The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met

Nelson Eddy with music by Ken Darby

Columbia MM-640

Total Time: 15:48

The Whale Who Wanted To Sing At the Met, also known as Willie the Operatic Whale an animated version of the work in 1946 produced by Walt Disney, with Nelson Eddy providing the voice of both the narrator and various characters. It was released theatrically as a segment in Make Mine Music, then re-issued the following year accompanying a re-issue of Fantasia (as a short subject before the film), then separately on home video in the 1990s.

News comes to the music and science world of a whale that can sing opera. The news is met with disbelief and jeers from the musical and science communities. One person who may have a different theory about the whale’s reputed musical abilities is opera showman Tetti-Tatti. He believes that Willie the Whale has swallowed an opera singer and is holding him prisoner in his belly. Hiring an expedition, the showman heads for the North Pole to kill Willie. But the whale tries to show the impresario that he can really sing opera. Some time after, we, the viewers, see a montage of what would be Willie’s performances in the Metropolitan Opera House (montage sequences include Pagliacci, Tristan and Isolde, and Mephistopheles). After the montage, however, despite all of Willie’s efforts, Tetti Tatti shoots his spear gun and kills Willie.

However, even though Willie is long gone, his spirit lives on in heaven, singing in a hundred voices, forever.

Nelson Ackerman Eddy (June 29, 1901 – March 6, 1967) was an American singer and actor who appeared in 19 musical films during the 1930s and 1940s, as well as in opera and on the concert stage, radio, television, and in nightclubs. A classically trained baritone, he is best remembered for the eight films in which he costarred with soprano Jeanette MacDonald. He was one of the first “crossover” stars, a superstar appealing both to shrieking bobby-soxers as well as opera purists, and in his heyday was the highest paid singer in the world.

During his 40-year career, he earned three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (one each for film, recording, and radio), left his footprints in the wet cement at Grauman’s Chinese Theater, earned three Gold records, and was invited to sing at the third inauguration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He also introduced millions of young Americans to classical music and inspired many of them to pursue a musical career.

Eddy made more than 290 recordings between 1935 and 1964, singing songs from his films, plus opera, folk songs, popular songs, Gilbert and Sullivan, and traditional arias from his concert repertoire. Since both he and MacDonald were under contract to RCA Victor between 1935 and 1938, this allowed several popular duets from their films. In 1938, he signed with Columbia Records, which ended MacDonald-Eddy duets until a special LP album the two made together in 1957. He also recorded duets with his other screen partner Risë Stevens (The Chocolate Soldier) and for albums with, among others, Nadine Conner, Doretta Morrow, Eleanor Steber and Jo Stafford.

Eddy’s recordings drew rave reviews during the 1930s and 1940s, but it is a special tribute to his vocal technique that he continued to rate them into the 1960s. The Los Angeles Herald-Examiner on October 4, 1964 noted: “Nelson Eddy continues to roll along, physically and vocally indestructible. Proof is his newest recording on the Everest label, ‘Of Girls I Sing’. At the age of 63 and after 42 years of professional singing, Eddy demonstrates there has not been much change in his romantic and robust baritone — the baritone that made him America’s most popular singer in the early ’30s”.

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