Special Trash Talk: Frank Zappa and Opera Chorus. Really.

Pretty much everyone I know sings along with their favorite music. I started singing along with music my folk liked, and then pop stuff, Beach Boys, Beatles, the usual. In the summer of 1966, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention released their first album, Freak Out. I stumbled on it in late 1967, and soon knew all the songs, and bought Absolutely Free and learned those too. They got me through ROTC summer camp, singing a few bars of Plastic People while stupid marching for miles.

Plastic people
Oh, baby, now you’re such a drag.

Or a few bars of Call Any Vegetable.

Call any vegetable
And the chances are good
That a vegetable will respond to you.

After I got out of the Army I bought several more Zappa albums, including Cruising With Ruben and the Jets and Fillmore East — 1971. But then law school and part-time work, and dating, and my time for serious listening shrank to near zero.

And then I met my wife. She loves opera, so we saw every one produced by the excellent opera theater at Indiana University, which has a full-fledged opera venuevivace. The first opera we saw was Wagner’s Parsifal. I saw most of the first tune in each act, and zoned out for the rest. But I went back for more.

Eventually we wound up in Nashville, TN, where some of the leading supporters of the arts established an opera company in the mid-80s. We saw Madama Butterfly, and a couple of more, and then I found myself in the chorus for Il Trovatore, singing in chain mail. tights, dark make-up, and wielding a three-foot long steel broadsword. I was hooked. Not so much on operas per se, but on opera chorus singing.

It’s not like singing in Church Choirs or Symphony Chorus, which I have also done. In those settings, you listen closely to your neighbors and try to blend your voice with theirs. Good technique is a plus, but most amateur choirs are made up of, well, amateurs. In opera chorus singing, you sing with your full voice including vibrato. The blend comes from singing the exact same pitch on the exact same vowel for the exact same length of time. And you do it from muscle memory, singing near the top of your power, while moving, bending, swinging a heavy sword, riding a ten-foot tall barrel wheeled by your comrades, dancing, or, sadly, just standing and singing, which we call park and bark.

What’s the connection to Zappa? As I see it, opera treats the human voice as a primary instrument. The operatic voice is a trained instrument, capable of a wide range of timbre, power, and expression. Operas are spectacles, with sets, costumes, orchestra, and driven by over-the-top emotions. The voices are the critical part of the spectacle, carrying the emotions up. And that’s just like Zappa’s music: spectacular, relentless, and full of emotion, mostly anger, but also ribald or just fun, and the human voice is a critical part of that emotional ride.

Many of his songs feature his band singing instrumental tunes or making vocal noises. On Absolutely Free, you can here a typical bits in several pieces, both sung with words and with vocal sounds. Here’s a short example, Amnesia Vivace. On Fillmore East — 1971 the group performs what amounts to a smutty opera in the extended piece Mud Shark. Bwana Dik is a full-fledged if short aria; it’s at 14:55 here. Zappa had recruited three former members of The Turtles, and they were real singers. Here’s a very strange bit, John Lennon and Yoko Ono join Zappa and the Mothers of Invention starting at about 1:30, featuring Ono shrieking like a hungry cat while Lennon sings a mindless song backed by the Mothers, who put in their own odd vocal bits especially at about 6:50.

To illustrate the difference between chorus singing and opera singing, here are performances of perhaps the most famous operatic chorus song, Va Pensiero, from Verdi’s Nabucco. (Translation.) First is a performance by the chorus of the Teatro Al Fenice in Venice in concert. Compare it to this performance by the Metropolitan Opera Chorus. And for good measure, here’s a Zoom performance in commemoration of Italy’s losses to Covid-19.

One of the main functions of opera choruses is to provide some life to what might otherwise be static. For example, in a typical production of Wagner’s Flying Dutchman, when the baritone meets the soprano, they stand on opposite sides of the stage and sing for about 20 minutes. But the opening of Act 3 is thrilling to sing, and the chorus is asked to perform a standard role, the drunken sailor.

One of my favorites is Brindisi from Verdi’s La Traviata. The chorus is clearly part of the action, attending a fancy dress party. They sing two choruses, and then sing an instrument-like accompanying part at the end.

One more: this is from Act 1 of Puccini’s Turandot. It demonstrates the difficulty of singing opera chorus. Maintaining sound quality while moving, waving your arms, dropping to the floor and then trying to find the conductor because the orchestration is absolutely not helping is hard. Perhaps you can imagine the pleasure that comes from singing these songs with your friends.

So what’s your favorite sing-along music? It’s Trash Talk so don’t be shy about your jonesing for Tom Jones!

113 replies
  1. Philip S. Webster says:

    Always loved Zappa, then the even weirder Beefheart. Zappa was deeply impressed by Edgar Varese the famous percussionist which I bought as well. He even wrote a letter to him as a boy and got to meet his then hero. Never had the ear to fully appreciate it I suppose.

    Shame his doctor misdiagnosed his cancer and he died young at 52 I think it was. RIP Frank.

