For the first “Singer Appreciation” post, I thought I’d start with one of the prototypical leading men of the 20th century. These posts are not going to be focused on biography, but instead will focus on the singing specifically. Biographical links are provided at the end.
John Raitt (1917-2005) had one of his greatest triumphs with Billy Bigelow in Carousel (on Broadway, Gordon MacRae played him in the movie). In this clip we see Mr. Raitt as Billy in a televised performance of “Soliloquy”, which is the sprawling song that reveals Billy’s excitement and fear of Julie giving birth to a boy or girl respectively.
By the way, all ye gentlemen who want to sing Billy, this is the guy to watch since:
“The seven-minute-long “Soliloquy” was written specifically for Mr. Raitt, after he auditioned by singing some operatic arias.” – New York Times Obituary
Personally, what I love about Mr. Raitt’s voice is the mixture of strength with sweetness. In the “My little girl” section, he moves through the line just beautifully and with a tenderness that is surprising after his snarly boasting during the “My boy Bill” portion. But just as soon as he’s dreamed of his daughter, he moves back to pure strength for the final phrases. He ends on a high Bb, which is hardly the normal way of ending this piece. But it’s terrifically exciting.
As for his acting, his beats, transitions, and sheer physical vitality are inspired and inspiring. He also manages to make Billy, who is morally dubious, into a character that we can care about.
What do you hear and see? Some thoughts to consider:
- Is he a tenor or baritone?
- Is he primarily classical (operatic) or musical theater? Why?
- What can modern classical singers learn from him?
- What can modern musical theater singers learn from him?
Please share your thoughts in the comments.
|John Raitt (on Wikipedia)|
|New York Times Obituary|
|PBS’ Broadway: The American Musical: John Raitt|