Around the World: How not to produce a cross-over album...
By Jean Peccei
Around the World is, with a couple of exceptions, a pleasantly sung collection of 18 songs, of which most also appear on a later released DVD. The idea of presenting a collection of songs from around the world could have been interesting had it been produced with considerably more thought than is evidenced by the CD and its accompanying DVD.
Apart from Carreras' rather disastrous rendition of 'Greensleeves' and the soupy, overblown arrangements which are inappropriate to almost all of these simple songs, the main defect is the complete lack of documentation. Music may be a universal language, but listeners' experience of vocal music is so much deeper when they know the words and their meaning. The glossy insert consists largely of generic agency photos of exotic locations, some of which, e.g. Easter Island, or Rome, have nothing whatsoever to do with the songs on the album. It contains no lyrics, translations, or even notes about the individual songs and no indication of which countries they allegedly come from.
On the DVD, Carreras' commentary on the songs (interspersed with scenes of the places they are meant to 'represent') is often bland and cliché-ridden, does little to illuminate the songs themselves, and is sometimes quite inaccurate. It would have taken only a small amount of effort for the producers to research the songs properly and present them in an appropriate context rather than shoe-horning them into whatever travelogue footage happened to be available. Such an effort would have avoided a "musical introduction to some very different countries" which in reality is no such thing, except on the most superficial level.
Vienna is introduced with 'Hymne à l'amour', that quintessentially Parisian song made famous by that most quintessential of Parisians, Edith Piaf.
Footage of Rome is accompanied by 'Vurria', a song about Naples. Perhaps the producers thought no one would notice, despite the fact that "Napule mia" is its repeated refrain?
New York gets a song by a composer from... er... Gibraltar, with lyrics that have nothing to do with either New York or the USA, and although it was originally written in English, it is sung on the CD in... er... Italian.
Carreras on Africa, "The rhythm of the next song brings us to Africa. Many artists, painters, musicians, and poets described the luminous contrast that floods the landscape when the sun disappears behind the horizon, This atmosphere moves me deeply. Here, as we quietly observe this marvelous natural spectacle, we find peace."
There is a wealth of beautiful indigenous African music that could have been used - the Misa Luba, and the songs of Joseph Shabalala (of Ladysmith Black Mambazo) are but two examples. Instead, the song used on the CD, 'Kum ba yah', is no more representative of Africa than Elvis Presley's 'It's now or never' is representative of Italy. (The Presley song is based on the melody of 'O sole mio'.).
Aspects of its melody do hark back to the music of West Africa, but the song itself is a traditional 'Negro spiritual' from the American South. "Kum ba yah" means "Come by here" in Gullah, an English-based creole which was originally spoken by African American slaves in the lowlands of South Carolina and is still spoken in parts of that state.
Says Carreras of New Zealand, "There is probably not a single place in the world where the glaciers are so gigantic, the meadows so green, the ocean so blue, and where the sun shines so brightly. We might find some of these wonders of nature in other parts of the world, but nowhere will we find all the things that make our planet unique in such a compact area."
All of this is true - the New Zealand tourist board could not have said it better. But why is there no mention of the background to 'Hine e Hine', the fact that it is a Maori lullaby or any mention of this song's unique status in New Zealand? Confronted with CD 'notes' that gave no indication of its origin, one bemused music critic hazarded a guess from the composer's name, Princess Te Rang Pai, that it might be from China.
In Argentina, Carreras informs the viewer that 'Alfonsina y el mar' "tells of saying good-bye and the sea, and it is one of the loveliest Argentine songs that was ever written."
The song is indeed hauntingly beautiful, but it is about considerably more than "saying good-bye and the sea". It was written in memory of the Argentine poet Alfonsina Storni. At the age of 46, suffering from cancer and severe depression following the deaths of three of her closest friends, she committed suicide by walking into the sea at Mar del Plata. The song incorporates part of her final poem, 'Voy a dormir' (I am going to sleep).
There is nothing inherently wrong with a classical singer 'crossing-over', but a good cross-over album needs and deserves just as much care paid to production values and musical scholarship as does a classical one. Alas, it didn't happen here.
Lyrics for this CD (with notes and translations for some of the songs, including 'Alfonsina y el mar')
This page was last updated on: December 9, 2003