    Interesting discussion, Ed Walker. Thank you.

    • bmaz says:

      I’d also note that Zappa is one of the most under appreciated great guitar players ever. He was seriously good, especially live.

      • Duke says:

        Lots of folk like music. Fewer folk love music. Frank Zappa lived music. He referred to his guitar solos as air sculpture and music in general as decoration of time.

        The National Anthem for the United States of Trump is THE TORTURE NEVER STOPS.

        The following links take you to youtube artifacts of Frank Zappa guitar solo sections of live show performances.

        The first link is over two hours extracts from various performances of THE TORTURE NEVER STOPS. While not for the faint of heart it is mostly therapeutic in expression of the anger and frustration of current global trauma.




      • vvv says:

        Fun trivia is that Steve Vai basically auditioned for Zappa as a transcriptionist (including of the percussion), and observing the appearance of Zappa and Bozzio’s density of notes, named it, “The Black Page”.

        • SWS says:

          Ruth Underwood played percussion on many of Zappa’s albums. To me, she added a lot to the Mothers’ signature sound.

        • Valerie Klyman-Clark says:

          Lucille off Joe’s Garage just slays me. I found it so moving that Frank could be so sweet. My husband had Zappa’s entire discography. Originals-he had an incredible vinyl collection and sold them all some years back, arguing “we can’t eat the records.” I feel a bit misty thinking of it.

          Thank you all . . . Hope you’re staying well.

          • Eureka says:

            Eeks, I was not expecting that turn (~’And then the vinyl was gone’). From your comments, I bet he had some great stuff.

            Hope you are well, too.

      • PhoneInducedPinkEye says:

        I haven’t listened to Zappa and immediately thought the same thing when I ended up at Pajama People from Mr. Walker’s post.

        He’s good!

        • SWS says:

          Pojama People is on my favorite Zappa album, One Size Fits All. My favorite song on that album is Andy, which I heard him play as the closing number at the Houston Coliseum – late ‘70s.

    • Ed Walker says:

      Varese is a tough listen, that’s for sure, and I like a whole lot of avant-garde music. Zappa uses a lot of percussion, like Varese, and there’s a lot in Zappa’s music that borders on anarchy. But those were really strange times, in politics and music. Even the Beatles who started as typical pop stars joined in with Revolution 9.

      • J R in WV says:

        I saw Zappa and the Mothers at Ravennia Park, North of Chicago, the summer camp of the Chicago Symphony, in 1970, while I was in A school at Great Lakes Naval Station training up to join the fleet, after avoiding the draft by enlisting in the Navy.

        That sounds strange now, but then, during the draft into Vietnam, it was pretty common, in fact many shipmates were avoiding being ground pounders in SE Asia by kjoining the Navy.

        The Ravinia Park hosted many rock and pop shows between the symphonic work, we saw Procol Harum, Janis Joplin, and Zappa. We bought Park tickets, not seats in the amphiteatre, but season ticket holders didn’t attend the more modern shows, so then the house lights went down, there was a rush into the good seats.

        For the Zappa show we were down front, great seats, and could watch him direct his orchestra, such as it was. He danced around, leading various musicians into following him into solos, switching the melody from one guy to another, taking the lead and swicthing to someone else.

        It was jazz, it was rock, it was wonderful. We left the park to take the train back to Great Lakes, to crash in our barrack bunk, dizzy with what we heard.

        One of the peak rock experiences of that summer of 1970. We saw Jethro Tull, who were expected to open for the Dead, who were held up at the Canadian border, allegedly for drugs, hahah. So Tull played all night long, and the tickets were half price.

        Open air blues shows in the park by the lake, if you could stand the summer heat.

        Here’s hoping we get a new outburst of creativity, of music and art flowing out of the changes society is going through. Now we have blues, country mixed with blues, Broadway, new opera, new rock and folk rock, Some greats have been lost to the Trump Plague, but most of them have shed a great deal of creativity upon society already.

        We still have to work to dump Trump next fall, we need to take the senate and put trump out with a resounding thump he can’t recover from, to allow creativity to thrive in the new democratic world.

        • Ed Walker says:

          Amazing stories. And yes, the Navy was a popular alternative for potential draftees. The Air Force not so much because, as I recall, the tour was longer.

    • Doug Fir says:

      He wasn’t a good singer, IMHO, but every album with lyrics made interesting use of voice for choruses and sound effects. He was quite the composer!

  2. Harrison says:

    How cool – one of my favorite websites talking about one of my favorite artists!

    I agree that Zappa is an incredibly underrated guitar player. His improvisation style was completely unique and his own. Visceral stabs. Emotion oozed out of his instrument.

      • Harrison says:

        I hope to do so! I just donated. Marcy is one of the best journalists we have. Glad to contribute.

        There is an official Frank Zappa documentary coming out soon. Alex Winter is behind it. I gave WAY too much to that kickstarter lol. But it was worth it!

