November 8, 2011

Julie gets her voice back?

Julie Andrews 

If you've been keeping up with Julie Andrew's singing over the last decade, you already know that she sustained an injury to her vocal folds after being treated for the removal of nodes after appearing on Broadway in Victor/Victoria. The surgeon who did the operation was sued. Andrews then sought out Steven Zeitel, a surgeon at Harvard University who is on the forefront of being able to deliver a revolutionary treatment, one that mimics the action of the folds themselves. Will Julie get her voice back?

Let's think this through for a minute. Assuming the treatment works, and gives Andrew's folds the ability to vibrate normally, will she have her voice back as it was when she sang in the Sound of Music more than 30 years ago? Of course not. The voice tends to darken with age and the upper range is reduced even in the best singers. For that reason, I certainly wouldn't expect to hear notes above the staff. What is a best case scenario? A middle range that blooms upwards to D and E.

Another singer without vocal problems may show the way, and that is Barbara Cook. A soprano like Andrews, Cook's voice is still very much intact even if the higher range is rather limited in comparison to her Glitter and Be Gay days (I heard her in concert for her 80th birthday). It's quite common, and even expected, that repertoire will be transposed downwards. There are compensations however. The singer who has been around the block many times has access to interpretive depths that no 30 year old will ever have.

On a personal note: hearing Andrews in The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins when I was a child made me want to sing. And sing I did. I hope she gets her inspiring voice back.

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