) SONY SFK 60316 [76:46]



Madame Anna Russell first revealed these pearls of musical wisdom to New York audiences in 1958.

On this occasion, she begins her oration by covering Poetry in the Cellar with Jazz. "They read all kinds of way out poetry with the musicians clinkering behind," states Anna. "I imagine it is done by the angry young men or possibly the beat generation … I thought that meant beat-up but I am told that it doesn't mean that at all; it means beatific. Of course, I suppose if you get sufficiently beat up you could become beatific from the point of view of being slap-happy…However the whole thing is very existential" So, wearing her existential glasses Ms Russell proceeds to read two such poems: 'My Ear', about a well adjusted young lady who nevertheless has a left ear that behaves strangely - it changes into a gardenia but when it turns into a cauliflower she has to consult an ear and throat specialist who runs screamimg from his surgery and joins the used car business. The other poem asks the question who killed 'The Rubens Woman'… and Where is Whistler's Mother?

Madam Russell then turns her attention to Backwards with the Folk Song. She reminds us that the definition of the folk song is "Uncouth vocal utterances of the people about the cares and joys of ordinary life extemporised by the singer accompanying himself on a simple instrument." Anna then goes on to observe: "I don't see this going on, do you?. Researchers dredge the Kentucky Mountains, and pry into the archives of the museums and libraries…and then they accompany themselves on dulcimers and lutes - anything but simple instruments. They have to because (a) they can't find the simple instruments - or (b) if they do nobody can play them - or (c) if you do find out how to play them they're so antique they fall apart on you…. Then people start societies for the protection of this sort of thing which the general public refuse to go to on account of it all being too arty. So the folk song has now become the complete opposite of what it started out to be namely - the uncouth vocal utterances of the people…!" Madam Russell then assails our ears with five typical folk songs: 'A Lily Maid Sat Making Moan' ("I am the Lady Fripple - Frop and my husband did me dirt…); 'Old Mother Slipper Slopper' whose milk keeps turning sour; 'Ricky Ticky' with advice on how to carve up the family belongings through divorce; 'I'm sitting in the bar alone', described as one of the "self-pitying- ---school" songs ("I was once a movie star now I sit alone in the bar"); and finally 'Jolly Old Sigmund Freud' in which the singer tells why she killed the cat and blackened her husband's eye.

We then have two lectures on instruments. We are told everything about the French Horn including how to blow down it - "make a raspberry or Bronx Cheer at one end." We are also told it is not a very nice instrument for ladies because it could skid on their lipstick… "but if there is one lying around the house it makes a very smart hat!" The Bagpipe comes under scrutiny next. "Once I asked audiences to guess what it was but I had to give that up because some of the guesses, well…"

The grand climax of the programme is a detailed description of Verdi's Hamleto (or Prosciuttino). Madam Russell begins by admitting, " Now Verdi has made operas out of many of the Shakespeare plays. He has not as a matter of fact made one out of Hamlet but I am not, for a moment going to let that stand in my way." She tells us that Hamlet is a fantastically complicated story but there would have been no story at all had Hamlet avenged his father's death at once instead of hinkle pinkling around.

"Which just goes to show if you don't behave as you ought to you are liable to be terribly interesting!" Anna then spends nearly half an hour analysing this production singing all the parts on the way. We learn for instance that Polonias like Wotan (remember him from The Ring reviewed last month?) is also a crashing bore and that Ophelia is a little weak in the head - "…so naturally she is a coloratura soprano. We also learn about the Queen's big Arras.

Absolutely hilarious.


Ian Lace


Ian Lace

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