"Songs of Our Lives," Robert Leuze's recent release on CD and cassette, may possibly be the first openly gay song album with a classical bent.
It includes Leonard Bernstein's setting of a Walt Whitman poem as well as works by the contemporary gay classical composers Chris DeBlasio, Fred Hersch, and Robert Cohen and by the poet Perry Brass.
Also included are the beautiful tenor-baritone duet from Bizet's "The Pearl Fishers" (with tenor David Klopp), Gerard's aria from the opera "Andrea Chénier," and Handel's aria "Largo," as well as songs by such popular gay songwriters as Ron Romanovsky, Dan Martin and Michael Biello, and the late Michael Callen.
The dramatically powerful 72-minute album was recorded live in two concerts, and features pianist James Bassi and other instrumentalists.
Leuze (rhymes with "news") believes that these songs speak to gays and straights alike in their universal themes of tolerance and acceptance, of love, desire, and loss.
Stewart Benedict, Michael's Thing --
Finding a voice: Robert Leuze makes classical music speak to gay audiences
Robert Leuze has been singing for over 30 years, but he says the words didn't truly speak to him until now.
All 16 songs show Leuze's rich voice to great advantage.
He is much at home in arias from "Andrea Chénier," "Xerxes," and "The Pearl Fishers," this last a spelendid love duet with tenor David Klopp and flute accompaniment by Kathryn Wood.
Several [of the contemporary songs] are delightful, particularly "Lost Emotions" by Ron romanovskky, two by the late Michael Callen and three by Dan Martin and Michael Biello.
So, "Songs of Our Lives" is a strong collection that accomplishes completely its goal of presenting songs that will have an expecially meaningful appeal to gays and lesbians, which is not to say that straights are enjoined from listening to them and finding them pleasurable.
Wayne Hoffman, New York Blade News
Opera singer covers a canon of gay pieces:
Performances highlight 'queer' life
With the release of his new CD, "Songs of Our Lives," Leuze brings together classical music with his personal experiences as a gay man ? two pieces of his life that have long been intertwined.
Leuze came to singing relatively late in life [and] started pursuing an operatic career.
But by that time, he says, it was too late for him to have a major career.
"So [he says] I wanted to at least do things that really meant something to me. About 10 years ago, I started looking for songs that spoke to my life as a gay man. They weren't that easy to find. [The CD's 16 selections] are not all gay songs per se," he says, "but they are all "relevant to the gay experience." "I'm not trying to make something gay that isn't," says Leuze.
"But there are things that are appropriate that we can relate to our lives."
Tyler Schnoebelen, Yale Daily News
Leuze picked up the slack by filling Sudler Hall with his rich, baritone voice.
Although he addressed issues of same-sex desire, Leuze's program focused on the emotional consequences of the marginalized gay experience without wallowing in sentimentality.
Transcribing the song ["Love Don't Need a Reason"] onto the bass clef left the small, absorbed audience just short of an ovation.
AUDIENCE AND LISTENER COMMENTS
"I've listened many times to your CD -- end to end -- it's a lovely collection and you a gifted artist."
"I was moved to tears during, and a shout of exultation in the street afterwards ... by last Sunday's concert."
"We enjoyed every lovely note you sang!"
"Thank you so much for making this glorious album! It was always a special occasion when you performed at Outmusic. How wonderful that so many can now hear your gorgeous voice in their homes."
Robert Leuze has an extensive background in opera and musical theater; his portrayals of over 30 roles range from the title role in Verdi's "Rigoletto" and Rodrigo in "Don Carlos" to Daddy Warbucks in "Annie." His rich baritone voice has entertained audiences in hundreds of solo appearances.
In addition he received nationwide media coverage in "Time" magazine as one of the first street musicians in that social phenomenon of the late 1970s.
He has performed with more than 20 opera companies including the Lake George Opera, Bronx Opera, Brooklyn Opera Society, and Bel Canto Opera.
A native of Northern New York, an isolated and homophobic area when he was growing up in the 1950s, Leuze moved to New York City soon after graduating from Yale.
Here he taught high school physics and English until the mid-1970s.
In 1967 he began vocal studies and began pursuing a performing career 10 years later.
Married but nonetheless "out," he is active with Outmusic, Yale GALA, and the North American gay and lesbian Quaker organization, FLGC.
