I blame one of my Facebook friends, I really do. She posted the video – I viewed it and I told myself, “Don’t read the comments, don’t read them – it’s like reading comments in the news. You’ll just get in trouble.” Well. I did.
As most of my friends know, Julie Andrews is why I’m a singer. So when I see her doing something that is, at least by contemporary standards, wildly inappropriate, I cringe. So when I saw a video of her singing “Porgy, I’s your woman now” with Robert Goulet (another childhood favorite), all I could think was “facepalm.” It is sung beautifully. How could it not be? But there are several things about it that are just wrong.
- The opera is written specifically for African-Americans. The Gershwin estate forbids productions of the opera from casting non-African-Americans.
- Julie Andrews and Robert Goulet are the two whitest people on the face of the earth.
- I really have trouble with white people singing black dialect. I even have trouble with black people singing black dialect if it sounds contrived. In other words, if it’s too self-consciously done.
- Julie Andrews is the queen of English diction. Proper British diction. It’s why I fell in love with her in Mary Poppins and Sound of Music. Not only is she the whitest person in the world, she is the most British. Not only is Porgy and Bess African-American, it’s African-American.
- While many songs from P&B are standards – “Summertime,” “I got plenty of nuttin'”, “It ain’t necessarily so,” – “Porgy, I’s your woman now” is not. It is show-specific.
- Even if this was part of a Gershwin tribute, there are other duets that could’ve worked.
So I intended to watch the video, maybe repost it, and that’d be the end of it. And then I decided to see what other people thought.
And someone said [paraphrasing], “Wow, that’s amazing. Can you imagine if they’d done that together on Broadway?”
I couldn’t help it. I felt compelled to educate (yeah, I know, no one asked me). “Are you kidding? Do you not know that this is an African-American opera? They couldn’t do this on Broadway. In fact, this duet probably should never have happened.”
As soon as I hit send, I knew that last line shouldn’t have been written.
A few hours later, I had an email that said, “Vera Goulet has responded to your post.”
Did she ever. In fact, even though my post was in response specifically to the idea of their being in that show on Broadway, and to a lesser extent about the inappropriateness of the duet, Mrs. Goulet took it personally. And let me have it. Also personally.
She wrote approximately 20 posts over the space of 12 hours about how vane [sic], ignorant, stupid and arrogant I was. And how she assumed I was a failed frustrated wannabe singer/actress and, after Googling me, that she was right in that assumption. I was nothing more than a vocal coach in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. I was as far from Broadway as I could be. I was a nothing and a nobody. In listening to my singing on my website, Julie Andrews had nothing to worry about. (Did I say she did???) And I was not going to destroy her husband’s legacy. (Did I say I wanted to???)
I tried to apologize and to make clear that I loved both of them as artists and that the piece was sung beautifully, but that I did not like the piece. It was not to be accepted.
I also made it clear that while I apologized for the comment, I did not apologize for my profession. I am a voice teacher. I am proud to be a voice teacher. I love my job and it is my passion.
Mrs. Goulet’s response was that I gave myself too much credit. Then other people started posting insults – one of which said, “If you know so much, why haven’t we ever heard of you? When was your last world tour? When did you sing a command performance for the Queen of England?”
At that point, I decided to delete all of my posts because I simply did not want to have any more emails from strangers attacking me. I won’t even look at the comments to see if anyone else has attacked or even defended me.
And the thing I feel the worst about is that people misunderstood my opinion as my disliking either of the artists. The times were different. I’m sure if I saw it back in the early 70s (guessing the time based on Goulet’s sideburns), I would’ve loved it back then. I’m basing my opinion on what I know now.
While I was shocked at the vehemence of the Widow Goulet’s attack, and the personal nature of it, after doing a little Googling
of my own, I found that I am not the first person to feel her wrath.
It sounds like she adored her husband and he adored her. The part in the article about him taking care of her after she wrecked his car in a terrible accident and had to go through massive reconstruction surgery – it touched me. I’m sure she feels his loss keenly and I respect that. I’m sorry that I offended her and that she took it so personally.
But I reiterate – I am proud of my profession. This is my passion. It may have begun as something to do between singing gigs, but this is who I am now and I could not be happier with the direction my life has taken.