  3. laura says:

    He was a good sound editor as well in the Utility Muffin Reasearch Kitchen. A true genius unwilling to compromise his artistic vision. He’d probably be unsurprised about the implosion of the music industry and the rise of YouTube. And because I am shallow, I would love to hear his thoughts on Justin Beiber and his oeuvre.

    • Ed Walker says:

      I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t invite Bieber to play a set with the Mothers. Maybe the role of Suzie Creamcheese?

      • Knoeful says:

        Enjoyed exploring the opera choruses and Zappa. Always been a Zappa & Mothers fan and have done recital videos for many opera students at Indiana University. It was amazing the diversity of music genres Zappa was immersed in. I was especially interested in his collaboration with the Chieftains near the end of his life. https://youtu.be/N-Mg3cjfD0Y

  4. Philip S. Webster says:

    Correct: his guitar playing was what drew me to him and his brilliant repartee with the audience.
    Guy was a genius I think.
    Yeah, No Commercial Potential was one of his first rejection slips That sealed it for me way back when.
    Playing with Lennon/Ono is pretty funny in retrospect…he always had a host of men and women who were brilliant musicians on all kinds of instruments: “whip it out” to a saxophonist. Ha Ha
    Obviously not a popular favorite.

  5. Peterr says:

    Perhaps you can imagine the pleasure that comes from singing these songs with your friends.

    When my family and I moved away from the SF Bay area, there were definitely things we did not miss, like the traffic and the price of housing. There were also things we missed greatly, like visiting our favorite wineries, the Monterrey Bay Aquarium, and the price of produce and seafood.

    And then there’s the SF Opera opening in September. The opening night gala is what you’d expect, with the big fundraising dinner and spectacle of the first performance. But then, on the Sunday morning that follows, people begin to gather at 7am and spreading out blankets in Golden Gate Park. The orchestra players and soloist begin to arrive as well, and rehearse either highlights of the upcoming season or fan favorites from earlier seasons. The soloists include both top name performers and up-and-comers. As the rehearsal goes on, the folks on the blankets begin to spread out elaborate brunches and feasts, and the mimosas flow freely.

    At 1pm, “Opera in the Park” begins. The players are dressed in concert attire now, save for the headgear to protect them from the sun and to provide a bit of levity – imagine violinists wearing beanies with propellers or a bassoonist with one of those beercan-holding baseball caps. By now, the folks who reserved places with their blankets have been joined by their friends, many of which brought food for lunch, more wine, table decorations like silver candlesticks, and desserts like tiered cakes or elaborately carved melons holding fresh fruit. Most are dressed in shorts and t-shirts, but others come in full opera attire adjusted for a picnic (tails, top hat, and birkenstocks or sequined dresses with plunging necklines paired with color-coordinated running shoes. (“You look stunning! Who are you wearing, darling?” “Versace and New Balance.”).

    As great as all the music is, and it is always great – no matter the weather — it’s the end of the show that is truly epic. Everyone in the crowd has saved at least one bottle of champagne or other sparkling beverage, and everyone stands and fills their glasses. The soloists begin to sing the opening words of Brindisi, and the entire crowd becomes the chorus, singing from cards handed out in advance if they didn’t already know the words, belting out the music at the top of their voices. There have been years where the crowd demanded multiple encores of Brindisi, and I think that what finally brought the singing to an end was that everyone finally ran out of champagne and wine. So we applauded for another 15 minutes, then packed up and went home.

    I miss the Bay Area’s cheap seafood, I miss the great inexpensive wine, I miss the cheap fresh produce. But every year in September, I really really really miss all three and how they come together with the SF Opera company and Opera in the Park.

    I don’t have to imagine the pleasure of singing these songs with my friends. I just have to remember. Listening to that last video brings tears to my eyes right now.

    • Ed Walker says:

      That is amazing. Singing those choruses is one of my favorite memories; I sang La Traviata twice in wildly different productions, but that piece is so delightful, so light and bouncy.

      That production is from Glyndebourne, a major opera festival outside London, and it’s spectacular. The tenor is fine, but the soprano is beautiful, talented, and dressed in a stupefying costume, as are the Chorus Ladies. You can see the quality of the choral acting in the women around the tenor, and the way people move when the camera isn’t focused on them.
      I have to say, I truly miss chorus, but the memories are among my most treasured.

    • laura says:

      In response to peterr: And all of it free. In a most beautiful park in glorious September when summer really come to San Francisco. Spontaneous temporary community united in the sensual and gustatory pleasures of wine, men & women and song. For me, it’s the same only different – 1st weekend in October at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass over 3 glorious days of music. No festival this year and no John Prine ever again because he’s one of trumps 100K dead from CV19.

      • Peterr says:


        Part of that spontaneous temporary community happens when first timers boggle at what the veterans have brought. “We just brought a blanket, some sandwiches, and a bottle of wine, but look at all this!” they whisper to each other. Veterans may notice folks looking on with envy/hunger/both, and often will spontaneously offer samples to the passers-by. “We brought plenty – have some!”

