When Sports And Art Collide

By now you’ve probably heard Scottish sports broadcaster Andrew Cotter doing hilarious play-by-play commentary as his two dogs, Olive and Mabel, do what dogs do (eat, play, swim). 

Cotter is one of a handful of sportscasters who has been dedicating their expertise to activities that do not involve balls, cleats or sweat. 

What this tells us is that humans love competition, in sports and many other areas of life. Why not try it with the arts as well?

Fred Baumgarten has created a brackets-style competition involving music, to help Compass readers while away their time productively in quarantine. He explains the rules below. 

— Cynthia Hochswender

Let’s play. Antonin Dvorák, the Czech composer best known for his “New World” symphony, wrote many beautiful songs — none more beloved than the “Song to the Moon” from his opera “Rusalka,” in which the title character, a water nymph, pleads for the return of a human lover. It is unforgettable, from its harp introduction to its ravishing English horn bridge to the dramatic octave-leap conclusion. “Song to the Moon” has been recorded many times both in the opera and as a stand-alone showpiece.

You’ll need a computer or other device to try this game. The best artists are represented in YouTube clips, but you can also try Spotify. And of course, play this with your own favorite classical tunes, or search for covers of popular tunes as well. 

Who sang “Song to the Moon” best? Here are my favorites. These were all found on YouTube; to listen, go to the website and type in the singer, year and “Song to the Moon.” 

1. Renee Fleming (2010)

The American soprano long owned this role. Her voice has a liquid quality, and she milks every note. This version is a bit slow and overdone, the vowels a tad mushy, but it’s also romantic and vulnerable.

2. Lucia Popp (1980)

Popp was a Slovak opera star who died (sadly) at age 54 of a brain tumor. If you can get past the fair recording quality, this is superb: phrasing, pronunciation  and bell-like tone meld perfectly with the song in a stirring but straightforward interpretation.

3. Kristian Opolais (2011)

With her star turn as Rusalka at the Met a few years ago, the Latvian soprano snatched the crown from Fleming. Her version here displays her solid, powerful voice and flawless diction (a built-in advantage for Eastern Europeans), but also her weakness: lack of a strong distinguishing tone. The bad audio quality doesn’t help.

4. Leontyne Price (year unknown)

I could listen to Price sing anything to anyone — to a rock if need be. However, this recording of unknown vintage does not do her nor Dvorák justice. The voice is there, but odd interpretive choices and the American difficulty with the pronunciation hamper it.

5. Gabriela Benacková (1993)

This recording from the opera’s Met premiere is intoxicating. The Czech soprano Benacková sings with passion and a smoky voice. I should have been there! Also good: the 1981 recording.

6. Frederica von Stade (2012)

One of the great voices of all time, the American soprano here gives a ravishing performance (of course), but too slow and cautious for my liking.

Now, this isn’t actually like a brackets competition. I’m just going to announce my winner: Benacková.

However, if you’d like to liven up your outdoor social distancing get-togethers with friends, bring out a laptop, smart phone or tablet computer and see what happens when friends face off over opera (or whatever music you prefer).

But remember: No high fives and no chest bumps.

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