DIVA TALK: A Dozen Must-Have Female Vocal Recordings

By Andrew Gans
19 Jul 2013

Cover art

Bernadette Peters
"Sondheim, Etc. Bernadette Peters Live at Carnegie Hall" and "Sondheim, Etc., Etc. Live at Carnegie Hall: The Rest of It"

Okay, this may be a bit of a cheat since the two recordings were released as separate CDs, but since they represent one evening at Carnegie Hall, I'm including both discs as one of my dozen choices.… Bernadette Peters possesses one of the warmest voices ever, a combination of girlish and womanly tones that always sound like a friend is singing directly to you; she also brings a mix of humor, passion and emotional depth to all her work. Although she won her Tony Awards for her performances in musicals by Andrew Lloyd Webber (Song & Dance) and Irving Berlin (the revival of Annie Get Your Gun) and also created leading roles in musicals by Jerry Herman (Mack & Mabel) and Marvin Hamlisch (The Goodbye Girl), Peters is, perhaps, most associated with the work of Stephen Sondheim, having offered beautifully shaded performances in five Broadway musicals that boast lyrics and/or music by Sondheim: model/mistress Dot in Sunday in the Park with George, a wise, but crooked-fingered Witch in Into the Woods, the indomitable stage mother Rose in Gypsy, the captivating actress Desiree Armfeldt in A Little Night Music and, most recently, a former Follies girl in Follies. On the first of the two recordings, Peters explores the Sondheim canon fully, offering showstopper after showstopper, including simply ravishing versions of "Some People," "Johanna," "Happiness," "There Won't Be Trumpets," "Being Alive" and "Move On." Yet, if any song is a perfect example of Peters' craftsmanship as an artist, it is probably her intensely focused version of Merrily We Roll Along's "Not a Day Goes By," which she begins softly, gaining momentum until finally letting her rich, warm vibrato shatter the heart. The second disc also features a handful of delicious Sondheim offerings, including "With So Little to Be Sure Of" and "Children Will Listen"; however, my favorite tracks may be her full-voiced "Other Lady," which was a staple of her nightclub act for years, and a definitive "Unexpected Song."