Opera singer Stephanie Blythe to perform 'Songs of Kate Smith' homage concert
BY JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer
Thursday, October 25, 2012
10/25/12 at 4:27 AM
Stephanie Blythe no longer wants to sing to the tops of people's heads.
"For the last few years," Blythe said, "I've stopped including the texts of the songs I do in recitals or concerts. When the audience has the text in front of them, they're more likely to read along - I know I've been guilty of that myself.
"But it ends up making for a very passive audience," she said. "When you're counting down the lines of a poem or lyric on a page, you really aren't hearing the words or the music being performed. And a performance is all about that connection between the audience and the stage."
Blythe is one of the opera world's most versatile and acclaimed performers, regularly performing with the world's major opera companies and symphonic orchestras.
Her repertoire ranges from Baroque-era works to 20th-century operas, from the drama of Wagner and Verdi to the lightness of Gilbert and Sullivan.
She made her debut in the title role of "Carmen" in a 1999 Tulsa Opera production, which attracted national attention.
Blythe returns to Tulsa this weekend, but with a program quite removed from the world of opera.
"We'll Meet Again: The Songs of Kate Smith" is a tribute in music and anecdotes to one of the most influential American vocalists of the 20th century. The concert is being presented by Choregus Productions.
"Kate Smith was an incredibly important figure in our nation's history - in the songs she chose to sing and the way she chose to live her life," Blythe said. "She was an ambassador for America to the world. She loved everything about this country, and this country loved her back."
Smith is best known for popularizing Irving Berlin's "God Bless America," which she debuted in the 1943 film, "This is the Army." Smith also had hits with such songs as "White Cliffs of Dover," "Dream a Little Dream of Me" and "When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain," which was the theme song for her radio and TV shows of the 1930s, '40s and '50s.
"It's a little disheartening at how many people have no idea who she is," Blythe said. "If they know anything about her, it's 'God Bless America,' but there's so much more to Kate Smith than 'God Bless America.' She was someone who believed in bringing people together through music, galvanizing a nation during World War II.
"She had a very different idea about celebrity and the responsibilities that come with celebrity," Blythe said. "And I have to admit, it saddened me that this attitude is considered antiquated."
Smith also recorded more than 2,200 songs in her 50-year career, even embracing the rise of rock music in 1960s.
It's something, Blythe said, that she tries to stress when working with younger singers or performing for younger audiences - giving them a sense of the "mountain of fantastic music" that is a part of the Great American Songbook but is rarely performed.
The show Blythe will perform, accompanied by pianist Craig Terry, intersperses many of the songs Smith made famous with stories about her life.
And for Blythe, that's perhaps the most challenging part about this concert.
"It's not the easiest thing for a singer to do, to switch from singing to talking," she said, with a little laugh. "You're having to access two different sides of your brain.
"As for the music itself, these aren't easy songs, but this style of singing isn't difficult for me to take on," Blythe said. "But I don't do an impersonation of Kate Smith, or try to sound like her in any way."
Blythe does not include texts in the programs for her classical recitals, but she takes the concept a step further with her Kate Smith performance.
"We provide no programs at all," she said. "It's partly because many of these songs are familiar, but also because I'm wanting that active audience.
"I can be singing a song like 'White Cliffs of Dover,' and look out in the audience and see a gentleman with a tear in his eye," Blythe said. "For that moment, we have that connection. It affects me, and how I might perform, and if affects him, because he is going to hear that song, and all the rest of the songs, in a different way."
WWII vet ticket offer
Choregus Productions is offering free tickets to "We'll Meet Again: The Songs of Kate Smith" to veterans of World War II and their spouses. Those accompanying veterans or spouses of veterans will be given a discount on tickets.
The free and discounted tickets is available only by calling Choregus Productions at 918-688-6112.
WE’LL MEET AGAIN: THE SONGS OF KATE SMITH
Performed by Stephanie Blythe
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Cascia Hall PAC,
2525 S. Yorktown Ave.
Tickets: $15-$45. 918-596-
Original Print Headline: Homage in song
James D. Watts Jr. 918-581-8478
Stephanie Blythe, one of the opera world's most versatile and acclaimed performers, made her debut in the title role of "Carmen" in a 1999 Tulsa Opera production. Courtesy