His major concert on April 28, 2002, at the well-known Merkin Concert Hall near Lincoln Center in New York, was titled "Songs of Passion." It included a world premier; songs by F. Paolo Tosti and the contemporary composer Christopher Berg as well as Kurt Weill and Leonard Bernstein; arias by Mozart and Verdi; and a repeat (from the recording) of Bernstein's "To What You Said." The program featured two wonderful pianists and other instrumentalists. A CD based on the concert is scheduled for release in the fall of 2003.
WHY THESE SONGS? ? by Robert Leuze
"Nemico della patria," Gerard's aria from Andrea Chénier?Most gays know what it is to be falsely accused of being an "enemy of the state," and many will find resonance with the idea that passion could become one's master. Probably all will respond to the soaring melody, with its vision of a loving world where all men would be united in love, "in one single kiss, one embrace."
Leonard Bernstein's "To What You Said," based on a Walt Whitman poem, is from "Songfest," a work depicting "the American artist's experience as it relates to his or her creativity, loves, marriages, or minority problems (blacks, women, homosexuals, expatriates) within a fundamentally Puritan society," according to Bernstein's associate, Jack Gottlieb. Against a melody of clarinet and strings that is at once simple yet passionate, a melody that seems to express the poet's declaration of his very soul against the (piano's) beating of his heart, the singer declaims the poet's answer to one (presumably from that Puritan society) who would seek to join him: "You can never belong to me, nor I to you." Then, in a defiant affirmation of his difference, "I am he who kisses his comrade lightly on the lips at parting, and I am one who is kissed in return. I introduce that new American salute." I think of this as Bernstein's "gay" song. It is a thrilling work.
"Walt Whitman in 1989," the masterful contribution of Chris DeBlasio and Perry Brass to The AIDS Quilt Songbook, stunned me when I first heard it, with its poignant, compassionate, coming-to-terms with death in the face of devastation. Singing its words proved to be a stretch, a personal challenge.
Similarly, the simply-stated wisdom and self-knowledge, the love and humanity of the narrator, and the haunting, jazz-inflected musical line in Fred Hersch's "blues for an imaginary valentine" are forged in the face of AIDS. It's a song at once particular, yet universal.
Shelley's "Ozymandias," set by gay composer Robert Cohen, and Handel's "Largo" have universal appeal, the one noting "the dreadful irony of that vast, shattered human form lying crumpled on the sand"; the other seeming to embody a love and yearning for all that is noble and harmonious in life and nature.
The tenor-baritone duet from Bizet's "The Pearl Fishers" is one instance in opera when two men get to sing in gorgeous, glorious harmony, declaring here that nothing shall come between their love for each other and that their destinies shall be the same, "even unto death."
"Lost Emotions" is the appealing song by Ron Romanovsky that led to his partnership with Paul Phillips. It's a song to liberate gays and straights alike from the strictures of American macho male social codes.
"Can I Say `I Love You'?" explores, simply and eloquently, what a man may experience when falling in love (for the first time) with another man, in this first of three Martin-Biello songs.
"Hold Me in Your Arms"?a intimate song, universal except that it's sung (by me) to another male! "You Do Not Know Me": Sung by an outsider, someone who is different, to friend, mother, and lover.
"Nobody's Fool"?That's the description of himself by the singer's father (a man not disposed to offer sympathy and understanding to his sons, a man who always expects the worst from others) in Michael Callen's dramatic, three-part conversation that movingly encapsulates a family saga of estrangement.
"On the Other Side"?Another dramatic song from Michael Callen, one that illuminates the intense, often-disguised human reality of cruising.
"Somewhere": I saw West Side Story in 1957, the year that I came out and was first involved with another man romantically. The musical was devastating. It was also exhilarating and uplifting.
Though about Italian-Americans and Puerto Rican-Americans in New York City, as far as I was concerned it could also have been about me, a gay man.
In its depiction of the harsh realities of love not condoned by society, it nonetheless seemed to affirm my existence and the validity of my love.
To me, "Somewhere" is the gay equivalent of "We Shall Overcome." "Some Enchanted Evening" ? finally, sung as it should be sung, in its proper context.
"Love Don't Need a Reason": and it don't always rhyme; and it's never a crime! ( but what we don't have, is time).
A perfect encore to this celebration of gay love and life, by Callen, Allen, and Malamet.