Operetta Goddess of the Future: Lady Gaga

Kevin Clarke
Operetta Research Center
27 September, 2014

You have to hand it to the Americans. They certainly know how to make their classics sound fresh and funky, over and over again, in a way that the operetta crowd in Europe does not. Take, for example, the new album of Lady Gaga entitled Cheek to Cheek in which the pop goddess teams up with Tony Bennett, the Easy Listening veteran.

Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett on the cover of "Cheek to Cheek" (Colmbia Records.)

Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett on the cover of “Cheek to Cheek” (Columbia Records.)

On this album you get 11 tracks from composers such as Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Jimmy McHugh, Jerome Kern, Cy Coleman, Duke Ellington and Jimmy Van Heusen. Composers whose music is from the same stylistic world as many of the more jazzy titles of operetta. While the best we currently get in that category is Jonas Kaufmann trying hard (but not quite succeeding) to spice things up on Du bist die Welt für mich, on Columbia Records’ Cheek to Cheeks you get Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett turn old standards into really enjoyable new versions with the greatest possible ease. The results are appealing to old fans as well as to a new generation.

It is an approach that many of the so-called great American songbook titles have benefitted from, they have been recorded in all possible kinds of styles by the greatest soloists around.

Because of the wide variety of performances available, everyone can find his or her favorite version easily. And the music stays “fresh.”

Something high up on my desirability list would be having a similar way of handling operetta titles, no matter whether we’re talking about the Schlager standards of the 1920s or things from the 1910s or even classier tracks from the Strauss, Millöcker and Suppé era. Just as a reminder: there have been jazz and swing versions, for example, of “Vilja, o Vilja” and many other operetta titles, right up to the 1930s and early 40s. Sadly, this recycling and adapting of operetta to the latest pop taste stopped at some point.

A few years ago, Max Raabe said in an interview with the magazine Opernwelt: “Hire Anke Engelke and Robin Williams to sing operetta and the genre will blossom again.”

With the album Cheek to Cheek Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett demonstrate exactly this kind of approach, and judging by the success, they have managed to achieve the maximum goal. It would be high time that the operetta world followed this example and transferred the matrix onto all those marvelous songs written by Ábrahám, Benatzky, Kálmán, Granichstaedten or Lehár.

For me, personally, listening to Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett singing “Anything Goes” and “Cheek to Cheek” is a true joy, and even though I have other favorite versions of both songs, the new versions are right up there with the very best. If I could say a little prayer, it would be this: if Lady Gaga is gaga enough to do an album of American standards, then maybe she could be even more gaga one day and do the unthinkable – an operetta album in English. It would surely outclass albums such as You Mean The World To Me, or at least take that repertoire one step further into the future.