February 28, 2013
Duets Mixtape: Love’s Challenges
Thank goodness for the problems two people have falling in love and the jams that love lands them in: Otherwise, there would be much less to sing about. These duets show lovers at disagreeing, lovers facing trouble, and, of course, the happy ending.
- “A Fine Romance,” Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong
A funny, swinging take on what happens when lovers begin to take each other for granted.
- “Chiedi all’ aura lusinghiera” from The Elixir of Love (Gaetano Donizetti), Barbara Bonney and Gosta Winbergh.
He’s a good-hearted, but not too bright farmer; she’s a smart, flirtatious landowner. Will they get together? In this duet, she explains that she’s not ready to settle on just one guy (“Ask the breeze why it flits from flower to flower”) and he responds that he can’t just give her up (“Ask the river why it flows to the sea”). She says “Oh, I can give you some advice on how to forget somebody,” and he comes back with “that’s just not possible.” One thing you won’t forget, however, is a great Donizetti tune like this one.
- “People Will Say We’re in Love” from Oklahoma (Rodgers and Hammerstein)
Who’s going to be the first to openly say how they feel? The tension runs through this famous duet, where the lovers tease each other and almost – almost – come out with what they’re really feeling.
- “Tonight” from West Side Story (Leonard Bernstein/ Stephen Sondheim), Marni Nixon and Jim Bryant
The Balcony Scene from Romeo and Juliet transposed to 1950s New York. She’s a Puerto Rican immigrant, he’s the son of Polish immigrants, but their love is opposed by their families and friends, out of fear and prejudice. Composer Bernstein brilliantly caps this duet by foreshadowing the “Somewhere” theme, in which the lovers dream of freedom.
- “Ah! Quegli occhi” from Tosca (Giacomo Puccini), Jose Carreras and Montserrat Caballe
Temperamental, jealous Tosca worries that her lover, Mario Cavaradossi, may be thinking of straying. But actually, he’s a member of a secret group of freedom fighters, and is aiding one of his friends who has just escaped from prison. He needs Tosca to leave the church, so he can get his friend away before the arrival of the evil Baron Scarpia and his minions. But first Mario tells Tosca that he loves her, extravagantly.
- “Don’t Give Up” (Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush)
Peter Gabriel plays a working class guy who feels like a failure because he can’t find a job. Kate Bush supports him with the refrain “don’t give up”, but her voice seems increasingly isolated through the song. A duet very much for our times, this is about the toll unemployment takes on real people’s lives.
- “Ain’t Nothin’ Like the Real Thing”, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell
It doesn’t get more classic than this great duet about mutual devotion. Adversity conquered, happiness achieved.
- “Pa-pa-pa-pa-gena” from The Magic Flute (Mozart), Cecilia Bartoli and Bryn Terfel
Talk about teasing: Papagena keeps appearing as an old lady to test Papageno. Finally she reveals herself as the girl he’s been looking for the whole time. In this cute, mini-duet, they parrot each other (“parrot” in Italian is “papagallo”) as they imagine raising a family together.
Michael Zwiebach is the senior editor/ content manager for SFCV. He assigns all articles and content, manages the writing staff and does editing. A member of SFCV from the beginning, Michael holds a Ph.D. in music history from the University of California, Berkeley.
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