Sunday, May 10, 2009

Still cookin' at 81

This is just a quick note to say that, incredibly, Barbara Cook (left) is still casting her magical vocal spells at age 81, as evidenced by last week's stint with the Boston Pops. Like musical theatre queens of a certain age everywhere, the partner unit was in line for tickets the minute he heard she'd be in town - and to speak true, I'm always happy to worship at Barbara's altar with him. By now, of course, it can't be denied that the top of her register has thinned, and sounded a bit weak against the backing of the full Pops (she sounded fine, however, against her own combo, who were also on hand). But her middle range is as honeyed as ever. And though I suppose I should say that her marvelous phrasing remains intact, does the term "phrasing" really go far enough? What Cook does is what Sinatra did - somehow project personality as musical atmosphere. The romantic aura this 81-year-old emanates absolutely defies explanation, and yet I've seen her do it over and over again; she always does it, and it doesn't matter if the room is as small as the Cafe Carlyle, or as big as Symphony Hall; she could probably pull off the same trick in Fenway Park. Needless to say, the Pops audience sat rapt throughout the performance, and while most of the material was familiar to her die-hard fans, she did pull one surprise out of her trademark black caftan: Cole Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin." Incredibly, this was the first Porter cover Cook had ever done, and she turned it into one of her exquisite cameos of wistful rue. After just a few bars, Barbara Cook was once more under our skin.

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