In her Sound of Music medley at the Academy Awards, Lady Gaga refrained from revamping anything and simply let her stunning voice carry her straightforward interpretation.
Outlandish costumes may have boosted her to superstardom, but she’s talented enough to nurture her career in a simple but elegant white gown. And intelligent enough to know that one can be thoroughly creative by working within more traditional “confines” and refining old material to new artistic heights. Exactly what she did at the Oscars. She also had the humility to spend six months on extra vocal training to get things just right.
Her reward: the audience loved it, and a teary-eyed Julie Andrews came out to congratulate and hug her. Elisabeth von Trapp, granddaughter of the original Maria and probably the best judge, called the performance “exquisite.”
If there’s someone who does have artistic license to do non-standard interpretations of songs from the movie/musical, it is precisely von Trapp. I had the privilege of hearing her perform Sunday at Hungar’s Parish Church in Bridgetown, Virginia, an Episcopal church which dates from the 1740s. Light flooded in from the ten huge windows that line the sides of the building and the wall behind the altar, illuminating the white interior, adding a magical touch to an afternoon of poetry, singing and guitar playing. Her personal story telling enthralled the audience of over a hundred in the colonial-era box pews.
Von Trapp opened with a guitar-and-voice arrangement of Robert Frost’s “The Road Less Travelled” and continued with a performance marked by Sound of Music tunes interspersed with stories of her childhood, and how screenwriters embellished and re-wrote things. “You can’t go over those mountains into Switzerland,” her father, Werner – represented in the film as Kurt – told her when she was a little girl. Actually, you’d end up in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, the resort in Bavaria. Actually, the family never “escaped” into Switzerland, but took a train for a concert tour into Italy first, as she recounts in this recent column (also cited above).
She recounted the von Trapp journey from exile to new homeland as a lead-in to “Immigrant Eyes,” Guy Clark’s homage to his grandfather, from which she segued into “America.” Later, in “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” she sang an emphatically singular “land where my father died”—an appropriate reminder we’re not all nth-generation Anglo-Saxons. She transitioned from that song into Edelweiss, then back into “let freedom ring.”
She performed other poetry put to music, including Frost’s “A Minor Bird” and an a cappella haiku of her own. She ended with “I’ll Be Seeing You” leading into a “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World” medley.
Not only does she “own” these songs as a von Trapp, she has even played the part of Maria in productions of the musical, so she’s had to learn the lyrics and spoken lines by heart. With that background and level of mastery, she has the license and the ability to deviate significantly from the familiar Rogers and Hammerstein arrangements.
Both Elisabeth von Trapp’s stylizations and Lady Gaga’s “less inventive” versions of the familiar Sound of Music numbers are fitting tributes to the now-classic film.
For more information about this performer, including tour information, see her website at http://elisabethvontrapp.com/.