Pat & Patti get going!
by Jason Victor Serinus
It's no accident that new cabaret recordings from out diva Patricia Racette and gay icon Patti LuPone arrived for review just two days apart. On one disc we have a beloved opera star, Ms. Pat, going on 47, making an astonishing showing with her first recorded foray into the world of cabaret; on the other we have an equally cherished Broadway/cabaret idol, Ms. Patti, going on 64, proving that at an age when most female opera stars have already taken up residence in the House of Retired Diva Devotion, she remains supremely capable of commanding the stage, getting intimate with her audience, and belting it out like nobody's business.
Patricia Racette's Diva on Detour first. Recorded live in April 2012 before a presumably invited studio audience, Pat joins pianist Craig Terry to intersperse 18 standards, including three that became the property of Edith Piaf, with a lot of patter. Anyone who thinks that it's just gay men who are obsessed with their mothers needs to hear Pat go on and on about Mother Jackie. But you'll also learn that young Pat cut her teeth not on opera, but on jazz and torch songs she sang on weekends in the basement of a few retired "jazz guys" who lived in her New Hampshire hometown. It was there she developed the chest voice and idiomatic styling heard on her revelatory new recording.
"Which do I prefer, opera or cabaret?" she asks during the performance. "There is no difference. Gershwin and Puccini, I love them all." Opening with a medley of "I Got Rhythm/Get Happy" (respectively by the Gershwin brothers and the team of Arlen and Koehler), Racette blows away the cobwebs with her boundless energy, impeccable diction, and natural delivery. A born storyteller, she sounds totally in her element. She even manages to sneak in a reference to women loving women.
Her Piaf medley reveals the essence of her style. Racette seizes on "La Vie en Rose" as an opportunity to open her voice and vibrato, and sing with operatic fervor. As powerful as Racette's delivery may be, it can prove relentless when every song gets the full-out treatment. This makes her collaboration with Terry on "Come Rain or Come Shine" – a brilliant arrangement that mixes Arlen's classic melody with Bach's C Major Prelude, and allows her to end softly – all the more extraordinary. It's also one of the few tracks where you really focus on the piano. Otherwise, on an album that shamefully fails to credit its composers and songwriters, Terry's piano is so undermiked that it's hard to hear the magic he brings to the performance.
"I love singing sad songs," Racette declares at the start of a final medley that has her voice trembling in "Where Do You Start?" And indeed she does. Her entry on "Mon Dieu" is fabulous, her energy unbounded. But whether you will ultimately believe her, or come away thinking that she has put on a really good show, can only be determined by listening.
When it comes to Patti LuPone's Far Away Places , a live recording of the show she prepared for the very grand opening of New York City's Live at 54 Below, there are no reservations. Conceived by Scott Wittman, written by Jeffrey Richman with band arrangements and direction by pianist/vocalist Joseph Thalken, the disc intersperses four songs by Kurt Weill with others by Willie Nelson, Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer, Stephen Sondheim, the Gibbs, and yes, Edith Piaf. Beginning with Boland and Jaffe's attention-grabbing "Gypsy in My Soul," and ending with a memorable version of Weill and Maxwell Anderson's "September Song," it reveals the great LuPone totally in her element.
That element, it should be noted, includes the gay community. Patti knows her gay fans well, and treats them to lines whose meaning some may miss. She also knows her way with a song, wrapping her amazing voice and large range around every word, note, and meaning. Her energy is so positive, and her conviction total, you will likely rejoice that we can still enjoy her at her peak.