        And at the end, as people there for the first time realize that they didn’t bring something to toast with, the veterans at the next blanket over tell them “No problem,” they hand them some of the fancy crystal stemware they brought, fill their glasses, and help them sing.

        • Peterr says:

          After The Kid was born, we’d take him along for the fun. He’d nibble on the food, nap, wake up and nibble some more, nap, and then wake up for the finale.

          One of my favorite memories of being the dad of a young kid was having him in the carrier attached to my chest at Opera in the Park, me waving my glass of champagne, him waving his sippy cup, and everyone singing and smiling.

          • Artemesia says:

            What an utterly charming memory — brings up a few of our own from those days when we had toddlers too and music on lawns. We see it now in Chicago in Grant park.

  6. biff murphy says:

    stinkfoot stinkfoot, I ain’t lyin, can you rinse it off do you suppose…
    Loved Zappa.
    Ed,Your article made me think of this.
    I got to seem him 3 times, the best was in Bangor Me. when I was stationed at the Navy base up there. Someone threw a beer bottle at the stage and missed Frank inches, he stopped the show, had the lights turned on and told the crowd he wouldn’t play until the guy who threw it was ousted. All of a sudden I see all these are hands pointing down and the guy is being pushed to the side where security took him out, all in about the space of about 10 seconds. Got to see him in Boston a couple times as well.
    I remember an old poster of him on the shittah said “Frank Zappa Crappa”
    Funny guy ole Frank!

    • Philip S. Webster says:

      Zappa got ripped off on the shitta poster. Some one snapped and ran.
      Yeah, he was wonderful with audiences: “We are ALL wearing uniforms”..
      Sorry: getting a little pedantic now. ha ha. As always.
      What the mind remembers….ha ha

      • vvv says:

        My Zappa story is when someone shouted out for “Free Bird”, he replied, “You could have at least asked for ‘Whipping Post'”.

        I think I saw him do that in Champaign, IL, circa ’79 or ’80, but I may just be recalling a story.

        I do recall that I have long thought I sometimes suffer from Bromidrosis.

  7. Ed Walker says:

    Audiences reacted in really strange ways to Frank and the Mothers. This is from his Wiki entry about a London tour:

    During the encore, an audience member jealous because of his girlfriend’s infatuation with Zappa pushed him off the stage and into the concrete-floored orchestra pit.[41] The band thought Zappa had been killed—he had suffered serious fractures, head trauma and injuries to his back, leg, and neck, as well as a crushed larynx, which ultimately caused his voice to drop a third after healing.

    You can hear s hint of hostility in the Lennon/Ono bit, and there are other examples in the stuff I listened to on youtube. I’d guess he saw himself as a serious musician, and didn’t appreciate the responses he got to his compositions.

    • Philip S. Webster says:

      I think he saw himself as a Composer first, Ed. He wrote some amazingly intricate pieces..

      OK. I’m done. Ha ha.

      • puzzled scottish person says:

        If memory serves, he said that he used the endless band tours to raise money to pay for him to record his serious compositions.

        Stuff like the Boulez recordings or Civilisation Phase III.

        Or Yellow Shark, which is one of my favourites. The comments from the musicians involved are very moving :-)

  8. swmarks says:

    Not sing-along, but view-along, the amazing collaborations of Zappa and Bruce Bickford, the vastly underrated clay animation filmmaker. Trippy, indeed!

  9. John Paul Jones says:

    The first year I went to college, a friend introduced me to Lumpy Gravy. Blew my mind. It wasn’t until later that I heard “Trouble Every Day,” with its background guitar riffs like distant sirens going off. Never saw Zappa in concert, but managed to catch a screening of 500 Motels (with Ringo in the role of Frank) and thought it was absolutely crazy wonderful.

    As to opera, discovered it in the mid-80s as live performance, but have never had the chops to do any actual singing (church choirs as a youth, but nothing much since my voice did weird things when I was 13), but yes, in the car, I do try to at least hum along. Saw Nabucco once and, predictably, the chorus song brought the house down, prolonged applause, whistles, cheers, shouts, etc.

    The Act II finale of Lucia di Lammermoor is one of my favourite pieces (yes, I do sometimes wake up in the morning with this running through my head and have to rush to the CD player and spin it), and I love this version of it, where the director gives the chorus something to do that makes sense plot-wise, a wedding photo, and I love the way the final gesture, the bride collapsing, is left until after the end.

    • mordentink says:

      Ah, the sextet! (Although I don’t understand all the business here.)

      In radical parties in the early 70s we would sing, starting with labor & socialist songs (including all five verses of the Internationale), then on to Irish songs, then eventually opera, including the sextet (well, just the main melody, not all six parts).

      Never sang in a choir; thanks Ed Walker for the insights.

