Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Douglas Messerli | "Night and Day" by Cole Porter, from "My Favorite Musical Theater Songs"


“Night and Day”

Composer: Cole Porter
Performer: Cole Porter
Composer: Cole Porter
Performer: Fred Astaire
Composer: Cole Porter
Performer: Ella Fitzgerald
Composer: Cole Porter
Performer: Mario Lanzo
Composer: Cole Porter
Performer: Frank Sinatra, 1957
Composer: Cole Porter
Performer: Frank Sinatra, 1962
Composer: Cole Porter
Performers: Gulda and Herbie Hancok, 1989
Composer: Cole Porter
Performer: Dionne Warwick, 1990
Composer: Cole Porter
Performers: John Barrowman and Kevin Kline, 2004
Composer: Cole Porter
Performer: Diana Krall, 2017

Perhaps one of the most difficult songs for performers to sing is Cole Porter’s song from his stage musical of 1932, Gay Divorce, which originally starred Fred Astaire, this time on Broadway, performing a work which is also one of the most remarkable songs ever composed for the musical theater. As John Barrowman reports in the film musical version in De-Lovely, an underrated film about Porter,  “the song goes so high and so long, it’s impossible to sing.” In fact, the tune begins in a strange seventh cord, leading to an F of the major 7th harmonic, and resolving into a B major 7th.  The ranges of this song make it nearly impossible for most male singers to transform from baritone to tenor on a moment’s notice and are equally challenging for female singers who must quickly move from alto to soprano.
     In short, it’s a nearly an impossible song to sing. Astaire, who was the original performer, sings it at an incredibly high, nearly alto pitch, not so very musically effective, although his usual ability to get to the heart of the song through his marvelous enunciations is remarkable. He is certainly one of the song’s best performers.
      Given the numerous heterosexual performers who have made this song central to their oeuvre, it is quite incredible, particularly as represented in the De-Lovely performance, of just how sincerely gay this song is. Perhaps there is no melody and lyric that more expresses the madness of gay intensity, the sudden attraction of another and the ache of that being for endless sex. Surely this is part of the heterosexual world as well, but the madness of that male on male ferocity has never been made clearer than in Porter’s provocative lyrics:

Like the beat, beat, beat of the tom tom
When the jungle shadows fall
Like the tick, tick, tock of the stately clock
As it stands against the wall
Like the drip, drip drip of the rain drops
When the summer showers through
A voice within me keeps repeating
You, you, you

Night and day you are the one
Only you beneath the moon or under the sun
Whether near to me or far it's no matter darling
Where you are
When the jungle shadows fall
Like the tick, tick, tock of the stately clock
As it stands against the wall
Like the drip, drip drip of the rain drops
When the summer showers through
A voice within me keeps repeating
You, you, you

Night and day you are the one
Only you beneath the moon or under the sun
Whether near to me or far it's no matter darling
Where you are
I think of you

This is a song of cruising, of exciting nights out when you simply can’t refuse your sexual desires.
    It’s rather strange, accordingly, when you think back on it, that this number was one of the major works in Frank Sinatra’s repertoire, and he recorded it several times over the years, as did the operatic singer, Mario Lanza. So too did major women performers, most notably Ella Fitzgerald and Dionne Warwick, with rather amazing results. My favorites, other than the so memorable Barrowman/Kline encounter, were jazz renditions such as Gulda’s and Herbie Hancock’s 1989 version and the amazing 2017 version by Diana Krall.
     It’s only on hearing this song perhaps a dozen or more times that you realize just how powerful its incessant “tom-tom” beats, its “drip, drip, drip,” and “tick, tick tock” lyrics make it so truly compelling that you might never get it out of your head. This is the compulsion of a gay man in search of his would-be lover. The song bores into the memory, and won’t allow you to forget the love of the singer/and or composer for whoever is the lover. Love, in this song, is truly obsessive, with no way out, nor possibility of escape, for either of the parties. It is a madness for the other: “you, you, you,” and neither the lover nor its object can possibly escape its impact. The greatness of this song is about compulsion, and there has never quite been a song so intense in its expression of that emotion.

Los Angeles, April 10, 2018
Reprinted from USTheater, Opera, and Performance, (April 2018).



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