“Amor” is a selection from the first book of American composer William Bolcom’s four-volume series Cabaret Songs. Written for mezzo-soprano Joan Morris, the first volume (including this song) was published in 1978, the second in 1983, and the final two in 1997. Cabaret Songs is Bolcom’s musical setting of the poetry of American writer Arnold Weinstein.
This was a fun one for me. It’s not often in a Royal Conservatory exam that you get to do a comedic piece, and of course this is where I feel the most at home. I imagined our protagonist as equal parts fancy, pretentious, and clueless. Like Princess Jasmine leaving the castle walls for the first time, our uptown girl takes a rare jaunt through the city and seems to immediate seduce everyone she meets. The flattery begins with an amorous policeman—can you blame him?—eventually becoming unbearable, then gets her out of a misdemeanour, and finally sends her off on her way with a church choir of adoring fans. “The poor stopped taking less, the rich stopped needing more.” In a world marred by war, famine, greed, and more, it’s comforting to know that one woman’s mere existence could solve the world’s problems.
In a way, I think this song is a send-up of classical singing and singers in general. The work of developing a classical sound is very challenging and takes years of hard work. As a result, classical singers tend to take their craft and themselves very seriously. I think a lot of classical singers get the reputation for being “divas” who live for little more than the adoration of an audience. With this piece, I think Bolcom is having a bit of a laugh at putting a singer in the position of having to satirize themselves.
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