      • Ed Walker says:

        Welcome to the comment funhouse! I saw a play last year about the general strikes in Chicago that led to the Haymarket Affair. It opened with actors singing The Union Makes Us Strong, and the audience sang along. Those songs were important tools for organizers.

    • Ed Walker says:

      Not a problem. That’s a lovely performance; it’s the Met production, isn’t it, with Natalie Dessay as Lucia?

      At the top of the next act we get a beautiful choral aria, O, Qual Funesto. When we sang this the first time, I was blocked downstage left in a quartet, and it was like singing alone with the orchestra.

      The Met streamed an old performance with the amazing Joan Sutherland as Lucia. The staging was stodgy, but that voice!

  10. MB says:

    While Frank is being remembered here, let us not also forget his Senate testimony in 1985 about the ridiculousness of rating rock song lyrics by the Parents Musical Resource Center (PMRC) headed by Tipper Gore. Here’s a quote from that testimony:

    “the PMRC proposal is an ill-conceived piece of nonsense which fails to deliver any real benefits to children, infringes the civil liberties of people who are not children, and promises to keep the courts busy for years dealing with the interpretation and enforcement problems inherent in the proposal’s design.”

    And I would say 200 Motels might be a perfect example of Zappa’s conception of opera. Operatic singers dressed as nuns singing “munchkins get me hot” in virtuosic falsetto. 200 Motels was re-created as a one-time stage show in Los Angeles a couple of years ago at Disney Hall, quite different than the movie version (which I saw on my 14th birthday), but still captured the spirit of the original.

  11. posaune says:

    GREAT post, Ed! Loved it.
    We’ve been watching the free Met streams the last few weeks.
    Last night was Don Giovanni – 1978 performance with Dame Sutherland.
    Orchestra not what it is today, that’s for sure. I actually dozed off at the beginning of the 2nd act. And, having been in a former life a professionerller Posaunistin, I began to dream of being lost in the Met’s basement, desperately looking for the pit, in fear of missing the cue for the belated brass entrance. Mr. posaune said I deserved that dream. But I did wake up in time, and enjoyed the Commandatore (McCurdy) appearance. And Elvira’s line in the epilogue: “I won’t be happy until he is in chains.” Fitting for our times.

    • Ed Walker says:

      The choral parts are fun as well. We saw Don Giovanni at the Lyric last season. The staging was fairly straightforward until the end. The Don is sitting a a long table, and suddenly it starts tilting up at the long end and sinking into a trap. The Don climbs up it as if on a ladder, but it slowly sinks into the floor. Great theater!

  12. posaune says:

    Oh, and Ed, I love Nabucco, Va Pensiero. So nice to know you’re a chorister! It was reported that everyone in the streets of Milan sang Va Pensiero for Verdi’s funeral in 1901. Conducted by a young Toscanini. By the way, La Scala will perform the Verdi Requiem as their first performance when they return.

    • Ed Walker says:

      I’ve sung the Verdi Requiem twice in concert. It’s almost perfect for this, but I hope they add Va Pensiero, which seems hopeful in a harsh world. Italian opera choruses are amazing. I saw Ernani at La Fenice in the late 80s; I don’t remember the principals, but chorus was astonishing.

      • posaune says:

        Lucky you to sing the requiem. I agree — they should sing the Va Pensiero. We heard the Britten Death in Venice at La Fenice in 2008. Fantastic performance.

  13. puzzled scottish person says:

    I frequently find myself singing Florentine Pogen in my head. It’s a catchy little number but it also packs a lot of drama into its (relatively) brief span and it definitely ‘treats the human voice as a primary instrument’.

    It’s also the first Zappa track I ever heard. My life was never quite the same, heh.

  14. quebecois says:

    Can’t remember if it was october 77 or 78, Frank came to the Montréal Forum.

    I was sitting on the side, 40 rows up, right in the middle of the arena. mid show, they thundered into this wicked 25 minutes blues, where Frank made that guitar wail like the master he was.

    After a few minutes, I was feeling that the crowd was distracted, something was up(I’m so sorry!) Turns out that on the ice, in the middle, a couple was expressing its love for each other in a very public way. Even the folks on stage were going on tippy toes to see the act being performed.

    As climax was attained, many screamed, and it turned out to be quite the standing ovation.

    I remember he opened with Peaches and I cried, it was that beautiful.

    On a personal note, I’d like to add Fuck Cancer.

  15. rosalind says:

    non-Zappa: Yo-Yo Ma will be performing Bach’s complete solo cello suites tomorrow Noon PST/3pm EST. fm his twitter feed: “Tomorrow I’ll be playing Bach’s complete cello suites live as a memorial to those we lost and a tribute to the resilience of our communities.” “Tomorrow’s livestream from @WGBH in Boston will be at 3pm ET on YouTube and public radio stations nationwide.”

  16. posaune says:

    Not exactly Frank Zappa. Polka metal banned in PL this week:

    Twój ból jest lepszy niż mój.
    Your suffering is better than mine.

