I heard Stephanie Blythe and Blythely Oratonio in an online concert on February 13, 2021, a Valentine’s Day show called “It’s Love That Keeps Us Together.” Blythe is an opera singer, a mezzo I’ve heard many times at the Met and elsewhere, a priceless artist. She created the drag alter ego Blythely Oratonio in Philadelphia. He’s a tenor who specializes in opera arias and power ballads, often stitched together. I heard Oratonio in concert last February, it was an amazing night. You can read my review here:
Blythe opened with “Secret Love,” that Doris Day classic, which she sang accompanying herself on the ukulele, like every song on the program! Dear Lord her voice sounded great. Juicy and with all of the richness and color that you expect with a first class opera voice, but warm and direct and tied to the words like the greatest classic American pop singers.
Next she sang “You’re the Cream in My Coffee.” You’re the salt in my stew! Blythe’s Boston terrier June made a few unscheduled appearances during this song. Don’t you love online concerts. Let me say that Blythe was extraordinary at playing the ukulele, the chords were tricky and she played with great confidence and style. Here she is singing "Tonight You Belong To Me" with Nicole Heaston:
One of the most touching songs in the rep is Irving Berlin’s “Always.” Blythe told two songs about the history of the song. Berlin couldn’t read or really play the piano. He had a secretary named Mona who would listen to his songs and write them out. She complained that he was always writing songs but he never wrote a song for her, so he wrote “I’ll be loving you, Mona.” As you might imagine, that song went nowhere!
Then years later Berlin was getting married to his second wife, Ellin Mackay. He rewrote the song as “I’ll be loving you always” and gave it to her as a wedding present. She was a Roman Catholic Irish woman - - her father said that if she married Berlin (a Russian Jew) he would disown and disinherit her. He was a millionaire so this was considerable. But she married Berlin anyway and Berlin tried to make up the loss to her by giving her the rights and royalties to “Always.”
Blythely Oratonio came on the scene, such a hoot. He sang “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby.” He played the ukulele as well as Blythe does! How ironic. Next he sang a song that Blythe wrote for him, “Tomorrow, Someday.” It’s a lovely song, the tune goes to the places you want it to go, like in so many great songs, but still a few little unexpected turns here and here. Blythe herself chimed in with a harmony counterpoint from a little screen in the upper corner of the larger screen. This was charming but I would rather have seen an effect that was used all the time in 1970s television. I don’t know how to explain it, I’ll just show you. Here's Barbra and Burt. The money moment happens around 6:10:
We came back to Blythe and she sang a song I adore, “The One I Love Belongs To Somebody Else,” which I know from the Julie London recording. Such a fabulous song and lovingly sung by Blythe.
One of the greatest things about Blythe’s performances of these great old songs is that she almost always sang the verse to the song, the intro. It’s rare that you hear the verse. She said how much she loved the verse to the next song, “I Want To Be Loved By You.” She first sang the song in a sort of straightforward medium tempo, and it was charming. Then she slowed it down and sang it as Marilyn Monroe, which was hilarious and would you believe, a little arousing!
Next we had a medley by that marvelous song stylist, Blythely Oratonio. The songs were:
“Where Do I Begin? (Theme from *Love Story*),” “L-O-V-E,” and “Let’s Go Eat Worms in the Garden.” Have you ever heard of this song, “Let Go Eat Worms In the Garden”? I had not.
Did you know that “Love Will Keep Us Together” was written by Neil Sedaka? I did not. She said she had the song on a 45 and encouraged the audience members who weren’t familiar with 45s to Google it. On your own time, please.
She sang “Come Again, Sweet Love Doth Now Invite” by John Dowland, written in 1597. Dowland never would have imagined it being performed with ukulele in an online concert, but I don’t think he could ask for it to be sung more beautifully than Blythe sang it.
Blythely Oratonio appreciated Blythe taking the concert in a more classical direction, so he responded by singing “Be My Love!” Oh how I love that song! But why did he not sing the high C at the end? You know he would nail it. Blythe responded with “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life,” which she sang with all the Wagnerian accents that I didn’t realize have been missing from this song all these years.
She ended with a magical Gershwin song, “Someone To Watch Over Me,” which of course she sang with the verse, which she sang with such delicacy and tenderness, it was deeply meaningful. She wished us all a happy Valentine’s Day and reminded us that we are all our own best valentine.