October 21, 2010

International sounds speak to the heart

Posted in Between Us column, Diversity, Entertainment at 5:02 am by dinaheng

Whenever I sit for an extended period of writing, I like to have music playing in the background. I don’t know why, but somehow, the murmur of music helps to get the thoughts from brain to fingers on keyboard.

Sometimes the sound of instrumental music wins the moment. Other days, it’s a vocalist, or the cast of a Broadway musical. This month, I’ve been enjoying a new Sony Classical CD by Vittorio Grigolo titled “The Italian Tenor.”

As you might expect, Grigolo’s album features famous Italian arias and lesser known operatic works. The tenor, who began singing solos as a young boy in Vatican City’s Sistine Chapel Choir, attracted the attention of Luciano Pavarotti, and starred alongside him in “Tosca” at the Rome Opera. From there, it was on to a debut at La Scala, Milan, and the world opera stage.

“Music communicates what’s inside of us,” Grigolo says. “When I sing, I feel like it’s not coming from me. Music is in the air, and you feel it inside. It’s special to make people happy, or to make them cry. I sing to people who were in the hospital, and they laugh afterward. Maybe I’m not good in talking, but I’m good in singing.”

Grigolo says appreciating opera may be a matter of cultural experience. Growing up in Italy, opera was an art form everyone was exposed to from childhood. A popular form of entertainment in 18th and 19th Century Europe, operas featured dramatic stories, dazzling effects and stirring music.

In the United States, he notes, most Americans are likely to get their first exposure to opera by seeing it in a movie.

“If you saw ‘Pretty Woman,’ you listened to ‘La Traviata,’ “ Grigolo says. “It just needs more media attention to bring opera out of the opera houses. Operas are stories that you may see in your own life. They were written so people wouldn’t do the same bad things. It was a way for the public to leave reality, and never go out and kill someone, or have an affair.”

He says there are few operas written in English, but to him, the musical “West Side Story” is an American opera.

“Why is opera wonderful?” he says. “Why is love so wonderful?”

“L-O-V-E” is the title of another great new album by Cuban music legend Issac Delgado, who’s been referred to as the “Frank Sinatra of salsa.” Delgado’s CD features 12 sultry Spanish recordings originally sung by Nat King Cole.

Between 1958 and 1962, Nat King Cole released his first three albums in Spanish, and among his fans was Delgado, who grew up listening to the recordings. Eight of the 12 songs on “L-O-V-E” can be found on Cole’s three Latin albums, and the remaining four are Cole classics that Delgado reinterpreted in Spanish.

In many ways, I suspect that most songs written are about, or stem from, stories about love. I remember walking past a shop in Paris and hearing the sound of Lara Fabian singing “je t’aime.” I had no idea what the words meant, but I had to buy the album, “Pure.”  (A close second is Patricia Kaas’ “Scene De Vie.”)

There’s something intoxicating about listening to sounds in foreign languages. While I don’t speak French, Spanish or Italian, I love imagining the words that are being sung. Music, after all, is a universal language that speaks to the heart.

Thankfully, it’s also a language that really needs no translation.




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