    Cemeteries are closed due to the recent events
    the recent weeks, the recent affairs
    I look at the chains, wipe away my tears
    just like you do
    just like you do

    The gate opens, can’t believe my eyes
    will things go differently
    I run, your minders scream ‘stop’
    because your pain is better than mine,
    your pain is better than mine
    Twój ból jest lepszy niż mój.


  17. Fred Salchli says:

    Read Frank Zappa’s autobiography. It’s a page turner and will make you laugh out loud.

    Love this website, thank you!

  18. James Mitchell says:

    I miss Frank alot. He kept me enthused at all times, anxious to hear him play, or purchase his latest release. There is nothing to replace him on Earth. Glad I have all his records to enjoy.

  19. N.E. Brigand says:

    It’s fascinating to learn that the phrase “park and bark” is used in opera. I know it from drum and bugle corps. Speaking of which, here’s the Bluecoats in 2017 performing Zappa’s “Zomby Woof” (8:22-10:01):


    And here’s Phantom Regiment in 1991 (0:01-2:05) and 2012 (2:08-4:56) performing Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma” — the latter from an all-Turandot show:


    • Ed Walker says:

      Those are just amazing! That Zomby Woof is astounding, all that musical and physical energy!

  20. scribe says:

    A few years back, when there was still baseball, I attended a ballgame (Marlins at Braves, to see Ichiro before he retired) in the new Braves park. The organist was playing Zappa.
    I may have been the only other person in the park to recognize it.

    BTW: the Braves did something sensible with their new park, land-use wise. It’s out in the burbs (Smyrna, or almost to Smyrna) plopped in the middle of one office park after another. Rather than create a massive parking lot around the stadium, they made deals with the office parks to use the existing parking at the office parks. And they have shuttles to the more distant lots.

    Help, I’m a rock.

  21. it's complicated says:

    Oh my goodness.
    This time, you really hit a lot of my buttons at the same time.
    Poor elevator deeply confused about where to go first.

    All those memories.
    Like the time when I went out to an Italian restaurant with friends
    and a cassette copy of “Freak Out!”.
    After a few minutes, first the cassette was unceremoniously ejected,
    then us!
    Zappa was a genius indeed. I cannot count how often we would go and
    see 200 Motels at a local cinema.

    I’m an IT guy, but music has and still does touch me a lot, also can
    heal wounds.
    Two of the things that work best for me are voices and percussion music.
    My wife and I have been drumming for maybe 7 years before we had to
    give it up for various reasons, and still miss it a lot.
    For over 20 years now, Korea has provided me with a musical parallel
    universe. I will give you a short random list of youtube IDs,
    all you have to do for every 11 character ID is plug https://youtu.be/
    in front to play. Some are long. I also plugged in one from where I live.
    And have no fear, most of it isn’t KPop:) And, youtube being youtube,
    I could only check that these vids can be played from Germany, where a
    lot is blocked by the music industry.

    1xg4k_c36GY (skip first 2 minutes)

    (sorted by ID to remove bias)

    In times of great stress, fear, pain, grief, I have self-medicated with these
    three solo albums by Kim Yuna (Jaurim):


    P.S.: bmaz, you made my day a few days ago with Brother by The Kinks.
    At the time when most of my peers decided to either follow the
    Beatles or the Stones, I was the odd one out and chose The Kinks:)
    You might enjoy an odd album I once bought, some tracks are
    on youtube, too. The Kinks Choral Collection.

      • it's complicated says:

        Thank you!
        I put all yt/vimeo links from your post and the comments in a text file to enjoy tomorrow over the day.
        Sharing music like that is like going to a really good restaurant together with those friends who did *not* lose their curiosity with age.
        I kinda held back a bit, I could have added a lot more, but that could have sent me on a sometimes heartwrenching odyssey, and I didn’t want to overdo it for the regulars here. Some stuff makes me laugh, some makes me cry, but after such a trip, I feel refreshed.
        BTW, my wife and I had been looking forward to a concert by jazz singer Nah Youn Sun end of April like those in 2018 and 2019 which we attended.
        Unforgettable how she enjoys herself on stage and infects the audience.
        After a few minutes, my cheeks started hurting from the happy smile, and I looked left and right to see people having the same problem.
        What, if not music, can do that? Keeps my hope alive.

  22. PhoneInducedPinkEye says:

    In your experience do most opera singers in the chorus, and the audience, understand the language being sung? I would think it would be more difficult if it was in German or something and you weren’t fluent.

    • Ed Walker says:

      We do know the meaning of the words. At the first rehearsal we always go over the meaning and point of what we’re doing. I used to look up the translations so I’d remember. The meanings are stressed in rehearsals so we know where we need to put stresses, and where to back off.

      Italian is fairly easy to sing because it’s regular: there are only seven vowel sounds, all open, and the consonants are just like English. The only real trick is the double consonants, where you have to sing both. German was fairly easy for me because I took it in College. The consonants aren’t necessarily pretty, though.

