When the Muppets made canonical pieces sound better.
When The Muppets made canonical pieces sound better
by Jake Bellissimo (with some European perspective comments by Moritz Eggert)
What comes to mind when you think of The Muppets? A typical assumption is that they’re an international staple of witty comedy for all ages. This is true—throughout the years they’ve poked fun at a large variety of topics, one of the most notable being the different facets of the aristocratic and traditional state of classical music.
However, what people may not expect are moments where the Muppets not only parodied certain pieces, but improved them. When these sketches are removed from the context of a TV show, they boast very unusual interpretations of pieces that unintentionally expanded the repertoire.
• “Italian Street Song” from Victor Herbert’s Nauthy Marietta
o The rising tenor Placido Flamingo does a raucous but innovative interpretation of this classic aria. Complete with some truly avant-garde orchestration, this canonical piece becomes an improved storytelling soundscape while still retaining what made original recordings great. And with Seiji Ozawa conducting? That just can’t be beat.
(European perspective comment from the Bad Boy: Actually the realization of the animal orchestra is pretty amazing soundwise – you can tell that a lot of work went into crafting the sounds, and the polyphony is amazing. I especially love the pig solo and the fact that the refrain “life is gay” is sung by a Pink Flamingo…Seiji Ozawa is in full serious conducting mode, which makes it even better!)
• “La Ci Darem la Mano” from Mozart’s Don Giovanni
o I mean, the Mozart aria is okay, but it really just lacked the proper tension that this Muppets interpretation does. The mumbling of the words helps smooth out the tone, and the added bit of tension between the two singers really highlights the beauty of this passage.
(When Americans tread on our sacred Mozart they really DO tread on it. Why is Miss Piggy dressed like a Valkyrie? Are all operas Wagner operas? And what has Mozart to do with it? ”La Ci Darem la Mano” can be incredibly horrible or incredibly beautiful depending on the performance. Here it is rendered in a fashion that is somewhere in between, and it is the more interesting for it. Women’s Lib is definitely at work here with Miss Piggy being portrayed as the more active and dominant partner – a complete role reversal when compared to the original! I wish a magnet was used more often as creatively as here to end some performances I’ve seen lately…)
• “II. Adagio canabile” from Beethoven’s “Pathétique” Sonata
o A very innovative performer, the pianist Rowlf gives Glenn Gould a run for his money while humming and growling along with the music. This interpretation is unlike any I have heard before and emphasizes parts of the music that would have never stuck out on their own. Rowlf is a great artist and carefully plays with the most sensitive material. Add in a discussion with Beethoven’s bust superimposed on the recording and you have a unique performance.
(This is fantastic in so many ways…the Beethoven bust is animated in a minimalistic manner that is so much more effective than the boring CGI they would have used today. Makes me wish there was more stuff like this on TV for both children and adults. Perhaps then I would actually watch TV again…)
• “I. Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso – Allegro con spirito” from Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto in B-flat minor
o The decision to repeat the opening four chords and then re-compose the piece really does “fix” what was wrong with this concerto. Add in Victor Borge’s wonderful playing and it makes this interpretation shine.Probably the best part of this interpretation is the orchestral re-arrangement. I would have never wanted a kazoo in the orchestra, but now I don’t think I could listen to the piece without one!
(I fully admit that even though I am an admirer of Tchaikovsky I have always hated the B-flat minor concerto with all my guts. If it was rewritten like this I would listen to it much more often. Victor Borge is amazingly agile for his age, and what happens after the first three chords is a hoot!)