I first saw and heard Blythe at the Met’s 50th anniversary gala, where her glorious duet with David Daniels (they sang Monteverdi’s Pur to Miro) was a highlight of the night. Later, I got to see her showing off a great sense of comedic timing as the mother in Cendrillon, along with Idomeneo one of the best productions I have ever seen at the Met. And then I heard that she was frequently moonlighting in the cabaret world, something that is unusual for an opera singer, especially for one with such a huge and skilled instrument as hers, a perfect alto. Last night, I finally got to see her in this field, a field I know very well as it was my home for 15 years,
This presentation was a shortened version of her cabaret act in which she dons male drag and presents as “Blythely Oratonio”, a larger-than-life tenor in faux-tacky outfits, with leanings towards quite literally falling into iconic arias, playing air guitar and belting out rock anthems, including Queen’s We are the Champions, partially in Italian, giving us the impression that her “Oratonio” was being pulled in two directions simultaneously – rock and opera. Of course, it’s all the same – grand theater. After all, Freddy Mercury was quite operatic in his own way. Her rousing interpretation of the Queen anthem made me think of Liza Minnelli’s performance of it at Wembley Stadium. Blythe might want to take a cue from Liza’s vocals to give her own rendition even more pizzazz.
This is a brilliant act. One recognizes in the character countless tenors or musical theater types with their oversized personas and high-octane voices who will steamroll anything lying in their way. And yet, Blythe knows how to weave vulnerability into the physical comedy, creating tender moments between the punches. There is a meta element to this very intelligent and engaging creation that earned a rousing standing ovation. It was not a self-indulgent act as so many cabaret acts tend to be – it was an act that reflected on the pathos of self-indulgence, making it funny but also, quite poignantly, revealing the pain beneath it, the self-loathing, the fear of failure the denial, and the fear of aging. This is the best drag kind act I have ever seen besides, of course, the master of that art form, Mister Murray Hill. I wish she were invited to do it at the Met. The New Years’ Eve concert would be a perfect fit.