      French is really hard. I remember a production of Carmen under a conductor from Quebec. He was horrified by our pronunciation. Our humorist told him we sang Southern French, but he didn’t laugh, and spent two hours just saying the words the way he wanted them sung. The main problem is that French has a lot of closed sounds which are hard to sing at performance levels, remembering that we don’t use mikes.

      • scribe says:

        In Metropolitan France, there exist their version of country and western musicians. To get the proper countrified intonation in the singing, almost all the singers are from Quebec. As a French friend (who can trace his family back to the 1300s on the same farm somewhere a bit west of Paris) told me, Quebecois French stopped its development sometime in the 1600s when the ancestors of today’s C&R singers got dumped off the boat to colonize New France for the king. In other words, they’re the French-speaking version of hillbillies.
        As someone whose Austrian grandparents’ accented German immediately identified them to urban sophisticates in Vienna as barefoot hillbilly rubes from way up in the holler, this seems perfectly reasonable.
        So, I wouldn’t get bent out of shape over someone from Quebec criticizing French pronunciation. Just give him what he wants and slide in a couple yee-haws at appropriate moments.

  23. Anne says:

    Thanks for the Turandot, never saw it. But what’s the text on the screen? Sure doesn’t correspond to the libretto which is in standard Italian, not some strange dialect … ???

      • rosalind says:

        alt: i do not recommend “Tristan & Isolde” for a first-time opera goer. (Me, deep into Act III: OMG, die already!!!)

        • Artemesia says:

          ah but Liebestod is one of the most beautiful things ever written — he does take forever to get there. Wagner wrote some of the most stunning emotionally gripping arias in opera — but those moments require wading through through composition that is definitely an acquired taste. Here is the great Kirsten Flagstad

          And this is perhaps my favorite. Dich Teure Halle sung by Ninna Stemme who did it in the recent met ring production

          • Artemesia says:

            PS. someone on the site where I got the iconic recording of Furtwangler and Flagstad noted that ‘if the world ends with Corona Virus — this is the song we should play as it is happening.’

        • posaune says:

          As a grad student, I acquired restricted view $4 tickets to the Met for Tristan. I convinced a DMA student friend (at Julliard) to come, although he loathed Wagner. It took a lot of convincing. When we arrived (7pm start time b/c so long), the usher handed me the two programs. I took a peek and it said, “American premiere of the UNCUT version.” I hid the programs until it started, so my friend wouldn’t bail. Wouldn’t you know it — we settled in the restricted view score-reading desks and the people in front of us were German students who had brought two six packs of Becks. And shared with us! It was 5-1/2 hours, and it really did take forever for Tristan to get off the rock in the second act. Parsifal was much better, I thought.

  24. dakine01 says:

    When I did the proverbial road trip in college, we had a couple of Frank’s 8 tracks available that helped us drive from Bowling Green (long before the massacre) to Las Vegas via I40/Route 66, up to Denver then back to Bowling Green via St Louis & then on up to New England. Overnight Sensation & Apostrophe were fun

  25. bmaz says:

    There were many great FZ albums, but those two were in my early wheelhouse as well. And they were both incredible. I had a Lear 8-Track under the dash. At the time seemed the best, but damn was 8-Track a shitty platform.

    • dakine01 says:

      Yeah, but around all the road noises, wind, and such, it’s really difficult to hear the nuances, so in the car or truck, the 8 track was tolerable.

      • bmaz says:

        I had Oaktron speakers!

        It is hilarious that my current stock car stereo sounds better than what used to cost real money. Honestly, the new stock sounds better.

  26. vertalio says:

    I spent time in Europe in ’78, and once found myself in a van full of band equipment with a half-dozen roadies packed among the amps en route to a setup, singing Zappa songs together in English in the pitch-black of the van cargo hold.
    200 Motels ; Just Another Band From LA; Oh, Magdalena.
    I’m sure you all know how important he was to those behind the Iron Curtain, struggling to breathe.
    We were pretty good, too. Considering.

  27. bmaz says:

    Just remember:

    We all came out to Montreux
    On the Lake Geneva shoreline
    To make records with a mobile
    We didn’t have much time
    Frank Zappa and the Mothers
    Were at the best place around

    But some stupid with a flare gun
    Burned the place to the ground.

    • dakine01 says:

      That song helped me make it through the ROTC summer camp at Fort Riley, KS in ’73. One of the few halfway decent songs on the jukebox at the Fort Riley Officer’s Club.

        • dakine01 says:

          I think my year was the first year east coast folks went to Fort Riley as previously, the camps were at Indiantown Gap, PA

  28. BobCon says:

    This is a hilarious bit — Zappa appeared on The Monkees dressed as Mike Nesmith and interviewed Nesmith who was dressed as Zappa:


    You can see his great sense of humor and his refusal to take himself too seriously.

  29. Kick the darkess says:

    Artistry and satire. I guess you could think of cosi fan tutte and joe’s garage as kindred works in that way. “don’t you boys know any nice songs?”

