by Vania Chan, a member of the vocal ensemble for our 2021/22 production of Love Songs
Claude Vivier’s Love Songs is an extraordinary musical work – one that is unlike anything I have ever performed before. It is playful, whimsical, romantic and dramatic. Overall, it establishes a sense of child- like vulnerability and innocence.
When I was asked to curate this playlist, inspired by Vivier’s work, a stream of songs flooded my brain, and it was a challenge to narrow down the possible selections. I went with my gut-instinct, and chose pieces that perked my ears and that sparked an emotional and intellectual response. In many ways, I could connect thematic threads between the songs on this playlist, and the numerous elements that uniquely make up Vivier’s Love Songs.
There’s the playful and lighter side to love. Songs like Nat King Cole’s “L-O-V-E” and Ella Fitzgerald’s “It’s Only a Paper Moon” highlight that aspect of love through their toe-tapping and catchy tunes. I also threw in an aria from Bach’s Coffee Cantata “Ei! wie schmeckt der Coffee süße/Ah! how sweet coffee tastes!” – expressing a love for/addiction to coffee!
Whimsy, innocence and vulnerability can be heard in another work by Vivier, his famous “Lonely Child.” Although quite different in musical style and delivery, I hear the same qualities featured in Carl Orff’s “In Trutina” from Carmina Burana, “The Light in the Piazza” from the musical of the same title by Adam Guettel, “Married Life” from the film score by Michael Giacchino for the animated movie UP, “Gravity” written and performed by singer/songwriter Sara Bareilles, and “Love of My Life” performed by Freddie Mercury/Queen.
Vivier made direct references to Romeo and Juliet and Tristan und Isolde, so it only seemed fitting to include tracks that showcased the romance and drama of these star-crossed lovers. The balcony scene from the 1968 film features Olivia Hussey as Juliet and Leonard Whiting as Romeo delivering Shakespeare’s famous lines while accompanied by the music of Nino Rota. Wagner’s Prelude from his opera Tristan und Isolde tells a tale of longing and tragedy through the composer’s musical motives (leitmotifs). I added a scene from Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg), another tragic love story with music and lyrics by Michel Legrand.
Vivier is known for his experimentation with language and vocal textures. In Love Songs, he incorporated French, English, German, Latin, and even “made-up languages.” I wanted this playlist to reflect a similar mix of languages, as well as a variety of vocal timbres and stylistic/technical approaches. Edith Piaf’s distinct voice is as recognizable as the famous French tune she is known for “La Vie En Rose.” Natalie Dessay performs Cleopatra’s aria “V’adoro Pupille” (I adore you, eyes), from Handel’s Italian opera Giulio Cesare. German is represented through Bach’s Coffee Cantata, and Latin through Orff’s Carmina Burana.
The final track is an a capella arrangement of “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” performed by Pentatonix. Vivier showed great interest in the flexibility of the human voice, believing it to be capable of creating exciting, one of a kind sounds. In “Love Songs” he challenged singers to throw caution to the wind – to improvise and produce unusual vocal qualities – all the while working together as an ensemble. In their own style and manner, Pentatonix rose to the same challenge, and worked as a team to weave together their singing tones and other special voice effects.
It was a real treat to put together this playlist! I hope you enjoy listening to “Love Songs – Inspired.”