Monday, 16 July 2018

The cabaret tradition: Melinda Hughes, Jeremy Limb & friends in Weimar and Back

Weimar & Back - Melinda Hughes & Jeremy Limb - Nimbus Alliance
Weill, Hollaender, Spoliansky, Heyman, Hughes & Limb; Melinda Hughes, Jeremy Limb; Nimbus Alliance Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 June 2018 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Operatic soprano in satirical cabaret mode, Melinda Hughes explores modern mores and contrasts them with Berlin in the Weimar Republic era

Melinda Hughes is an operatic soprano who has built an alternative career as a cabaret artist. In opera her appearances have included the title role in Verdi's Aida with Dorset Opoera. In cabaret she has mined a strong vein of Weimar Republic songs, including a disc devoted mainly to songs by Mischa Spoliansky, combined with her own material written in collaboration with her regular pianist Jeremy Limb.

On this new disc, Weimar and Back from Nimbus Alliance, Melinda Hughes and Jeremy Limb (who also did the arrangements) are joined by Paul Cavaciuti & Jamie Fisher (percussion), Robert Rickenberg (double bass), Martin White (Accordion), Eloise Prouse, Rachel Steadman, Charlie Cross, Jess Cox (string quartet) to perform repertoire which mixes Hughes & Limb's songs, on subjects as various as Berlin, Janacek's Emilia Marty, all the best guys being gay, and a city girl's lament on vising country estates, with songs by Kurt Weill, Werner R Heyman, Friedrich Hollaender and Mischa Spoliansky, not all dating from the Weimar Republic but with a similar cabaret tradition.


Hughes sings the German songs in both English and German, and this creates fascinating comparisions, making you see how modern ideas and mores of German cabaret could be, such as Friedrich Hollaender's Chuck all the men out of the Reichstag.

The disc is organised with a loose thematic flow, so we start in Berlin with songs by Kurt Weill and Hughes & Limb, before moving on to more timeless themes. One theme is that of being gay, contrasting Spoliansky's Das Lila Lied (The Lavender Song) written for Magnus Hirschfel'sInstitute of Sex Science in Berlin in 1920 with Hughes and Limb song on very modern manners, All the best men are gay.

Hughes sings the cabaret numbers with a lovely firm grast of the text (both English and German), making it count as if should yet combining this with a firm tonal core in the voice. She moves easily from singing to speech, and husky sprech-gesang is sensibly used as an effect rather than being her standard mode of delivery.

With the two Kurt Weill numbers, she goes into more operatic mode and the recording captures something of her natural vibrato which, for me, did not sit so well with the songs. Towards the end of the disc, I felt that the programme lost something of its ancient and modern focus. A song like Please don't invite me to your country estate is great fun, and one of Hughes trademark nmbers, but seems les linked to the rest of the songs.

Cabaret is a tricky genre to bring off, and few operatically trained singers manage to successfully cross the divide. Hughes does so in impressive style, creating a very distinct persona and keeping her musical training firmly in focus whilst never losing sight of cabaret's emphsis on words and politcal/satirical content.

You can catch Melinda's live showreel from New York on YouTube.

Melinda Hughes & Jeremy Limb -  In Berlin
Kurt Weill - Berlin im Licht
Melinda Hughes & Jeremy Limb -   We've been here before
Werner R. Heyman - Monotonous Night
Friedrich Hollaender - Illusions
Mischa Spoliansky & Kurt Schwabach - Das Lila Lied (The Lavender Song)
Melinda Hughes & Jeremy Limb - All the best men are gay
Melinda Hughes & Jeremy Limb - I loves my man
Melinda Hughes & Jeremy Limb -Where the Stolperstein stands
Kurt Weill & Roger Fernay - Youkali (Tango Habanera)
Friedrich Holllaender - Chuck all the men out of the Reichstage
Melinda Hughes & Jeremy Limb - Britannia Waives the rules
Melinda Hughes & Jeremy Limb - Please don't invite me to your country estate
Mischa Spoliansky & Robert Gilbert - Der Mensch muss eine Heimat haben
Melinda Hughes (vocals)
Jeremy Limb (piano)
Paul Cavaciuti & Jamie Fisher (percussion)
Robert Rickenberg (double bass)
Martin White (Accordion)
Eloise Prouse, Rachel Steadman, Charlie Cross, Jess Cox (string quartet)
Recorded at The Metropolis Studios, Cheyne Productions Ltd, 2018
NIMBUS ALLIANCE NI6367 1CD [51.01]
Available from Amazon.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • A new, yet familiar piece: Benjamin Zander on his interpretation of Beethoven's Choral Symphony  - interview
  • More than just Vox patris coelestis: a new William Mundy disc from Edinburgh (★★★★)  - CD review
  • 75th birthday celebrations: Robin Holloway's chamber music on Sheva Contemporary  (★★★★)  - CD review
  • Striking a chord: Alison Bechdel's Fun Home as a musical at the Young Vic  - (★★★★)  musical theatre review
  • Romantic exploration: Rheinberger and Scholz piano concertos from Simon Callaghan (★★★★)  - CD review
  • Inner demons - Mozart's Idomeneo at the Buxton Festival  (★★★½) - Opera review
  • Rip-roaring rarity: Verdi's Alzira in a rare outing at the Buxton International Festival (★★★★) - Opera review
  • Changing the discourse, soprano Madeleine Pierard & director Sophie Gilpin talk about SWAP'ra - Interview
  • Garsington premiere: David Sawer & Rory Mullarkey's The Skating Rink (★★★★) - Opera review
  • Richly imaginative: Richard Blackford 's Niobe with Tamsin Waley-Cohen (★★★★★) - Cd review
  • Sublime Illusions - Noh Reimagined, a weekend of Noh performance and workshops at Kings Place (★★★★★) - music theatre review
  • Home

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