Who can sing Rufus’s music? (part 3)

February 4, 2006

The various responses to this question were widely varied and passionate. I realized that my question was really too vague to get a focused answer, but the ambiguity of the question brought out various facets not considered before.

Based upon your responses, the question will be more useful by divorcing it from a specific artist, and breaking it into several components:

  1. The issue of straight men singing gay-specific music;
  2. Does a song with lyrics about a woman’s love for her male lover translate perfectly to a song about a male lover’s for his male lover?
  3. Conversely, does a song with lyrics about a male’s love for her female lover translate perfectly to a song about a male lover’s for his male lover?
  4. Vary the two situations above considering the second couple is a lesbian couple instead of a gay couple.
  5. The issue of changing pronouns “solves” the issue for some
  6. Personality specific songs can be awkard being sung by someone who is not the artist (“Dinner at Eight”)
  7. What of Rufus’s music could make it into the repertoire of classical vocalists? The answer is often lyric related; the courage and/or willingness of otherwise “serious” artists is a necessary prerequisite.

I’d like to feature some of the comments about these questions in upcoming blogs.

The first comment is by slvrlark:

Charles E Rhodes

When it comes to “art songs” (a term which I detest, since it suggests that many of the great songs which I love more than anything in the world and think are of unequalled artistry are not actually art), the gender issue has intrigued me for a long time.

It has been quite acceptable since at least the mid-19th century for women to sing songs clearly intended for men to sing. Jenny Lind, the famous Swedish soprano, was known to have sung Schubert’s “Die Schöne Müllerin,” (The Beautiful Miller Maid), which is entirely from the voice of a young man (well, and a brook, too). Women have never hesitated to sing any number of songs that are very much from a man’s point of view, whether by Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Ravel, etc.

On the other hand, Schumann’s song cycle “Frauenliebe und Leben,” (A woman’s life and loves), which is from the point of view of a woman from youth to old age, is never, ever sung by a man–at least, I have never heard of it having been. I have often thought that, in these days of Queer Theory, it would be something a male singer would want to do, just to shake things up.

Mark Carlson

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