    • Kick the darkess says:

      At the desk today so listened to both. Mozart suffers because you expect sublime and get a romp. For Joe’s garage, I’d forgotten about the Telefunken U47. Totally stampeding cattle through the Vatican.

  30. Whitman says:

    Long, long time reader, never commenter, but with opera and Zappa, i felt compelled. First, Zappa- my favorite, Billy the Mountain! Zappa’s music always reminds me that there are endless alternative ways to be human and express that humanity. As for opera- 40 odd year ago, i had the honor of being in a production with Beverly Sills and Victor Borges (who was amazing, but could not sing at all) of Der Fledermaus. Just being near her when she sang was a sublime, transportative experience. A voice that penetrated the ventricles. And, my gosh, was she kind! (Another great opera memory is going to see Atys in Brooklyn- what a tremendous staging- even if i did, because of exhaustion, fall asleep for about 20 minutes around the 4 hour mark…)

  31. Ed Walker says:

    Welcome to commentland! I loved Fledermaus. We saw it in Paris at the Bastille, once,and it was astonishing, opening with people in sort of bat costumes on bungee cords jumping up into the rafters, and much more.

    I never saw Sills, but I loved her voice.

  32. Vi says:

    Back in the day, after examining the patient, the doctor said, I’ve checked everything. All of your signs are normal. You just need to live a little, enjoy life, go and see Puccini. To which the patient replied, ” But I am Puccini. “

  33. Vi says:

    Back in the day, after examining the patient, the doctor said, I’ve checked everything. All of your signs are normal. You just need to live a little, enjoy life, go and see Puccini. To which the patient replied, ” But I am Puccini. “

  34. Hug h says:

    One of my all time favorite Guitar riffs from the Master- “Watermelon in Easter Hay” (live) trembles the soul every time.


    “Great music is a psychical storm, agitating to unimaginable depth the mystery of the past within us. Or we might say that it is a prodigious incantation, every different instrument and voice making separate appeal to different billions of prenatal memories. There are tones that call up all ghosts of youth and joy and tenderness;–there are tones that evoke all phantom pain of perished passion;–there are tones that resurrect all dead sensations of majesty and might and glory,–all expired exultations,–all forgotten magnanimities. Well may the influence of music seem inexplicable to the man who idly dreams that his life began less than a hundred years ago! But the mystery lightens for whomsoever learns that the substance of Self is older than the sun. He finds that music is a Necromancy;–he feels that to every ripple of melody, to every billow of harmony, there answers within him, out of the Sea of Death and Birth, some eddying immeasurable of ancient pleasure and pain.”
    By LAFCADIO HEARN (1850-1904)

  35. Owen McNamara says:

    Dear Mr. Walker,

    I can’t tell you how much I admire this site and this string. I started reading it about a month ago, just in time to read on everyone’s best live concerts and live albums. Now Frank Zappa, my favorite. You all have shown that there’s hope for humanity yet. I heard Peaches En Regalia for the first time sophomore year in high school and that sunk the hook. First of four live concerts was in Boston, the last show of the Grand Wazoo Band. Then the Overnight Sensation band, the Apostrophe band, also in Boston, and finally some variation of the Bongo Fury band, sans Beefheart, in Auckland New Zealand. No kidding. One more point, Frank and Ainsley Dunbar were born to play together. Nobody made Frank rip it like Ainsley. See the Nancy and Mary Music from Chunga’s Revenge. I still climb the rafters when I hear it. Keep up the great work. Next stop, a donation.

  36. Choco says:

    Just happened on this article after just happening to watch two Zappa documentaries while staying home over the holiday weekend: Frank Zappa A Pioneer of Future Music and the Frank & the Mothers of Invention in the 60’s. I was fortunate to attend a university with a great concert promotion program. While working for it I saw Frank and the Mothers four times. I also saw the Grand Wazoo orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl. I love a lot of music from that time, but it was always clear that Frank was so far out ahead of the rest in a class by himself.

    Go see Dweezil! Keep it alive!

  37. oldoilfieldhand says:

    Had a friend named Andy, a lawyer, and fellow resident in Crested Butte, CO during the 80’s, who hosted a radio show on local public radio, KBUT. Volunteer, unpaid DJ’s were popular in this tiny ski town, playing rock, blues and classical music. Andy was different! All he played, during the weekly 4 hour show of uninterrupted music he hosted, was Zappa. All Zappa, all the time. He would occasionally field a call on air and some young hipster would ask if he would play a request…his answer, “Happy to play a request! What Zappa song would you like to hear!”
    I loved it! Miss you Frank! Hello Andy, wherever you are!

  38. Eureka says:

    Ed, since you also enjoy books so much, I wondered if you like Richard Miller’s _On the Art of Singing_. A colleague who sings recommended it to me years ago (at a time when I was reviving some creaky musical practice); your post, while more about the social [tho (social- ) technical, too] aspects of singing, made me fondly recall it.

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