Friday, April 17, 2009

Out of the mouths of frumps

Last night I caught the clip of Susan Boyle, above, winning millions of people over by singing "I Dreamed a Dream" from "Les Mis" on the show "Britain's Got Talent."

Howard and I laughed happily at it. You had to. This dowdy woman, showing off such a voice. The crowd loved it.

It was fun to see the pop music crowd, accustomed to everyone looking plastic and perfect, suddenly discovering what the classical music crowd has long known: Sometimes the greatest voices come out of the biggest frumps.

A few years ago I read "The Toughest Show on Earth," Joseph Volpe's entertaining account of running the Metropolitan Opera. I believe that was the book where I picked up that Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, one of the greatest and most beautiful sopranos of the 20th century, was really a frump.

Here is Schwarzkopf done up. Incredible.

And in "Der Rosenkavalier," no one made a more beautiful Marschallin.

But as the great musicologist Pee Wee Herman said, everybody's got a big but. And in Schwarzkopf's case that big but was that offstage, she was a frump. Apparently after every concert she would immediately change into frumpy clothes which, German frumpy clothes are even frumpier than normal people's frumpy clothes. Her frump get-up included a dirndl skirt. That is what I read!

Schwarzkopf even showed up once at a post-concert party in her frump clothes. She had gone home and changed. Ha, ha! The hostess looked at her and said: "Elisabeth. How ... how charming." I remember reading that!

I tend to believe it because I do have a picture of Schwarzkopf being a frump. It is a shot of her rehearsing and somehow it ended up on the back of a record album. She probably did not object. Well, she obviously didn't, or else it would not have been there.

I remember looking at it as a teenager going, "What in the world?"

Unfortunately I don't have time now to go running around looking for this picture and scanning it in. Perhaps I can do that over the weekend. For now you will just have to take my word for it: Elisabeth Schwarzkopf was a not-so-secret frump!

It is a little early in the day to be hitting the Dowland but here is a cute YouTube clip of Schwarzkopf singing Dowland and then a Mozart song. There are neat pictures of her with it including a couple of semi-frump shots. One shows Schwarzkopf clowning with an ass. No jokes about her husband, the opportunistic and much-disliked Walter Legge! I mean an actual donkey.

There is another good shot of her pouring a big glass of red wine for a sexy-looking young man who I think could be Herbert von Karajan.

Imagine if Elisabeth Schwarzkopf had put on her frump face and gone on "Britain's Got Talent."

That would have been something to see!


  1. I think that you're right about the one picture; it is Von Karajan who was also opportunistic and much disliked.

  2. Re Susan Boyle:
    Remember the Josephine Sheffsky story from the 1st Bayreuth festival?