Julie’s “sprechstimme”

Posted on May 9th, 2010

Oh, why, oh, why, was she ever persuaded to do it? I chose not to venture to the 02 last night for Julie Andrews’ much-publicised return to the London stage (if that humongous arena can be characterised as such) but the rash of reports now filtering through speak of mass walk-outs and demands for refunds. She was never really going to sing, was she? Not in the accepted sense. The minute I heard the word “sprechstimme” (that’s German for a mode of singing called speech-song, folks) I feared the worst. I mean she wouldn’t be singing Schoenberg, would she?

We know the long and harrowing tale of her vocal cysts and the disastrous surgery that followed and when I last interviewed her (the fourth occasion) the husky legacy was there for all to hear. She was even willing to talk about it. So, laser treatment or not, why risk the disappointment of those, like me, who idolised her? At very best, this “personal appearance” was misrepresented as some kind of come-back and even if it wasn’t it must have been known that that’s how people would read it? I’m guessing money is at the root of it but me, I’m going to hang on to the memory of being present (and involved, as in writing the interview-cum-liner notes) when she recorded what turned out to be a pretty sensational Richard Rodgers album back in 1994. The voice had changed, the tessitura had dropped, but the artistry was incomparable and there were fabulous new notes hitherto hidden a long way beneath that pristine upper register we knew and loved so well.

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