Mia Michaels’ “Ave Maria”

July 22, 2008 at 5:20 pm Leave a comment

As I wrote in a previous post, the use of the English lyric of Schubert’s Ave Maria was critical in enabling the meaning of Mia Michaels’ SYTYCD Top 5 Girls piece to be ‘heard’ by much of the audience. Even I–long a vociferous opponent of my countrywoman, Celine Dion–was able to overcome my distaste for the treacly chanteuse (like one habituates to a unpleasant smell) and put aside my existential atheism to appreciate the beauty and remarkable artistry of this routine. After the jump, more commentary on Ave Maria, including an attempt to sort out the confusion around the two separate versions (different melodies, different lyrics) in Latin, English and German. There were many choices Michaels could have made but, given her long association with Dion, the choice she did make was not only understandable, but also shrewd. Do I smell an Emmy nomination?

Nothing personal, Celine: among popular female divas, the quality of your vocal instrument is absolutely top-notch. You can belt out those glory notes and melisma your way through heartache with the best of them.

But, when you hear an English version of Ave Maria, you are hearing the Schubert one which is less technically challenging than the Bach/Gounod version. Both versions of Ave Maria are based on the same music: Bach’s Prelude in C Major from The Well-Tempered Clavier. But each takes the melody in a slightly different direction and each uses different lyrics. The Bach/Gounod is based on the Ave Maria prayer, and is sung exclusively in Latin. In the original key, the melody requires the ability to hit a B above high C with power. Thus, the tendency to hear mostly classically-trained singers do this one.

The Schubert is a different melody, with lyrics based on Sir Walter Scott’s Lady Of The Lake. Still challenging, and still often sung by classically trained singers who normally do it in the German, which was translated for Schubert by Franz Storck from the original 18th C English of Sir Walter Scott.

The confusion stems from the fact that you will also often hear the Schubert melody with the LATIN lyrics from the Bach/Gounod piece. This is most frequently (I think?) what you hear the pop singers do. I think it makes them feel all opera-ey.

You’ve got to be a pretty good singer to do Schubert, no matter what language you’re singing in. But it really takes a classically trained soprano (or tenor, although I prefer this from a female voice) to REALLY do justice to the Bach/Gounod. A notable exception that I found was by Jewel, if you can believe it. Have a listen for yourself.

Kathleen Battle’s Bach/Gounod

Andrea Bocelli’s Bach/Gounod

Kiri te Kanawa’s Bach/Gounod

no longer available — am searching it out elsewhere. In meantime, have a listen to:

Anna Moffo’s Bach/Gounod

Jewel’s Bach/Gounod

(she does a damn fine job of it. You can hear breathing trouble and thinning out on the high notes–but a small quibble.)

Kiri te Kanawa’s Schubert

Bocelli’s Schubert

Celine Dion’s Schubert


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